Distracted driving bill clears Georgia General Assembly


11:45 p.m. update: The House has approved the distracted driving bill, which now goes to the governor’s desk. Gov. Nathan Deal has endorsed the measure.

10:39 update: The Senate has passed a revised version of House bill 673 and sent it back to the House. 

At issue is a provision that would require first-time offenders to be found not guilty if, in court, they produced a hands-free device or a receipt for a hands-free device after they receive a ticket. The House stripped that provision from the bill earlier today. 

The Senate reinstated and revised the provision. Under the latest version, anyone who shows a court proof that they now have a hands-free device must affirm to the court that they have not previously used the provision to avoid a conviction. The amendment addresses concerns that a chronic offender could repeatedly use the provision to avoid a conviction. 

The House now has less than an hour and a half to accept the Senate’s version of the bill of amend it again.

Original post: The Georgia House of Representatives revised a proposal to crack down on distracted driving Thursday and sent the bill back to the Senate.

House Bill 673 would prohibit motorists from handling their cellphones or other electronic devices while driving. Motorists could still use their phones, as long as they use hands-free technology.

At issue is a provision that would require first-time offenders to be found not guilty if, in court, they produced a hands-free device or a receipt for a hands-free device after they received a ticket. The Senate included the provision in the amended bill it passed Tuesday.

On Thursday, the House stripped the provision from the bill and sent it back to the Senate, which has until midnight to act on the amended bill.

Georgia already prohibits texting while driving. And it prohibits anyone 18 or under from using wireless devices while driving. Police say the texting ban is unenforceable because it’s hard to tell whether a driver is texting or dialing a phone, which is permitted under current law.

Supporters say the hands-free law is needed to stem a rising tide of traffic fatalities. Last year 1,550 people died on Georgia roads – up one-third from 2014. Safety advocates say the public’s addiction to cellphones has played a big role in traffic deaths – our eyes are on our phones instead of the road.

Opponents say HB 673 constitutes government overreach. They say police should do a better job of enforcing the state’s existing texting ban, not penalize drivers for handling their phones to make phone calls.

Check back for updates.

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