Should teen drivers use electronic devices? Georgia bill says ‘no’

Most Georgia teenagers would be prohibited from using a cellphone while driving under a bill that cleared a state House committee Tuesday.

House Bill 113 would prohibit motorists under 18 from using a phone or other electronic device while behind the wheel. If it becomes law, it would restore a prohibition that expired last summer with the enactment of the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which sought to crack down on distracted driving.

Last year’s law prohibits anyone — regardless of age — from handling their phone or other electronic device while driving. It was a big change for many adults, who previously had been prohibited from texting but could hold their phone and talk while driving.

Under the old law, motorists under 18 had been prohibited from using an electronic device at all. But to make the new law simpler, the Hands-Free Georgia Act treated teen drivers like adults — they could use their devices if they used hands-free technology.

Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, who sponsored last year's law, now is asking lawmakers to restore the ban on drivers under 18 from using electronic devices at all.

HB 113 would apply to anyone with an instructional permit (generally 15-year-olds) or with a Class D provisional license (granted to 16- and 17-year-olds who have not committed major traffic violations). The bill also would apply to motorcycle instructional permits.

Under the bill, those teens could not use any stand-alone wireless electronic device while driving. For example, they would be prohibited from talking on the phone, streaming music or getting directions on such a device. A violation would result in a $150 civil fine.

Carson told the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee that teen drivers are four times more likely to be in auto accidents than other drivers and three times more likely to be in fatal accidents. He said 34 states prohibit drivers under 18 from using electronic devices.

“It goes back to the prohibition we had for kids under 18, to get them off their phones, to get them to focus on driving,” Carson said.

The committee approved the bill, but state Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, voted against it. He noted that teens would be prohibited from listening to music even on a stand-alone speaker and said he wanted clarification on such issues.

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