Fines for texting and driving might increase

Irresponsible driving might become more expensive. HB 113 is the first attempt to update the Hands-Free Georgia Act.

The law, which took effect in 2018, prohibits drivers from handling their phones while they drive. Motorists are required to use hands-free technology to have conversations over the phone. 

The bill has resulted in Georgia State Patrol writing nearly 25,000 distracted driving tickets the first year the bill was in effect; however, that figure does not include tickets written by local police. Atlanta police wrote an additional 17,000 tickets.

Currently, first-time offenders are fined up to $50 and one possible point on their license. Second-time offenders face a maximum $100 fine and two possible points. Third-time offenders sustain a $150 fine and a possible three points. 

First-time offenders have the opportunity to have their ticket pardoned by presenting an affidavit that proves that they own hands-free technology. Also, court fees are prohibited in distracted driving cases.

Since the Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect, Georgia traffic fatalities fell by 2.2% in 2018 and an additional 4% in 2019

HB 113 is meant to further discourage drivers from handling their phones. The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. John Carson.

“There are four points on how [Carson] is updating the bill,” Rachel Meyer, Carson’s legislative aide, said.

HB 113 proposes increased fines, allowing court fees, removing the affidavit provision that allows first-time offenders to pardon their ticket and doubling the fine incurred in school or construction zones. 

The maximum fine would increase to $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $300 for the third offense. However, the point system would remain the same. 

Some are reluctant to believe that the proposed bill would make any difference.  

“People are going to do it regardless … increasing the fine is just a way to make more money because they know people are going to do it, and it’s not going to stop people,” Joshua Stowell, a Georgia State student, said. 

Stowell has received three distracted driving tickets, two while handling his phone while stopped at a red light.

“We are living in a technologically advanced world … we all have GPS on our phones,” Stowell said. 

He suggested lawmakers consider those whose jobs require constant phone use and frequent driving.

“My brother is a realtor, and he’s always on the road going from house to house,” Stowell said. 

Other critics call the proposed legislation a tax instead of a fine, but Carson has denied these claims. 

“A tax is mandatory, you have to pay it. It’s not avoidable. Whereas, this fine is avoidable … that’s how … Carson addressed that,” Meyer said. 

The bill will also allocate the fines to a trauma foundation that provides grants to trauma victims. 

“The fines are going to be allocated to the Georgia Trauma Trust Fund. So, they’re not going back into government … they’re going to go right back directly to dealing with the consequences of distracted driving,” Meyer said.