Drivers may have sped Sunday morning, but at least they behaved using their mobile phone.
With the July 1 start of Georgia’s new hands-free driving law, Hall County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Meeks watched for usual traffic violators but also studied drivers and what they may have been holding as he went out on patrol.
He pulled over a couple of speeders and answered a hit-and-run call -- but no mobile phone users.
Not that he wasn't looking, but “when you quit looking for somebody talking on their phone, that’s when you find it,” Meeks said.
Drivers in Georgia already were banned from texting on their phones, but a bill passed by the General Assembly this year made it illegal for drivers to hold a phone at all in their hands.
The new law stems from concerns about deaths from distracted driving, which are also driving up insurance rates.
Drivers caught using a mobile phone or similar device face a $50 fine and a point on their license, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. A second citation comes with a $100 fine and two points, a third $150 and three points.
If a driver racks up 15 points in two years, his or her license will be suspended, according to the Georgia Department of Drivers Services.
“We’re doing a 90-day grace period … to get people educated,” Meeks said. “We’ll write warnings.”
However, “I don’t know how you could say you don’t know (about the law) at this point, with all the (news) coverage it has gotten,” he added.
As far as out-of-state drivers breaking the law, “I’m not going to write someone a ticket for something they legitimately maybe not have known about,” Meeks said. “That doesn’t seem very fair to me.”
Primarily, according to the state, a driver cannot have a phone in his or her hand or use any part of their body to support a phone. Drivers can only use their phones to make or receive phone calls by using speakerphone, earpiece, wireless headphone, phone connected to vehicle or an electronic watch.
Music streaming apps can be used provided the driver activates and programs them when they are parked. Drivers cannot touch their phones to do anything to their music apps when they are on the road.
Gainesville Police Department Sgt. Justin Martin, who oversees the department’s traffic unit, has noted that GPS navigation devices are allowed only when mounted on a dashboard or used with some other hands-free device.
However, drivers can’t enter GPS directions while driving.
“The big thing is,” Meeks said, “set your GPS before you leave.”
Also, video is not allowed. If you’re using a streaming service that includes video, you can be ticketed.
Meeks said he was driving behind a vehicle a year ago at night when he noticed a phone “mounted to the windshield and the driver watching an anime video.”
The deputy sighed deeply. “C’mon now, especially on the interstate.”
Distracted driving isn’t just a phone issue.
“A lot of people are eating going down the road — guilty,” Meeks said, with a laugh. “Sometimes, that’s the only chance you get. And you see people putting on their makeup or reading a book.”