Georgia’s new distracted driving law takes effect on Sunday, July 1. Want to know what's legal and what's not? :Ask me anything and find out more on Georgia’s new law here:


Comments: 1016 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

verik394 karma

These types of laws (in Wa State too) always seemed well intended but impossibly unreliable.

How are they possibly going to produce evidence in a court of law to this? If an officer writes a ticket but I contest the ticket before a judge and say I wasn't using my phone. What proof is there beyond his word vs mine?

ATLreporter420 karma

A couple of points here. I rode with a GSP trooper who had the ability to direct video into the car he was watching, so he had video proof of people texting while driving.

Second, police are trained to provide as much detail as possible in their reports. So they won't just say "observed driver holding a phone." They'll say "observed driving with a phone in a pink case, scrolling on Facebook." Or something like that. The more detail they provide, the more credible their report. And, let's face it, in court, the police officer's word is likely to carry more weight than ours.

contact287161 karma

Could you tell us a little more about the ability to direct video into a car? What sort of device was it?

ATLreporter169 karma

He had a small camera on his windshield that fed video to a screen in his car. He could control the camera. That's about all I saw.

Riimii0 karma

Maybe subpoenaing phone records? Idk.

ATLreporter9 karma

It's my understanding (from police) that they need a search warrant to examine your phone, unless you give permission. A lot of people do give permission.

If you don't, it's up to the officer to decide whether it's worth it to request a search warrant. Usually, they don't. But they're much more likely to if you were involved in an accident, especially with injuries or a fatality.

mattster42384 karma

A few months ago I changed my GPS address at a stop light and was pulled over for texting. I explained to the officer what I was doing, and he requested to see my phone. When he saw that Waze was the open application, he let me go.

My question is: under the new law, are we required to comply with requests to see our phones? Will there be penalties for not showing our phones similar to penalties for not taking a field sobriety test? And how will disputes be resolved if it’s one person’s word against an officer’s?

ATLreporter291 karma

I'm not an attorney, but it's my understanding that you are not required to show your phone. Many people do. If you do not, the officer has the option of requesting a search warrant. As a practical matter, they usually don't. However, they're much more likely to if you were involved in an accident.

killerK27216 karma

How will this affect ride hailing services who rely on their cell phones to make money? Will the have to put the car in park to legally be able to accept a ride? Thanks in advance

ATLreporter185 karma

The law applies to them as well. A driver who needed to enter a new address could pull over and park to do it. Another option: if the passenger in the car wants to change their destination address, they could do it on the app, so the driver wouldn't have to.

TheSweetestKill120 karma

if the passenger in the car wants to change their destination address, they could do it on the app, so the driver wouldn't have to.

I don't drive for these services so I might be wrong, but I am pretty sure that the driver still has to tap "accept" in their app too.

ATLreporter34 karma

Good point. This may be tough for the drivers.

beastskitta182 karma

Serious question: Why do people keep saying it starts Monday, when July 1 is Sunday? I have seen multiple sites, including the AJC, say Monday.

ATLreporter145 karma

I'm at a loss. I've always reported it starts Sunday July 1. That's what the Georgia State Patrol says, too. Perhaps people are reading the calendar wrong.

beastskitta141 karma

Reread your post here on Reddit.

ATLreporter207 karma


Yikes. That's a mistake. Thanks for being a good copy editor!

ATLreporter123 karma

We've changed it to Sunday. Thank you!

beastskitta65 karma

You are welcome. Not trying to be "that guy," but I have seen (and heard) Monday over and over. I guess it is because June only has 30 days.

ATLreporter121 karma

Sometimes we need "that guy" :)

swansonic108 karma

Do you think they will actually be able to enforce this law? I counted 14 people on their phones on my 7 mile (4 miles on 400 NB) commute home yesterday. It seems to me that it’s going to be very hard for LE to get a handle on.

I really hope they can enforce it though. Nothing like getting run off the road by an idiot on their phone

ATLreporter90 karma

I hear this so much. It's amazing how many people are on their phone on the road.

To answer your question: Law enforcement agencies tell me this law will be easier to enforce than the current texting ban. Generally, if you have the phone in your hand, you're violating the law. Of course, police will have to see you with the phone in your hand (just like they have to see you speeding). There will probably always be people who handle their phones, just as there are always people who speed.

beneathAtree89 karma

Cobb county and powder springs sheriffs say it can’t be on your person at all, legs, pockets, holsters, etc. but haven’t heard this anywhere else. How does that really play out?

ATLreporter52 karma

That is correct. The law says that while operating a motor vehicle a person cannot "physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body" a wireless telecommunication device.

Here's a link to my article giving more detail about what's allowed and what's not:

FluffyBlizzard13 karma

so it looks as though it can be in your pocket, just not on your leg so you are able to see it?

