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Teens mixed over texting legislation
Hall County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Fleming fills out an application for a summer teen driving program for sophomore Wendy Martinez, 15, Wednesday at West Hall High School. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

With Georgia lawmakers on the verge of banning texting while driving, 15-year-old Wendy Martinez knows some teenagers will be upset if the law is passed.

“Yes, they will,” she said Wednesday, after signing up at West Hall High School for a teen driver course offered by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

Martinez said she knows that many teens text behind the wheel, though she said her friends are cautious. A law banning the practice is a good idea, she said.

She’s not so sure about a law that could ban teens ages 16 to 18 from talking on a cell phone while driving.

“It really depends on the person and their abilities,” in dealing with distractions, she said.

Earlier this week, the state House and Senate voted on separate versions of a bill that could outlaw text messaging while driving and possibly keep teens from talking on a cell phone while driving. The measure headed to a conference committee and could be taken up today in the final day of the session.

West Hall freshman Cailyn Cain said she agrees with the proposed law for the most part, though she said there should be an exception for hands-free devices or emergency uses.

“I do think holding a phone to your ear while driving is kind of dangerous, and texting, I understand completely,” Cain said.

“Whenever you’re texting and looking down, it takes a split second to have an accident.”

Cpl. Vic Gazaway, an instructor for the Hall County Sheriff’s teen driving program, estimated that “95 percent or more” of the 300-plus students that go through the program each year now text.

“They all do it,” he said. “It’s become a nationwide problem.”

If the proposal to ban texting while driving becomes law, the sheriff’s instructors will adapt the weeklong summer program to educate teens on the new law, Col. Jeff Strickland said.

Since 2002, about 4,000 Hall County high school students have gone through the sheriff’s teen driver program, which is free. Since 2007, the office has been licensed by the state Department of Drivers Services to meet the provisions of Joshua’s Law, which requires that all 16-year-olds applying for driver’s licenses complete an approved driver education course.

Hall County schools do not have driver education classes.

The program will be taught June 1 to July 26, with eight classes of 40 students each enrolling.

“Clearly, it’s going to fill up fast, because it’s a free program,” Lt. Gene Joy said.

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