Georgia House votes to ditch loophole in distracted driving law

The Georgia House adopted a measure Monday to discourage distracted driving on the state’s highways by eliminating a loophole that allowed thousands of first offenders to avoid fines for violating the restrictions.

The measure, House Bill 247, is part of a broader effort to end a dangerous habit that has contributed to thousands of traffic fatalities. It passed 119-52 with no debate ahead of a “crossover day” deadline.

Lawmakers in 2018 adopted the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which prohibits motorists from handling cellphones and other wireless devices while driving. But it also included a provision that requires judges to dismiss charges against first offenders who bring a receipt for a hands-free device to court.

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The “get out of jail free” provision allows motorists to demonstrate they intended to comply with the law in the future. It’s hard to tell how many citations have been dismissed because of it, but last year The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found it was used thousands of times a year in Atlanta alone.

HB 247, which now moves to the Senate, would eliminate that provision. It also would tweak the fines for distracted driving violations. Under existing law, a first offense costs up to $50, but judges can set lower fines. The new bill would impose a flat $50 fine for a first offense.