Gridlock Guy: How to get legal for the July 1 Hands-Free Act

This article was written by WSB Radio's Doug Turnbull, "The Gridlock Guy"

ATLANTA - The July 1 Hands-Free Georgia Act meets Georgians at the intersection of driving and phones. Any changes with either are not just about enforcement, they are culture-shock.

As we covered here last week, the amended “Anti-Texting Law” now bans drivers from holding or resting phones while they use them anywhere on their bodies, period.

The law allows people to dial phone numbers and adjust GPS navigation, as long as the phone is in a holder, on the seat or on the console (again, not on the person). The law allows zero device-touching for texting, adjusting streaming apps, social media, emails or anything else.

Drivers can do those things completely hands-free or through a car entertainment system in the dashboard.

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And the law completely bans watching or shooting videos from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

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This then begs this question: Do drivers need to buy anything to use phones more legally behind the wheel?

“We don’t want to get into the situation where we’re telling people they have to buy something,” Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Communications Manager Robert Hydrick told the AJC and WSB.

Hydrick said that the law is lenient enough to prevent people from having to buy tools or better vehicles to use their phones, but that does not mean people should simply just obey the new law. Drivers should strive higher to decrease their chances of getting hurt and hurting others.

“You can make phone calls, but what we want people to understand is to limit your phone calls,” he said.

Hydrick said that a good rule of thumb is to just try to limit calls to the bare minimum of length, instead of 30-minute, soul-baring therapy sessions. (OK, I added that last part). For people who compare phone-use to other acts, like talking to a passenger or eating, Hydrick said the difference is that phone calls and texts take much longer than taking a bite and are more mentally distracting.

And he said that some studies show that any kind phone use increases chances of death by four times. That and the increasing crashes and insurance premiums recently in Georgia is why this law is getting more strict.

To legally and more safely make calls, drivers can start with just putting an earbud in one ear. If drivers use the earbuds that come with their phones, they normally have mics on them that allow for easy hands-free control of calls and other phone functions. Driving with one earbud or a cheap Bluetooth earpiece (as cheap as $7-10) is legal and much more safe than holding a phone or using speakerphone.

As for housing the phone, the law says it cannot be on your body at all when in use. While drivers can put the phone in a cup holder, on a console, or on a seat and then use the speaker, trying to reach over and make calls and input addresses into a GPS is very difficult. Having the phone at or near eye-level makes using it much easier and safer.

Walmart (no, they are not sponsoring this article) has phone holders that clip into AC vents for as cheap as five bucks. I personally use one that is similar to what police use, that extends off of a post attached to my console, but that may be over the top for most people. Many stores also carry phone holders that suction to windshields and, contrary to some rumors online, windshield mounts are not illegal in Georgia.

If drivers have newer cars, they should learn how to use the in-car options. Most late models are Bluetooth-ready, as are most mobile devices. The newest cars interact nearly seamlessly with phones for calls, texts, streaming and GPS. Android Auto is even more user-friendly than Apple CarPlay, but both mobile giants have gone to great lengths to innovate in this field. A little time spent in the driveway with a car owner’s manual and the phone could go a long way to improving the commute.

Drivers should also explore what options in their phone settings can limit notifications and even calls. Apple’s “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature under “General” and “Restrictions” in the “Settings” part of the phone allows drivers to choose to allow certain interactions when the phone thinks the vehicle is in motion. Android and Windows phones have a similar “Driving Mode” feature that users can manipulate in the “Settings” section of the app list on the device. Enabling these will help set up some useful guardrails as people adjust to the law.

Hydrick said the law is more about changing a mindset. “What we hope to see happen when this law goes into effect is to see people get the phones out of their hands and spend more time driving and less time interacting with their phones.”

CLICK HERE to visit GOHS's very helpful website for those with questions on the law.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.

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