Senators consider "Hands-Free Georgia Act" to put the brakes on distracted driving

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) - A new house bill against distracted driving is gaining speed with Georgia legislators. House Bill 673 passed through the House of Representatives last week and now sits in the Senate awaiting a vote.

The bill, also known as the "Hands-Free Georgia Act", seeks to keep busy drivers' hands on their wheels and off their phones and mobile devices, especially when on busy highways. There are already laws in place against texting and driving in Georgia. However if HB-673 passes, drivers would no longer be allowed to call, navigate, or even hold their phones while their vehicles are in motion.

Director for the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety Harris Blackwood tells News 3's Mikhaela Singleton this newest attempt at distracted driving legislation is meant to make the laws more enforceable.

"It gives our officers the opportunity to look over at a car, if they see the phone in a person's hand, then they are automatically in violation of the law," Blackwood says.

He adds he thinks Georgians are ready for change as fatalities continue to plague the highways.

"Some of the text messages we've heard anecdotally from people who've been killed, 'I'll be right there', 'I love you', 'I'll call you in a few minutes', 'I'll see you soon'," Blackwood recounts. "None of those messages were worth that person's life." 

Residents of Columbus and the surrounding areas also tell News 3 they are tired of risking their lives for a ringtone.

"I've had people change lanes and needed to slam on the brakes a bunch of times cuz people are just not paying attention to what their doing," says Cecil Franklin while visiting Columbus from Smiths Station. "All these apps and videos and distractions, it's too much."

Others say while they love their phones, they hope lawmakers will find a way to compromise with the rising need for technology.

"My biggest thing is the navigation, people travel. You tellin' me we have to go back to the old ways of using maps?" asks local resident Corion Cofield. "Technology is going to be the future. why not think of a new law or implement a new way for us to use our cell phones inside our vehicles that way we don't get a ticket for it and we use it the right way, you know what I mean?"

HB-673 does include exceptions for mobile device use only when using hands-free options like a headset or Bluetooth connectivity. However, it also provides steeper punishments for repeat distracted driving offenders, including added points to your license.

"I feel like people should be using hands-free anyway, I do that already," Nyua Taylor tells News 3's Mikhaela Singleton. "I remember from experience, I was trying to change my radio and someone came around the corner while it was dark, so I was like, okay I can't do this anymore. Nothing is more important than your life and the people around you."

Before the "Hands-Free Georgia Act" gets a floor vote, there will be opportunities for amendments and for the senators to compromise.

News 3 reached out to our region's representatives to ask if they will vote "yea" or "nay" on the distracted driving legislation.

Senator Ed Harbison says he plans to support the bill in "an effort to curtail the tragic accidents that are occurring on our highways." Senator Josh McKoon's office has not yet sent back a response.


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