Georgia Legislature Considering Hands-Free Cell Phone Law

After successfully pushing through two measures to curb distracted driving in Georgia last year in an effort to reduce motor vehicle accidents, lawmakers are turning their attention this year to passing a law against drivers using cell phones while driving.

HB 67 would prohibit Georgia motorists from talking on hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. Under the proposed law, drivers would be able to use cell phones so long as they did so with a hands-free device.

If the law is passed, Georgia would become the ninth state in the US to adopt a hands-free law for all drivers. Currently, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are the only states with laws prohibiting all drivers from talking on hand-held phones while driving. Twenty-eight other states have laws limiting the use of cell phones by certain drivers, such as bus drivers and novice drivers.

The bill has been assigned to the House telecommunications committee. State Rep. Roger Williams (R-Dalton), a member of the committee, has said that he believes the bill would improve the safety of Georgia's roadways and has a good chance of passing.

However, for as much support the bill has garnered early on, there also has been opposition to it. Some believe that the law will be too difficult to enforce, making it ineffective. There also have been arguments raised that the law infringes on personal freedoms and at some point, drivers need to take accountability for their own actions rather than having the legislature tell them what they can and cannot do.

Others, including the Georgia chapter of the National Safety Council (NSC), believe that the proposed law does not go far enough and want to see Georgia become the first state in the country to ban the use of all cell phones by all drivers. The NSC points to studies, including one conducted by the University of Utah, that have found that the risk of using a cell phone remains the same whether using a hands-held or hands-free device. The most dangerous distraction for the driver is the conversation they are having, not the time they spend entering in the phone number.

In 2010, the Georgia legislature passed a texting while driving ban for all drivers (SB 260) as well as a law prohibiting drivers under the age of 18 from talking on a cell phone while driving, regardless if the device is hand-held or hands-free. Violations of either law result in a $150 ticket and a one-point assessment against the driver's license. These laws went into effect on July 1, 2010.

Distracted Driving Related Deaths on Rise

The problem of distracted driving in Georgia and across the US has become worse in recent years. According to a recent report by the American Journal of Public Health, the number of fatalities in the US caused by distracted driving increased by 28 percent between 2005 and 2008.

There have been numerous studies conducted on the dangers of cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle. One study found that drivers who talk on a cell phone while driving have the same level of impairment as those driving drunk. A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that those who use hand held cell phones are four times as likely to get into a crash causing injury to themselves.

The increase in the number of distracted driving car accidents has tracked the growth in the use of cell phones and other telecommunication devices by the driving public. From 2004 to 2008, the number of US drivers using cell phones increased from eight to 11 percent. In 2005, fatal accidents associated with distracted drivers accounted for 10 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the US. By 2009, this number increased to 16 percent of all accidents involved a distracted driver.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

Regardless of whether Georgia passes a hands-free law, motorists who drive distracted and cause an accident are responsible for paying for any damages they cause. This may include the injured victim's medical expenses, lost wages and property damage, among other losses.

If you have been in a car crash caused by a distracted driver, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today. An attorney experienced in handling motor vehicle accident cases can help you with your claim, including helping you obtain fair compensation from the other driver's insurance company. For more information, contact Butler Wooten & Peak LLP today.