The House of Representatives approved legislation that would require Georgia motorists to use hands-free cell phone technology when they drive.
House Bill 673 also would ban watching movies, recording videos and otherwise fiddling with gadgets in a way that takes your eyes off the road while driving. It would double the fine for distracted driving to at least $300. And it would increase the penalty from one point assessed against a driver's license to up to six points for repeat offenders. Drivers with 15 points in a 24-month period lose their license.
The House passed the measure by a vote of 151 to 20. It now goes to the Senate.
Advocates say the bill would stem a rising tide of highway fatalities on Georgia highways – 1,534 people died last year. Safety advocates say drivers distracted by electronic devices are a major contributor to the rising death toll.
Georgia already prohibits anyone 18 and under with a learner’s permit from using a wireless device while driving. And it prohibits adults from texting and driving.
Law enforcement officials say the texting ban is unenforceable. They say it’s difficult for officers to tell whether a driver is texting or dialing their phone – which is permitted under current law.
HB 673 would remove the guess work from enforcement. Most handling of electronic devices would be prohibited, though drivers could still use their devices with hands-free technology.
Fifteen other states have adopted similar “hands-free” laws, and most have seen substantial reductions in traffic fatalities. Based on their experience, state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the bill’s sponsor, believes HB 673 could save 300 lives a year.
“That’s a high school class in Georgia,” Carson told his House colleagues.
The bill allows exceptions for emergency situations like reporting an accident. And it exempts police, firefighters and others performing their official duties (you can read a fuller description of what is and isn't allowed here).
The House defeated an amendment that would have stripped the bill of most of its provisions.
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