Smyrna considers ordinance for drivers to put down phones — or pay up

Texting while operating a vehicle can distract a driver. Photo illustration by LAUREN OLSON

Texting while operating a vehicle can distract a driver. Photo illustration by LAUREN OLSON

A Smyrna councilman wants it so you can't use your phone — texting, directions, dialing a number — while driving within the city.

Ward 1 councilman Derek Norton said his hands-free driving ordinance has the support of the mayor and council, so he expects it to pass at their Nov. 20 meeting.

He said Smyrna would be the first city in Georgia to pass such an ordinance.

But the idea certainly isn’t original.

In fact, Norton got the notion from attending House Study Committee on Distracted Driving meetings where victims along with law enforcement officials have spoken about a need for reform. He said he expects some of them to speak at the city meeting when the council will vote.

Georgia highway fatalities rose by a third from 2014 to 2016, when 1,561 people died.

And from the beginning, the legislative committee — chaired by State Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta — was keen on a hands-free driving law.

Current Georgia law bars drivers under 18 with a learner’s permit from using wireless devices while driving and prohibits adults from texting while driving.

“The current no-texting law is not enforceable, so they want something that’ll get people’s attention,” Norton said.

In 2016, the state Department of Driver Services processed 3,866 citations for using phones while driving — up more than 30 percent from 2014, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has previously reported.

No matter the rise in deaths, such legislative efforts have failed in the past.

“I don’t want to wait around and have some tragic accident happen,” Norton said.

He said he based the Smyrna ordinance off of the one passed in Austin in 2014.

“If you have your phone in your hand while driving, then you could get a ticket,” Norton said. “It’s not just public safety, but it’s for traffic flow.”

He said the price of the ticket for first offenses hasn’t been determined, but he thinks it might be around $150.

Pricing details for that along with subsequent offenses and other facets of the ordinance will be ironed out at the council’s next work session.

If it passes, he said it would go into effect Jan. 1. Smyrna would also put up signs at the city border alerting drivers to the ordinance.

“Hopefully some other municipalities will look at what we’re doing and do the same thing,” he said. “ ... It’s not the cure-all to go to hands-free ... but it’s a first step.”

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