ATLreporter20 karma

A good question. I hate to steer you wrong. On its face, I would think having the phone in your pocket would be okay. But I suppose it could be up to the discretion of the officer. Are you fiddling with it in your pocket? I could see how an officer might determine that is distracting.

Hemp-Hill80 karma

Do you think this will lead to a crackdown on tinted windows?

ATLreporter75 karma

I don't know. It's possible, I suppose. But I would think police could crack down on tinted windows now if they wanted to.

laramilo37 karma

Does this mean you cannot hold your phone or touch your phone? If your phone is mounted, can you tap to answer a call?

ATLreporter54 karma

From a Q&A on the web site of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety:

Could I still talk on my phone while driving?
Yes, as long as it is done hands-free. Drivers would be able to use their phone’s speakerphone, Bluetooth technology, an earpiece, a headphone or other device to allow them to communicate on a hands-free basis. 

Could I touch my cellphone to dial a number or receive or end a call?
Yes. The law would simply prohibit drivers from holding or supporting the phone.

ATLreporter27 karma

You can touch your phone to make or answer a call - you just can't hold it.

ATLreporter35 karma

Folks, I have to step away for a few hours to go out on an assignment. I'll try to answer some more questions later this afternoon.

Thanks for your great questions. You've given me food for thought for future articles. I'll keep writing about this issue.

koldfusion4726 karma

Can you elaborate on any enforcement interpretations of recording a video? Does that only apply if your body is supporting the device and your not legally parked? If it's in a mount and recording like a dash cam will that be illegal?

ATLreporter20 karma

The law says you cannot watch or record a video while operating a motor vehicle, "provided that such prohibition shall not apply to electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle)."

I'm not an attorney. But as I read it, you can record a video if it's something automatic - meaning you can't press "record," "stop," etc., while driving.

I would think it would be okay to record while parked. But I'm not sure, and I don't want to steer you wrong.

contact28725 karma

Do you foresee the Atlanta Police Department enforcing this law? If I recall correctly, when the texting and driving law came out surrounding counties wrote hundreds of tickets in subsequent months while APD publicly said they wouldn't enforce it and wrote no tickets. Not sure if that's still the case today though.

ATLreporter27 karma

I spoke with an APD official who said they will encourage their officers to enforce the law from Day 1.

Frearthandox18 karma

*There are circumstances where you can handle an electronic device while driving: Reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, a crime or delinquent act or a hazardous road condition.

How does that line in the article along with the stipulations of people using gps while driving affect people using apps like Waze where you can mark hazardous materials, accidents, etc on an app?

ATLreporter11 karma

A good question. I believe the exception is intended to let you hold the phone to call 911, etc. Not sure reporting it to Waze counts.

I'm not an attorney. But the state patrol and Governor's Office of Highway Safety say you can't touch your phone to work your GPS app while driving. That's the rule of thumb I'll be using myself.

TheSweetestKill15 karma

Does this mean that my idiot friends who are on their phones at red lights "because it doesn't count, I'm not driving" will actually get tickets now?

ATLreporter15 karma

Under the law, you can't pick up your phone at a stoplight. You have to be lawfully parked - off the street in a place where it's legal to park.

Of course, it's illegal to text at a stoplight now. Perhaps with the new law, police will start cracking down. But enforcement will vary by department.

Graburankles11 karma

What about GPS units (Garmin, Tom Tom, etc.)?? Does it state one cannot enter an address while in traffic?

ATLreporter17 karma

Getting conflicting views on this. The Georgia State Patrol (the state's chief law enforcement agency) and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (charged with educating the public about the law) say you CANNOT touch your phone to type in a GPS address while driving. They say you should type in the address before hitting the road or use voice technology to get directions while driving.

However, I spoke with an attorney and legal analyst who handles traffic cases who says the law is ambiguous on this point. He thinks it may have to be litigated in court or clarified by the General Assembly.

My best advice: Don't touch your phone to enter a GPS address while driving.

almondparfitt10 karma

are there areas or roads/interstates this will impact most?

ATLreporter30 karma

The law applies to all roads and highways in Georgia. I suppose the more traffic, the more people are probably on their phones.

In theory, this will help reduce traffic congestion - accidents are one reason traffic is so bad. If there are fewer accidents, traffic should improve. How much? We'll see.

janeetcetc6 karma

What was the impetus for getting this passed in GA?

ATLreporter24 karma

The state House of Representatives commissioned a committee to study distracted driving because of increasing auto insurance rates. Georgia led the nation in rate increases in 2016. As the study progressed, the emphasis became more about reducing traffic fatalities, which rose by a third in Georgia from 2014-16. A lot of people who lost loved ones in car crashes because of distracted driving testified during the committee's hearings. The committee recommended hands-free legislation to address rising traffic fatalities and insurance rates.

