With Ga. hands-free driving law, Cobb cities plan to nix their versions

The Georgia Legislature's passing of a statewide hands-free driving bill at the very end of its session Thursday has essentially made moot versions cities passed a few months ago in Cobb County.

Spokeswomen for Smyrna and Marietta told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that the cities each plan to rescind their similar ordinances and make way for the state law.

After winning approval just under the deadline on Sine Die, House Bill 673 now heads to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, who has supported the effort.

The bill would require drivers to use hands-free technology when operating cellphones and other electronic devices while driving.

Under House Bill 673, drivers would not be allowed to hold their phones or other devices such as iPods.

Smyrna was the first city in Georgia to pass such a law.

That happened in January after Councilman Derek Norton brought up the ordinance in November as a way to curb road deaths.

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

Norton was inspired by the House Study Committee on Distracted Driving — led by state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta — to figure out what needs to change to stop the rise of traffic deaths statewide.

The parents of Emily Clark, one of the five Georgia Southern University nursing students who died in a seven-car crash in April 2015, spoke to Smyrna City Council members to convince them the law was needed. Clark, from Powder Springs, was 20 years old.

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Jennifer Bennett, Smyrna’s spokeswoman, said the city plans to extend the ordinance until July 1 — that’s the day the statewide law would go into effect if approved by Deal.

“When the statewide law is signed, we will likely rescind our city ordinance and enforce the new state law,” Bennett said.

She said that was likely going to be discussed at the council’s Monday night meeting.

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Marietta passed its version of the ordinance six weeks after Smyrna.

Lindsey Wiles, a spokeswoman for Marietta, said an item to delete the ordinance has already been placed on the agenda for the City Council's March 11 meeting.

“There are a few areas of differences between the state’s version and our version, but we will respect state law in its entirety and follow the language and law in House Bill 673,” she said.

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