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Georgia legislature may ban handheld phone calls while driving

While no U.S. state bans all types of cell phone use for drivers, House Bill 10 (HB 10) in this year’s state legislative season could change a portion of that for Georgia drivers.

If passed, HB 10, a bill proposed to ban all hand-held phone calls while driving, would make Georgia the 14th state in the nation to ban this cellular method of communicating, according to The National Conference for State Legislatures’ (NCSL) website.

Georgia Representative Rahn Mayo initially supported HB 10 and introduced it to the assembly on Jan. 15, according to the Georgia website. The following individuals are also listed as supporters of the bill: Margaret Kaiser, Karla Drenner, “Coach” Williams, and Keisha Waites.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a study in 2012 stating that 18 percent of fatal car crashes that year were caused by driver distraction. Cell phone use is listed as one of the activities that contribute to distracted driving.

However, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development reports there is a difficulty discerning any degree in the difference of distractions between hand-held calls and hands-free use, according to a study conducted by Helmut Schneider.

An additional NHTSA report states various technologies require some degree of the driver’s focus to change from driving to pressing buttons and setting up or answering phone calls.

“Although current hands-free interfaces allow drivers to communicate with their voice, there is a concern that they still allow, and sometimes require, handheld cell phone subtasks,” the report states. “Drivers can, and frequently do, initiate hands-free calls, text/browse during hands-free calls and end hands-free calls with a handheld cell phone. Hands-free interfaces also require that drivers enable a Bluetooth connection, pair their cell phone, and manually dial if their voice commands are not recognized.”

Jennifer Dupree, a non-traditional Georgia State student and mother who lived in Washington D.C. where a similar law is in effect, said she believes HB 10 is a good idea.

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“There are so many distractions on the road and a lot of young people are dying because of devices like our cell phones. It is a good idea to go wireless so that there are less distractions and drivers keep their eyes on the road. I had one incident where I was on my phone and I almost had a car accident because of it, so I set my phone to driving mode,” she said.

HB 10 states subtasks of hands-free phone calls are not included in the ban just as long as the driver is not using his or her hands or is supporting wireless telecommunication devices with their heads and shoulders after engaging in communication has been initiated.

“Except for a hands-free telephone call, a driver shall not use a wireless telecommunications device to place or conduct a telephone call while operating a motor vehicle on the public roads or highways of this state,” HB 10 states.

The bill also states the restrictions of drivers would not apply to drivers in the following situations:
1. A person reporting a medical emergency/fire/road hazard/traffic accident
2. Reporting a potential crime/occurring crime
3. A public utility employee or contractor acting for their employment or responding to a public utility emergency
4. Public safety personnel responding to his or her official duties
5. A driver with more than six wheels or a commercial motor vehicle driver
A person using a wireless telecommunications device while parked

Georgia State senior Isabelle Kapik said she does not support Representative Mayo’s bill and fears the negative effects the amendment could lead to.

“As a Georgia driver, I can personally vouch for the number of young and old drivers alike who blatantly ignore this statute multiple times a day. I have not personally observed any decrease in the number of drivers on the road and their phone … Realistically, I think people will adhere to the bill for a month or two maximum,” she said.

Kapik also said she was concerned with how this bill might give officers another reason to target specific drivers.

“I see these ‘misdemeanor offenses’ as a way for state patrol to target and persecute select individuals at will. Like drug laws, the legislation is typically bent to align with the agenda of the prosecution. Based on their prerogative, they pull individuals over on the roadway at their own discretion,” Kapik said. “While I would like to believe all officers enforce the law with the same indiscretion as the law is blind, I know through fact and personal experience humans do not behave this way.”

Currently there are no federal laws entirely prohibiting cell phone use while driving. However, the NCSL lists 37 states with laws prohibiting the hand-held use, according to the organization’s website.

Of all 50 states, Arizona and Montana are the only two with no laws against texting and driving, according to the NCSL.

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