As the Georgia General Assembly prepares to go to work next week, one Columbus lawmaker plans to introduce legislation to modify the state’s distracted driving laws in the wake of a crackdown by local police.
Rep. John Pezold, R-Columbus, said he will follow through with plans to drop a bill which will make it legal to take your attention away from the road while operating a vehicle — if it’s stopped at a traffic light.
Under Georgia law, it is not illegal to talk on a cell phone, but you cannot text or email while in control of a motor vehicle. That includes when stopped at a traffic signal.
“What I would like to see is that you are not guilty of distracted driving unless the vehicle is moving,” Pezold said.
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The three-term lawmaker, who will not seek re-election this year, is making his move to alter the law after Columbus Police started a crackdown on distracted driving. Beginning June 1, police conducted three such stings last year, one in the Bradley Park area, one along Macon Road near I-185 and the other on Victory Drive about two miles from the Fort Benning gate.
Columbus police wrote more than 250 tickets total in the three stings, many of those for distracted driving. Some were for other violations, including not wearing a seat belt. Pezold said in August after the second police sting he was preparing a possible bill that he will introduce in the House.
“I have been working with legislative counsel,” Pezold said on Thursday. “I am convinced the intent of the current law is not to criminalize someone taking a sip of water while stopped at a traffic light.”
In the initial operation on Bradley Park Drive, police, using plainclothes officers posing as a roadside work crew, ticketed motorists who were not paying attention and tuning the radio or working with a GPS system while stopped. In the operations that followed, police were far more specific in what they were looking for from drivers.
“We are not just getting folks who pick up the phone and swipe it one time,” said Sgt. Fred Carnes during the October stops on Victory Drive. “And we are getting people who go through a red light two seconds or more after it changed.”
Pezold is not the only lawmaker looking at the state’s distracted driving laws. State Rep. John Carson, a Cobb County Republican, chaired a House Study Committee on Distracted Driving, and said he will hold a news conference next week to talking about the findings, according to EastCobbNews.com.
A poll cited by Carson’s study committee found that two-thirds of Georgians favor a hands-free driving law in Georgia (66.4 percent), with nearly 22 percent undecided, according to EastCobbNews.com.
“I’m encouraged to see that the majority of Georgia voters are supportive of a hands-free driving law in our state,” Carson said in a statement in December. “Last year alone, over 1,500 people died in automobile accidents on Georgia roads, and according to a recent poll, over 82 percent of Georgia voters believe that texting while driving is a major contributing factor to the increased number of auto accidents. Distracted diving is an extremely serious public safety concern, and it is absolutely essential that this issue is addressed in the 2018 General Assembly session to prevent further distracted driving-related car crashes and fatalities.”