On July 1, texting while driving will be illegal for all Georgia drivers, and young drivers with provisional licenses will be banned from any cellphone use behind the wheel. A violation can cost the driver $150.
But the texting ban is likely to change. As Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the two bills Friday, he said the texting part was unclear, and that legislators had promised to go back at the bill in next year's legislative session.
Pointing to his own BlackBerry, Perdue noted that though reading texts will be illegal, when a phone buzzes, the driver won't know whether it's from an incoming call or a text.
"The most distracting part is my looking at the keyboard to type and send a message," Perdue said. "That's more distracting than picking up and reading a message and I'll call them when I get home."
Mandi Sorohan, whose son Caleb died in a crash while texting, said reading the phone screen should be banned whether it was a call or a text. But she said she was "extremely happy" that Perdue had signed the texting bill despite his reservations, and she would be lobbying again next year if changes are made. After her daughter met with Perdue last week, she said, "We thought he had his mind made up and he was set to veto it."
The texting ban is named the Caleb Sorohan Act.
Perdue said that criminalizing the act of looking at a phone screen while driving could lead to a rise in lawsuits and prosecutions. "As a society, we don't accept anything as an accident anymore," he said. "It's got to be someone's fault."
One of the bills signed Friday (HB 23) applies only to drivers under 18 who have provisional licenses. Those drivers may not text, talk on a cellphone, or even listen to one.
A second bill (SB 360) applies to underage drivers with normal licenses, and all adult drivers. It only bans texting, including reading texts: "using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send or read any text based communication."
Using a CB radio or navigation devices or making emergency calls on the road is still legal.
According to the National Safety Council, federal data show at least 6,000 deaths a year are caused by all forms of distracted driving, including cellphone use. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a report earlier this year saying that bans on cellphone use hadn't reduced crashes.
Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who fought for the legislation, said lawmakers had heard objections like Perdue's in committee meetings, but they were "legitimate" concerns and "we look forward to working on it."
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