ATLANTA — At first glance, it seems as though more people may be glued to their phones while driving.
Dangerous, no doubt, but is it true? Has law enforcement stopped enforcing the hands-free law?
“State troopers and local law enforcement agencies are enforcing all traffic laws on a daily basis, including the hands-free law,” Robert Hydrick, communications manager for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said in an email. “Seeing a driver on their phone does not indicate that the law is not being enforced.”
Hydrick notes that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that people obey traffic laws when troopers and officers conduct traffic enforcement on roads and highways.
“Unfortunately, law enforcement cannot be everywhere on the road all the time,” Hydrick said. “While we wished driver behavior when it comes to not using phones when behind the wheel would change overnight, the fact is that this is going to be a long-term effort to show everyone the dangers distracted driving pose to all traveling on the road.”
Georgia’s new hands-free law went into effect on July 1, 2018. The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has turned to the news media, advertising and social media to urge drivers to stay safe and alert while behind the wheel.
According to NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, 82 people were killed in Georgia in 2017 in crashes involving a distracted driver. In 2019, 43 people were killed in Georgia in crashes involving a distracted driver.
While Hydrick acknowledged that the “data does not conclusively prove” the hands-free law saved lives, he does call out the drop in people killed in crashes involving a distracted driver before and after the law took effect.
“Law enforcement officers testified at several House Study Committee hearings in 2017 that Georgia’s previous texting ban law, enacted in 2010, was difficult to enforce because there was no way to prove that a person using their phone was either making a legal phone call or was breaking the law by sending a text message, email, or other type of banned wireless communication,” Hydrick said.
“The hands-free law makes it illegal for a driver to have a phone in their hand or supported by their body when on a public roadway,” Hydrick added. “This law is a primary enforcement law and only requires an officer to see a driver with a phone in hand when on a public roadway.”
Representatives from AAA did not respond to requests for comment.