Above: How to use your phone for navigation while staying legal is just one question that people have about Georgia’s hands-free law. Photos by Pixabay.
Georgia’s “Hands-Free” mobile phone law has been effect since July 1, and many people are still trying to figure out how to comply with it. Some of the law’s provisions involve terms about mobile phones and systems in cars that older adults may not entirely understand.
What the Law Says
Here are the key points of Georgia’s hands-free law:
- Drivers cannot have a phone in their hands or use any part of their body to support their phone.
- Drivers can only use phones to make or receive calls by using a speakerphone, wireless headphone or if phone is connected to vehicle’s sound system (radio) or an electronic watch through Bluetooth technology.
- Headsets and ear pieces can only be worn for communication purposes – NOT for listening to music.
- GPS navigation devices are allowed.
- Drivers cannot read or send any text-based communication using a keypad. You can listen to text-to-voice messages and respond by voice. No reading. No typing.
- Drivers cannot watch a video unless it is for navigation.
- Drivers cannot record a video or take pictures through their phones while driving.
- Music apps are permitted as long as they are programmed before travel starts.
These prohibitions still are in effect when you are stopped for a red light or stop sign. They are NOT in effect when your car is parked. Penalties for violating the hands-free law are:
- First conviction — $50 and one point on license
- Second conviction — $100 and two points
- Third and subsequent conviction — $150 and three points
Why the Law Was Enacted
Driver distraction is a major contributor to road accidents, and it’s more than just mobile phones. The latest cars have “infotainment systems” that control your radio, heat and air-conditioning systems, and GPS-based navigation systems, to name just a few. They also provide you with more information about what’s going on with your car and your trip. The result is that their use takes up a lot of the driver’s attention.
There has been a significant increase in vehicular traffic crashes, fatalities and bodily injury with the vast majority in rear-end crashes, single-car crashes and crashes by 15-to-25-year-old drivers. This increase has been attributed to the use of cell phones by drivers.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation has reported that cell phones are involved in 1.6 million auto crashes that cause 500,000 injuries and take 6,000 lives annually.
- According to the National Traffic Safety Administration, 11 percent of drivers are talking on their phones at any given time.
- The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute estimates that texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving while intoxicated.
By contrast, 15 states that have hands-free driving laws showed a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed. While Georgia already had a law prohibiting texting while driving, it was difficult to enforce because it was legal to hold or support a phone. That’s all changed.
How to Follow the Law
- Program your navigation app or in-car GPS before you start driving. If you’re using a phone, mount it on the dashboard so you can clearly see it and the road ahead. If you need to make changes, pull over and park first.
- Turn off your phone or use built-in apps that preclude use while moving. Most phones have settings to generate automated responses to texts and phone calls that let others know you’re driving. If the phone receives call, emails and texts that can’t wait until you reach your destination, find a safe place to park and respond.
- You can go hands-free if you have to make or receive phone calls. Most phones have built-in assistants (like iPhone’s Siri) to access your contact list by voice to make a call, and a single push-button or slider to answer a call. You’ll need to have your phone’s speaker turned on, and you’ll need to turn down your radio volume. It’s not ideal, but it works.
- The best solution is to connect your phone to your car’s sound system through Bluetooth. Most new cars have this technology built in, and many auto manufacturers give you the ability to use a system designed specifically for your Apple or Android phone. Bluetooth systems also can be added to any car. Businesses that install aftermarket automotive sound systems should be able to advise you on a system that meets your needs, install it and explain how to use it. If you’re not sure how to set up your phone to work with your car, call a trusted technology consultant or visit your car dealer.