By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Why and how law enforcement plans to crack down on distracted driving
04042019 DISTRACTED 001.JPG
Gainesville Police Corporal Erik Ellis patrols traffic on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

For the past couple of years Gainesville police officers have gone undercover for one week to ramp up its efforts in combating distracted drivers.

Next week the department plans to team up with Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia State Patrol to initiate this police detail in Gainesville.

They chose to launch it in April in light of Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Sgt. Justin Martin of Gainesville Police said last year that two corporals, Jessica Van and Drew Reed, went undercover as construction workers to catch those inattentive at the wheel.

“It’s very successful,” Martin said. “The officer standing on the side of the road has a better view of violations and it allows better teamwork that way. It also kind of draws attention from the media and public, bringing more awareness to the issue and the fact we’re working on it.”

Martin said next week the Gainesville police and other agencies “may or may not” opt for the construction worker disguise.

Van said while going undercover last year, she would walk up and down the sidewalks around Gainesville. She said the different perspective presented an easier opportunity for pinpointing distracted drivers.

Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van stands on the corner of E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways during a previous effort looking for distracted drivers. Van held a sign indicating police presence while notifying officers in marked vehicles when motorists drove through the intersection without wearing seat belts or were texting while driving. - photo by Erin O. Smith

“You’d see a lot when you’re actually on the outside of a car looking in,” Van said. “Sometimes people were FaceTiming.”

Martin said Gainesville police conducted a smaller version of the distracted driving detail this year on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. In the span of two hours the officers cited 63 violations, which Martin said was low in comparison to what they actually spotted.

On a regular basis Martin said officers see a fairly equal number of people texting while driving in relation to those committing a hands-free violation.

With the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which took effect July 1, 2018, he said people can’t hold their phones in their hands or support it with any other part of their body. Drivers additionally are not allowed to write, send or read any text-based communication, nor watch videos other than a navigation app or GPS screen.

Martin said the department and other agencies plan to focus on areas where they’ve noticed a higher frequency of violations, crashes and traffic.

While applying makeup, eating and other non-driving related tasks are considered forms of distracted driving, Martin said law enforcement handles it differently compared to texting.

“We need something to show that it is making it less safe to drive,” Martin said. “If I see somebody driving down the road eating a burger and fries and they plow into a car or drive through red lights, that counts. It has to impair their driving.”

For more information about Georgia’s distracted driving law contact the Gainesville Police at 770-534-5252.

04042019 DISTRACTED 003.JPG
Gainesville Police Corporal Erik Ellis patrols traffic on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. Gainesville Police Department will team up with Hall County Sheriff's Office and Georgia State Patrol to ramp up their efforts in catching distracted drivers next week. - photo by Austin Steele