Are Georgia's Distracted Driving Laws Being Enforced?
ATLANTA, GA - One news channel discovered that one of Georgia's traffic enforcement agencies had permitted distracted drivers to go with a warning. The 2018 Georgia Hands-free Law makes it illegal, with a few exceptions, to touch a cellphone while driving. However, there is interest in ending loopholes that give violators a "free pass on the first offense." Currently, some violators of the Georgia Hands-free Law avoid fines if the violators simply present a judge with an affidavit confirming that the violator has purchased a hands-free device for cellphone usage.
State Representative John Carson helped lead the effort to create and pass the Georgia Hands-free Law in 2018.
Soon after the new law took effect July 1, 2018, Georgia State Patrol made public announcements that they were aggressively citing drivers under the new law, and the agency had issued about 180 citations for distracted driving within the initial five days. The news report states that the second reported number from Georgia State Patrol for the same five days was more troubling: Georgia State Patrol Troopers issued 795 warnings for driving distracted. This is about 4.5 times the amount of citations written.
According to the news report, the investigative news reporter Richard Belcher discovered that the Georgia State Patrol's 2020 activities summary showed that troopers made over 45,000 stops for seatbelt violations in 2020 but only issued citations in 63% of the cases. The reporter also observed that only 62% of offenders were ticketed in about 7,400 stops involving child restraint offenses. By comparison, only 36% of the 67,360 distracted driving violation stops were ticketed in 2020. The other 64% of violators received a warning.
Lieutenant Mark Riley, a Georgia State Patrol spokesman, responded by email to the news report stating that compassion is one of the Department of Public Safety's central values and each Georgia State Patrol trooper uses discretion in how they interact and educate the public. Mr. Riley also stated that the intention of all Georgia State Patrol policies is to decrease serious crashes, injuries, and fatalities in Georgia. Fatal accidents did drop from 2018 to 2019, but 2020 had a record number of fatal accidents.
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