July 16, 2019 Kennesaw- An undercover police officer dressed as a Cobb County Transit worker participates in an undercover traffic operation on Cobb Parkway in Kennesaw, Georgia on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The Cobb County, Acworth and Kennesaw police departments along with the Georgia State Patrol conducted a Hands-Free Traffic Operation starting at 9 a.m Tuesday morning. The operation was similar to that conducted previously by the Marietta Police Department and involved an undercover element. Officers posed as Cobb County Transit workers to spot drivers not complying with Georgia's hands free driving law. The undercover officers alerted other uniformed officers of violating drivers, who then issued tickets. Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

Undercover cops target distracted drivers in Cobb County

Police in Cobb County dug into their bag of tricks Tuesday to catch drivers violating Georgia’s Hands Free Law.

Cobb, Kennesaw and Acworth cops posed as road workers for an undercover operation targeting distracted drivers. The officers positioned themselves along Cobb Parkway at Blue Springs Road in Kennesaw and used their radios to alert uniformed officers of any drivers they saw using a cellphone illegally.

Cobb police spokeswoman Sydney Melton said ticketed drivers were either texting, browsing websites or talking on their cell phones. In Georgia, it is against the law to hold a phone while on the road. The fine for a first conviction is $50.

About 30 officers participated in the operation, said Cobb police spokeswoman Sydney Melton. Sixty-five drivers were ticketed for using phones. Police also handed out 16 seatbelt violations, seven driver’s license violations and 13 citations for other offences. They made one arrest related to a driver’s license violation.

Tuesday’s set up was similar to the operation carried out June 19 by Cobb and Marietta police and the Georgia State Patrol. During that sting, state troopers wrote 29 tickets, and Marietta and Cobb police wrote 141 tickets and made three arrests.

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Georgia’s Hands Free law, which took effect last July, prohibits motorists from handling their cellphones while driving. The law came on the heels of a rise in traffic fatalities in Georgia and around the country.

According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 1,561 traffic fatalities in Georgia in 2016, a 34% increase over 2014 numbers. Experts say distracted driving played a big role in the surge – drivers’ eyes were glued to their cell phones instead of the road. The numbers have changed for the better, with fatalities dropping from 1,549 in 2017 to 1,514 in 2018, the DOT notes.

The Georgia State Patrol wrote 24,862 distracted driving citations from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, the first year the law was in effect.

July 16, 2019 Kennesaw- A police officer issues a citation during an undercover traffic operation on Cobb Parkway in Kennesaw, Georgia on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The Cobb County, Acworth and Kennesaw police departments along with the Georgia State Patrol conducted a Hands-Free Traffic Operation starting at 9 a.m Tuesday morning. The operation was similar to that conducted previously by the Marietta Police Department and involved an undercover element. Officers posed as Cobb County Transit workers to spot drivers not complying with Georgia's hands free driving law. The undercover officers alerted other uniformed officers of violating drivers, who then issued tickets. Christina Matacotta/Christina.Matacotta@ajc.com
Photo: Christina R. Matacotta

Melton said she hopes drivers will come to realize no text message or social media post is as important as their safety and that of other motorists.

“With our department, we take that seriously,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to protect our community.”

Capt. Mark Cheatham, a spokesman with Acworth police, added that the operation was designed to remind drivers that the law remains in effect and that officers are enforcing it.

“We want to do our job and educate the general public about the dangers of distracted driving,” he said.

AJC reporters Ben Brasch and David Wickert contributed to this report.

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