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See how law agencies are enforcing hands-free phone law
Numerous warnings issued for drivers who violate new state restrictions on cellphone use
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Gainesville Police Officer Derek Evatt prepares for traffic patrol Friday, July 6, 2018 at the Gainesville Public Safety Complex. There have been 179 citations and nearly 800 warnings across the state by the Department of Public Safety during the first week of the hands-free driving law. - photo by Scott Rogers

After parking his Gainesville Police vehicle in the grass, Officer Derek Evatt surveyed the Friday rush hour traffic on E.E. Butler Parkway out of Gainesville. His gaze shifted almost robotically as each car passed, checking the hands of every driver for a cellphone.

“Normally we’d come out here and sit and it didn’t matter. We would always see somebody, phone in hand, texting right in front of us and not even thinking about it,” Evatt said.

Crackdown on callers

*Department of Public Safety: 179 citations and 795 warnings from July 1-4

Georgia State Patrol Post 6 (Banks, Hall and White counties): 4 citations and 6 warnings from July 1-4

Hall County Sheriff’s Office (estimates): 4 citations, 75-80 warnings from July 1-6

**Gainesville Police: 46 citations/warnings from July 1-6

*includes Georgia State Patrol, Capitol Police and Motor Carrier Compliance Division

**Gainesville Police did not disclose a breakdown between citations and warnings

Since the hands-free phone law took effect Sunday, July 1, Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van said there have been 46 citations and warnings from the department. Van did not disclose the breakdown between citations and warnings.

As a result, Evatt said he has seen fewer people with cellphones in their hands while driving, but not everyone is on the same page yet.

In an hour of driving around Gainesville, Evatt found three drivers violating the hands-free law and issued warnings to all three. Each scenario was different.

One person was parked in a turn lane outside of Free Chapel and texting. Another was changing the music with the phone in hand, and the third was holding the phone to look at the navigational map.

“It’s a habit to break, and we understand that. I found myself doing it a couple times,” Evatt said.

At the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Todd Casper estimated he gets 30 calls a day from people looking to understand the dos and don’ts of the new law.

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There have been 179 citations and nearly 800 warnings across the state by the Department of Public Safety during the first week of the hands-free driving law. - photo by Scott Rogers
“Most cases where the driver is just holding their cellphone and talking, we’re just pulling people over and writing them warnings right now,” he said. He estimated four citations were issued this week because the driver was also texting.

Casper gave a ballpark estimate of at least 75-80 warnings this week regarding the hands-free law. He described one situation where a driver at a traffic light was talking on the phone. An officer admonished the driver through the open window.

“They put their phone down and drove off. (They) came up to the next light and there they were, talking on their phone again,” Casper said.

Casper said the Sheriff’s Office is looking at potentially 60-90 days of warnings while people get educated on the new law.

The law requires that drivers may not hold or support a cellphone with any part of their body, and drivers cannot “write, send, or read any text-based communications.”

Music apps are still allowed, but the driver must activate them when parked.

“Speaking with Walmart employees, the managers told me that they are having problems keeping Bluetooths stocked. The headsets are just flying off the shelves,” Evatt said.

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Gainesville Police Officer Derek Evatt prepares to hit the streets during traffic patrol Friday, July 6, 2018 at the Gainesville Public Safety Complex. There have been 179 citations and nearly 800 warnings across the state by the Department of Public Safety during the first week of the hands-free driving law. - photo by Scott Rogers
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