By Allan Galis, special to Business in Savannah
On July 1, enforcement begins of the recently enacted Hands-Free Georgia Act, which, broadly speaking, prohibits holding or cradling a cell phone while driving. It is important for all drivers to be aware of the universally applicable provisions of the law, but certain provisions are specific to commercial drivers and are thus particularly important for Savannah’s logistics sector. Regardless of whether you are a private or commercial driver, questions are likely to abound. Some of the most important are covered below.
What devices are covered?
The Act applies to the use of “a cellular telephone, a portable telephone, a text-messaging device, a personal digital assistant, a stand-alone computer, a global positioning system receiver, or substantially similar portable wireless device that is used to initiate or receive communication, information, or data.” It also includes devices that store audio or video data files to be retrieved on demand by a user, such as iPods.
What devices are not covered?
The Act does not apply to the use of “a radio, citizens band radio, citizens band radio hybrid, commercial two-way radio communication device or its functional equivalent, subscription-based emergency communication device, prescribed medical device, amateur or ham radio device, or in-vehicle security, navigation, or remote diagnostics system.”
What is prohibited?
- Holding or cradling a covered device with any part of the body.
- Writing, sending, or reading any text-based communication (e.g., a text message, instant message, email, or Internet data) while holding a covered device.
- Watching a video or movie on a covered device other than watching data related to the navigation of the vehicle (e.g., GPS).
- Recording or broadcasting a video on a covered device (although an exemption is provided for “electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle”).
What is allowed?
- Hands-free technology such as voice-based communication automatically converted to text by the device to be sent as a message in written form, as well as earpieces, headphones, and voice-controlled smart watches.
- GPS and mapping navigation apps.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes, exceptions include reporting accidents, emergencies, and hazardous road conditions and using a covered device in a lawfully parked vehicle. The Act also makes certain exemptions specific to first responders and utility service providers performing official duties that are beyond the scope of this article.
What about commercial drivers?
Commercial drivers are prohibited from using more than a single button on a covered device to initiate or terminate a voice communication. They are also prohibited from reaching for a covered device if doing so will cause them to no longer be in a seated driving position or be properly restrained by a safety belt.
What are the penalties?
The Act provides for a range of fines and points that can be added to an offending driver’s record, depending on the number of given offenses in a set time period. However, one aspect of the Act is worth keeping in mind as the new law is being implemented: first time offenders will receive a “not guilty” finding if, in court, they produce a compliant hands-free device (e.g., ear piece or headphone) or proof of purchase of one after receiving a ticket. This privilege may only be used once.
In sum, all Georgia drivers should become familiar with the Act. For businesses that employ commercial drivers, it is likely prudent to conduct training and to conspicuously post safety updates summarizing the law to ensure that employees are knowledgeable about its requirements.