Georgia’s hands-free law is decreasing traffic fatalities

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Traffic fatalities in Georgia have steadily decreased since lawmakers started passing laws addressing distracted driving, according to information released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to the traffic safety administration, Georgia’s total traffic fatalities have decreased by about 4.5 percent since 2016.

State Representative John Carson, a Republican from Marietta, attributes the success of Georgia’s hands-free law to the work of the 2017 House Study Committee on Distracted Driving, which first provided recommendations to the House after learning of the traffic fatalities from 2016.

After the hands-free Georgia law was enacted in 2018, Georgia began to experience a significant reduction in year-over-year traffic fatalities for the first time in more than 10 years.

In 2019, Georgia’s traffic fatalities fell nearly one percent since the passage of the hands-free law. These decreases were achieved despite increasing population, economic activity and a growing number of fatalities from the rise of electric scooters. 

“Recent data continues to prove the impact of the Hands-Free law,” said Carson. “The Hands-Free law has helped change our culture for the better, but we still have more work to do to curb the number of traffic crashes and fatalities that result from distracted driving. We have made great progress, starting in 2017 when the Georgia House first held study committee meetings on distracted driving. Total traffic fatalities are down 4.5 percent since 2016, and when adjusted for Georgia’s population and traffic, the number of fatalities for miles traveled is actually down 12 percent since 2016.  Unfortunately, even though COVID-19 has reduced most traffic on our roads, traffic fatalities were up in 2020 due to both speeding on lightly used roads and distracted driving during the pandemic. I plan to introduce legislation this session that seeks to drive down these preventable traffic fatalities.”

During the 2021 legislative session, Carson says he plans to introduce legislation which would remove a loophole for individuals charged with distracted driving for the first time.

Georgia law currently allows those who are charged with violating the Hands-Free law for the first time to appear before the court with a device or proof of purchase of a device that would prevent them from distracted driving; such devices may include a hands-free phone mount or Bluetooth technology. State law requires the court to clear the individual of this first offense if the offender provides a device or proof of purchase of one. Carson seeks to remove this language from state law to prevent distracted driving offenders from avoiding penalties.  

“Georgia’s current Hands-Free law must be updated as our citizens continue to witness the deadliness of distracted driving,” Carson said. “Our court systems simply cannot track these affidavits and certainly don’t communicate across various jurisdictions. Given the law has 98-99 percent awareness amongst Georgia drivers, it’s time for this waiver to be repealed to prevent more deaths on our roads. The bill, as currently drafted, is supported by both the Georgia Association of Solicitor-Generals and the District Attorneys’ Association of Georgia.”