Will Georgia's new texting and driving law work?

Will Georgia's new texting while driving law be properly enforced?

The 30-day grace period is over and Georgia law enforcement officials are now cracking down on motorists who text while behind the wheel.

Drivers paying more attention to their cell phones than the road.

It seemed to be a problem that was getting out of hand.

Georgia's new no-texting-while-driving law is intended to help make the problem a thing of the past.

Drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use the phone at all while driving.

Drivers 18 and over can use the cell phone but can't text.

A ticket will cost you $150, $350 if using your cell phone results in an accident.

The problem is, if someone is driving down the street holding a cell phone, how would an officer know if the person is talking, texting, or just using their GPS?

Georgia: Cell phone laws, legislation

Cell phone legislation news: After a one-month delay, enforcement of Georgia's new distracted driving laws is under way. The bans on text messaging while and cell phone use by drivers under 18 technically went into effect July 1, but violators can expect $150 fines after Aug. 1.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging banned for all drivers. Fines of $150.
  • Drivers under the age of 18 prohibited from using cell phones, regardless of whether a hands-free device is attached. Also bans computer use. Fines of $150.
  • School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving, if passengers are present.

2010 session legislation (successful):
SB 360 : Would outlaw text messaging and related activities on cell phones while driving. Specifies the ban would not apply to cell phone calls. Fine $150. Also would prevent young drivers with instructional licenses from applying for a regular license if guilty of two texting violations in a year. Approved by the Senate on March 18. Approved by the House (131-19 vote) on April 27 and sent to the governor. Signed by the governor on June 4. Took effect July 1. Latest action: After a one-month delay in writing tickets, enforcement began Aug. 1. (Murphy)

HB 23 : Would prohibit drivers with restricted licenses who are under 18 from using wireless devices such as cell phones and texting units. Fines up to $150 plus possible license suspension. If driver is found at fault in an accident, fine would double and license would be suspended. Approved by the Georgia House on March 12, 2009, but stalled in the Senate after a second reading in March 2009. "Recommitted" in Senate as of Jan. 11, 2010. Approved by the Senate (47-0 vote) on April 27. Signed into law by the governor on June 4. Went into effect July 1. Latest action: After a one-month postponement, enforcement began Aug. 1, 2010. (Ramsey)

More 2010 session legislation:

HB 938 : Would restrict all drivers from text messaging. Drivers under 18 also prohibited from using cell phones while driving. Fines $50 to $100 plus two points. If driver is found at fault in an accident while texting, fine would double and license would be suspended. Under-18 drivers would lose license for 90 days on first offense, then six months. Directs law officers to note use of wireless communications on accident form. Approved by the House on March 26 in a 134-31 vote. (Peake)

Georgia House Bill 945 : Would outlaw use of cell phones and related texting devices by all drivers while operating a motor vehicle on state roads and highways. Fines up to $300. (Amerson)

HB 944 : Would prohibit drivers from texting and emailing. Fines up to $300. (Amerson)

HB 940 : Limits students' use of electronic devices, including cell phones, while on a school bus. Drivers are already barred from using cell phones. This bill's main target is bullying. (Hugley)

SB 306 : Exempts hands-free devices such as Bluetooth headsets from the state law prohibiting use of headphones while driving. Passed by the full Senate on Jan. 28, 2010. (Heath)

SB 327 : Sseeks a ban on text messaging and using handheld cell phones while driving. Primary enforcement. Fines $175 then up to $500. One driver's license point, then two. (Thompson, Thomas)

2010 legislation notes:
Enforcement of the Georgia distracted driving laws that went into effect July 1 was delayed until Aug. 1 due to an "administrative decision" by the Georgia Department of Public Safety. Violators are now subject to $150 fines.

Suspense hung over the text messaging and cell phone laws approved by Georgia's Legislature as the governor fretted over enforcement issues. Safety advocates and students lobbied successfully in the final days of the legislative session for him to sign the bills. Gov. Perdue said June 2 of the SB 360 texting ban: "I've got some concerns over the enforceability of that. â| None of this business is black and white."

Rep. Allen Peake, who sponsored similar legislation, said that Perdue had threated a veto but saw the light: "I think you have to look at it from this standpoint. The benefits significantly outweigh the negatives and the concerns about law enforcement."

State media reported that Perdue cut a deal with lawmakers that his concerns about enforcement would be addressed via new legislation next year. "Therein lies a potential problem," the Athens Banner-Herald editorialized June 8. "It's certainly possible that, in addressing Perdue's concerns, lawmakers could cause additional confusion. â| (They) might be well advised to leave well enough alone when it comes to the new law on texting while driving." (Perdue will not be in office in 2011.)

The successful measure SB 360 also is known as the "Caleb Sorohan Act for Saving Lives by Preventing Texting While Driving," in memory of a Dahlonega teen killed in a texting-related crash. The bill notes that "virtually every driver in Georgia now possesses" a cell phone.

Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlongea, says he was inspired to file the anti-text messaging Georgia House Bill 944 by friends who lost their grandson in a texting-related accident over the holidays.

Sponsor Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, said: "My bill started out just to ban teenage texting, but as we went on, we got more feedback from constituents saying, 'Hey, why doesn't this apply to adults?'"

A driver who was cited for driving while using a hands-free headset inspired SB 306, which modernizes the Georgia law against the wearing of headphones while operating a motor vehicle. Sponsor Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, saw his bill become the first legislation passed by the Senate in the 2010 session. "Drivers who want to be safe on the road and use hands-free devices should not be penalized for using good judgment," he said. The law predated widespread use of wireless telecommunications devices.

2009 legislation (inactive)
HB 19 : Would create distracted driving penalties for motorists who were using cell phones at the time of an accident, with or without hands-free devices. One-point penalty and up to $500 fine upon conviction. Appears dead.

HB 21 : Would ban drivers with learning permits (instructional or provisional) from using cell phone, with or without hands-free devices. One-point penalty upon conviction. No action â" see HB 23.

Georgia cell phone/texting legislation notes:
"It doesn't matter if you're a teenager or an adult. You're still dangerous to other people," says Rep. Amos Amerson, R-Dahlonega, whose HB 945 would ban texting by all drivers regardless of age.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers , R-Woodstock, says he'll "be happy to look at" evidence showing text messaging while driving is dangerous. He plans to focus on property tax issues in 2010.

HB 23, which was approved in the House on a 138-34 vote, calls for fines of $50 to $100 and two points on the offender's driving record. An accident caused by a teen using a cell phone would result in a loss of license for three months or until the driver turns 18.

HB 23 was sponsored by Reps. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, Edward Lindsey of Atlanta and Tom Rice of Norcross (all Republicans). "If the law is enacted and proves successful, it will bolster the case for further efforts to reduce distractions among all drivers," Ramsey wrote on his legislative blog. Of a ban on handheld cell phones for all drivers, he wrote, "I would not be optimistic it would pass this year."

Cell law inspiration : Ramsey notes he was run off the road by a high school student talking on a cell phone while driving.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, has been a driver of cell phone driver legislation in Georgia. She filed the bills HB 19 and 21 for the 2009 legislative session, but they were not approved. Her HB 174, banning use of cell phones by teen drivers, also failed to become law in 2007.

Georiga's law preventing school bus drivers from using cell phone while on the road was enacted in August 2007.