Gridlock Guy: Hands-free requirement coming for drivers with phones


Besides the normal Atlanta traffic grind, one prediction I have had for the metro area commute is that the state will pass some form of hands-free requirement for all vehicles.

The winds have only strengthened in that direction since Jan. 1.

With Georgia road fatalities sharply increasing in the last four years, civic leaders are finding action a more urgent matter. And despite cell phone use behind the wheel use blatantly rising, the general public’s rhetoric seems to reflect the want for this change. A similar bill did not pass under the Gold Dome last year. But since then, a study committee formed and seems to have gained more momentum.

The city of Smyrna officially passed an ordinance on Jan. 2 banning the use of handheld devices behind the wheel. The law bans holding and talking on phones and only allows one swipe of the screen to answer or make a phone call or to start GPS navigation.

The ordinance fines violators up to $150.

By the way, Smyrna’s city limits are extremely jagged. The city’s boundaries include an area west of I-285, south of and including Windy Hill, a western border of S. Cobb Drive/East-West Connector/Cooper Lake Road/Concord Road/Cooper Lake Road, and Buckner Road and Pebblebrook Road to the south.

So you really need to keep your paws off your phone in south Cobb County.

State lawmakers released details of their version of a hands-free bill and it looks similar to Smyrna’s. As the AJC’s David Wicker reported, the bill would require distracted driving violators to pay $150 fine for the first offense, but repeat violators could pay as much as $900.

Smyrna’s bill only allows fines up to $150.

Georgia’s current anti-texting bill only docks one point on a driver’s license, but this proposed bill would allow up to four points. If drivers rack up 15 points within a two-year period, they can lose their licenses. Taking away driving privileges may be the one way to really change driver behavior in this vehicle-dependent city.

One distraction that neither bill addresses is one that is only proliferating. Newer vehicles have interactive dashboards that do everything from reading texts and emails, to arranging music and the radio, to showing 360 degree cameras, to housing GPS programs, to making phone calls. Neither bill allows for specific punishments for drivers seen swiping or pecking down at their dashes too often.

As with most any proposed law, compromise might be needed. Other bills of this variety have not passed, but police officers have told the committee that they need something more concrete to be able to actually catch and punish offenders. Seeing someone on their phone at all is much easier to determine than to try and see if someone is simply dialing or texting. As the law stands, dialing is allowed only texting is banned.

Lawmakers face a tough session these next few months, with big votes expected on adoption, infrastructure and mass transit. These issues are sure to divide their constituencies and force tough, unpopular decisions. But with public opinion seeming to grow more wary of distracted driving and with fatalities on the rise, votes to require Georgia drivers to drive hands-free may be easier.

Georgia’s House and Senate need to act soon, but we as motorists need to do right, regardless of the law. We are all part of the problem — let’s not simply wait for others to solve it.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at doug.turnbull@coxinc.com



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