Crime

Proposed Georgia law would take cellphone out of your hands while driving

CPD Motor Squad conducts another distracted driving sting at Bradley Park, downtown

Lt. Clyde Dent, head of the Columbus Police Department's Motor Squad, said his team conducted another distracted driving sting Wednesday morning. Officers started on Bradley Park and moved to the 13th Street and Veterans Parkway intersection. They
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Lt. Clyde Dent, head of the Columbus Police Department's Motor Squad, said his team conducted another distracted driving sting Wednesday morning. Officers started on Bradley Park and moved to the 13th Street and Veterans Parkway intersection. They

A bill in the Georgia General Assembly that has already passed the House and the Senate would make it easier for state law enforcement officers to identify and cite distracted drivers using cellphones.

And that is welcome news to Columbus police, who have focused attention and resources of undercover operations designed to identify and cite those who are guilty of distracted driving.

The House bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday night on a 55-0 vote, would prevent Georgia drivers from holding their cellphones while behind the wheel. The bill, because the Senate version lowered the amount of the fines, goes back to House for Thursday’s final day of the session. If the House passes the Senate version, it would then go to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature before it becomes law.

In Georgia, it is not illegal to talk on a cellphone, but it is against the law to text and drive as well as manipulate the phone to check social media accounts or send and check emails. That law applies when a motorist is stopped at a red light, Columbus Police Lt. Clyde Dent said.

The bill in front of the General Assembly would make the law cleaner and easier for law enforcement to enforce, Dent said.

“It makes it a lot clearer,” Dent said. “Right now, what we have to do is describe in detail how a person is committing the violation, what hand they are holding the phone in. If we can see what app or social media they are on, we usually present that in court.”

And that is what Columbus police have been doing since June 1 when it did its first of four distracted driving undercover details. They written 389 citations for a number of traffic violations during those operations, the most recent of which was Wednesday morning at Bradley Park Drive and Veterans Parkway at 13th Street.

The undercover spotters who looking for offenders detail the violation and radio motorcycle officers who execute the stops. The law, as written now, requires police to make a distinction between using the phone and texting or scrolling on social media sites.

“From what I understand, and I don’t know everything about it, but it would make it pretty cut and dried,” Dent said. “If you are holding the device, you are violating the law.”

A conviction for distracted driving in Columbus Recorder’s Court carries a fine and court costs of $200.63.

The Senate version of the distracted driving bill, which is called “The Hands Free Georgia Act,” would set the fines at $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $150 for the third time a motorist is convicted. The House version set a flat fine of $300 per violation.

Under the proposal, drivers would still be able to use their phone through a hands-free device. There are currently 15 states that prohibit motorists from using cell phones that are not hands-free devices.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams

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