MizchiefKilz5 karma

So it seems you can still do whatever you want with your phone as long as it's in a mount on your dash?

ATLreporter6 karma

Not anything. You can't watch movies, play games, scroll Facebook, etc. You can make a call (with hands-free technology), watch your GPS screen and dictate messages. That's about it.

Scynthious3 karma

Weren't you part of the roundtable discussions they've been having on WSB radio? Really appreciate you guys trying to get the message out about the new law.

ATLreporter3 karma

I was. Thank you!

Spacey_G2 karma

Does this law do anything to address drivers who have their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road but minds focused on a phone conversation?

ATLreporter5 karma

In short, no.

It's true that you're still distracted if you're talking on the phone (or with a passenger), even if your hands are on the wheel. Safety advocates would prefer a law that bans all use of electronic devices while driving. The state House of Representatives committee that recommended the hands-free law concluded a full ban is not politically viable. They would say they produced the best law that democracy can produce at this time. But they're hoping it is the start of a cultural change in attitudes about using electronic devices while driving.

You can read more here:

johnrose811 karma

I personally like the law and don't know why it wasn't introduced sooner. My only concern is that it won't really be enforced and only used as a "tack on" charge to a more serious offense like speeding or car accident. More like a cause than an offense in and of itself. I see the same thing with the law that says the far left lane is for passing only. I've never seen that enforced. Another is semi-trucks can only use the right 2 lanes on all roads in Georgia and only the far right lane on 4 lane split highways. Never enforced.

Do you see this law being all talk and no bite or something we'll actually see law enforcement crack down on?

ATLreporter4 karma

Enforcement, obviously, will vary by department. The State Patrol plans to honor a "grace period" for 90 days, in which they'll hand out warning citations. If they see especially bad behavior, they'll write tickets.

After 90 days, they may do special enforcement crackdowns from time to time, just like they do seat belt enforcement, speeding in certain areas, etc.

There will probably always be people who handle their phones while driving, just like there are people who speed.

Gordon-Ramsey-Snow1 karma

Would the law not apply to entering or changing and address in a build-in navigation system?

I know some cars block this function if you drive over certain speed, but other cars allow it.

ATLreporter6 karma

The state patrol and Governor's Office of Highway Safety say you CANNOT touch your phone/GPS to change an address while driving. I spoke with an attorney who thinks the law is ambiguous on this point. But my advice for now would be to type in the address before you hit the road or use voice technology to do it while driving.

Turtlez_Rawck1 karma

I heard this will make it illegal to use internet radio apps such as Spotify and Pandora. Is this true?

ATLreporter5 karma

Not true. You can still stream music. You just can't touch the phone to change playlists, etc.

Here's an article I wrote on this subject:

ATLreporter4 karma

Also, if your phone connects to your car stereo, you can still touch the stereo to change songs, etc. That's the setup I've got.

moccobroccolo1 karma

Would using a GameBoy while driving be legal, since it's not a wireless *telecommunications* device?

ATLreporter2 karma

Yes, it would be illegal. You cannot play games, surf the web, check e-mail, scroll Facebook, etc., while driving. In fact, it's illegal now.

TheAmazingAaron-2 karma

Why did you think it was a good idea to tell people how to beat the law in court?

It seems like awareness of a 'get out of jail free card' (as you put it), would encourage people to ignore the law if they haven't already gotten a ticket for it.

ATLreporter2 karma

I understand your concern. I've spent much of the last year writing about the problem of distracted driving. I've spoken with numerous people who lost loved ones because someone was texting or otherwise distracted by a phone while driving.

I followed this legislation through the General Assembly, where fines were reduced and exceptions to the "hands-free" requirement were added. I suspect those changes were made in part out of fear of a political backlash by constituents unhappy they could no longer hold their phones while driving. But I think they were also partly a sincere effort to cut drivers some slack as they adjust to the biggest change in Georgia traffic laws in years. Many people have accused lawmakers of government overreach or of trying to generate more traffic ticket revenue with this law. The provision you're concerned about is partly, I believe, an effort to underscore that the law is intended to change people's behavior, not generate revenue. The idea is to give people a chance to comply with the law on a first offense.

That may or may not be a wise decision - that is for you, as a citizen, to decide. But I don't feel bad at all bringing the public's attention to this provision. That is my job - to let the public know what it's government is up to. If you think it's a bad law, I suggest you call your state representative.

many-facedman-2 karma

Why not make the penalty equivalent to a DUI?

ATLreporter2 karma

Good question. The original bill had much higher fines (up to $900). But they were whittled down to $50 for a first offense and up to $150 for repeat offenders as the bill went through committees, etc.d

Based on my conversations with lawmakers, I think the idea is to nudge people to change their behavior, not pummel them with a hefty fine (some people are still convinced this is an effort to gin up more traffic ticket revenue). That may or may not be the right approach. But it's the one lawmakers took.