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As the bill sponsor of the Hands-Free Georgia Act, I wanted to take a moment to clear up a few things so that both constituents and fellow lawmakers know what this proposed bill really does – and what it doesn’t do.
We all see fellow drivers looking at their phones in traffic, while on their daily commute and on interstates every day, and drivers are doing more than just texting. Research from the telecommunications industry shows a sharp increase in mobile internet data. This means people are accessing more internet data for social media and other websites.
After extensive committee hearings over last summer and fall, the House Study Committee on Districted Driving found that distracted driving is killing our loved ones, causing bodily injury and adding to our insurance costs. Georgia’s traffic crashes increased by 36 percent in just two years according to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Last year alone, 1,550 people died in automobile crashes on Georgia roads; that’s more than four deaths per day. Additionally, Georgia continues to lead the nation with increasing auto insurance costs. In 2016, our state’s average premium was twice the national average. Finally, according to a recent poll by Landmark Communications, more than 82 percent of Georgia voters believe that texting while driving is a major contributor in the number of increased auto crashes.
The law enforcement community has told us that the current law banning texting and internet use is simply not enforceable because officers can’t determine if drivers are texting or simply dialing a phone number.
The study committee also found that of the 15 states that have similar hands-free legislation, 13 have seen a 16 percent average decrease in traffic fatalities within two years of passing legislation. If this is achieved in Georgia, we could save approximately 250 lives each year. That’s the size of a high school class.
Under the current legislation, drivers can still talk on their phone and touch their mobile device to dial, receive or end a call. Drivers can also use voice-to-text technology, as well as GPS navigation. However, HB 673 does prevent drivers from holding or supporting their phone with their body. It also prohibits drivers from texting, watching YouTube, streaming Netflix or looking at Facebook while driving. This is a common-sense bill that will save lives.
Over the past year, I have heard from mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who have lost someone due to distracted driving crashes. These stories are heartbreaking, and while I can’t take the pain they feel away, I can do something to hopefully prevent another family from facing tragedy. As a husband and a father, the thought of losing my wife, child or someone else I love to a distracted driver is unimaginable.
The hands-free legislation does not take away your right to talk via your hands-free device; however, it may very well save your life or that of a loved one.