A driver’s over­view of the Hands-Free Ge­or­gia Act

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - PAUL GHANOUNI

The Hands-Free Ge­or­gia Act be­came ef­fec­tive July 1. While Ge­or­gia pre­vi­ously had laws against dis­tracted driv­ing and tex­ting while driv­ing, this law in­creased the restric­tions re­gard­ing the use of cer­tain de­vices while op­er­at­ing mo­tor ve­hi­cles and in­creased the po­ten­tial pun­ish­ments for those vi­o­la­tions. The new law has ad­di­tional spe­cific pro­hi­bi­tions for com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle drivers, but this ar­ti­cle fo­cuses on im­pacts of the law on non-com­mer­cial drivers while driv­ing a mo­tor ve­hi­cle on the public roads of Ge­or­gia.

The first part of un­der­stand­ing the law is un­der­stand­ing what de­vices are in­cluded and ex­cluded. The law uses the phrases “stand­alone elec­tronic de­vice” and “wire­less telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice” through­out its pro­hi­bi­tions. The law de­fines a “stand-alone elec­tronic de­vice” as “a de­vice other than a wire­less telecommunications de­vice which stores au­dio or video data files to be re­trieved on de­mand by a user.”

It de­fines a “‘wire­less telecommunications de­vice” as “a cel­lu­lar tele­phone, a por­ta­ble tele­phone, a text-mes­sag­ing de­vice, a per­sonal digital as­sis­tant, a stand-alone com­puter, a global po­si­tion­ing sys­tem re­ceiver, or sub­stan­tially sim­i­lar por­ta­ble wire­less de­vice that is used to ini­ti­ate or re­ceive com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in­for­ma­tion, or data.” How­ever, the law ex­cludes “a ra­dio, citizens band ra­dio, citizens band ra­dio hy­brid, com­mer­cial twoway ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice or its func­tional equiv­a­lent, sub­scrip­tion based emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice, pre­scribed med­i­cal de­vice, am­a­teur or ham ra­dio de­vice, or in-ve­hi­cle security, nav­i­ga­tion, or re­mote di­ag­nos­tics sys­tem” from the def­i­ni­tion of a “wire­less telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice.”

The next part of un­der­stand­ing the law is un­der­stand­ing what it does and does not al­low. The law makes it il­le­gal to phys­i­cally hold or sup­port any of the de­vices out­lined above with any part of the driver’s body. How­ever, there are ex­clu­sions to the wire­less telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice pro­vi­sion: when the driver uses an ear­piece, a head­phone de­vice, or a de­vice worn on a wrist. To meet this ex­clu­sion, these de­vices must be used to con­duct a voice based com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It is im­por­tant to note that a dif­fer­ent law makes it il­le­gal to wear head­sets or head­phones that would im­pair a driver’s hear­ing abil­ity, un­less they are for com­mu­ni­ca­tion pur­poses. This means a driver is vi­o­lat­ing the law if they are wear­ing head­phones to lis­ten to mu­sic.

The law also makes writ­ing, reading, or send­ing any text based com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in­clud­ing text mes­sages, e-mails, in­stant mes­sages, or in­ter­net data on ei­ther of the de­vices de­fined above il­le­gal. The two ex­cep­tions to this pro­vi­sion are voice based com­mu­ni­ca­tion that is con­verted by the de­vice to be sent as a mes­sage in writ­ten form, and the use of such a de­vice for nav­i­ga­tion and GPS pur­poses.

A driver record­ing and watch­ing videos is ad­dressed in the law. Drivers are pro­hib­ited from watch­ing a video or movie on these de­vices, un­less they are watch­ing data re­lated to the nav­i­ga­tion of the ve­hi­cle. It is also il­le­gal for a driver to record or broad­cast a video on these de­vices while driv­ing. An ex­cep­tion ex­ists to this law for “elec­tronic de­vices used for the sole pur­pose of con­tin­u­ously record­ing or broad­cast­ing video within or out­side of the mo­tor ve­hi­cle,” such as dash cams.

There are a few ex­cep­tions to the laws in the Hands-Free Ge­or­gia Act. A driver is not vi­o­lat­ing the law if a driver is us­ing the de­vice to re­port “a traf­fic ac­ci­dent, med­i­cal emer­gency, fire,” a crime, “or road con­di­tion which causes an im­me­di­ate and se­ri­ous traf­fic or safety haz­ard.” You can also use these de­vices while a ve­hi­cle is law­fully parked.

The penal­ties for vi­o­lat­ing these laws are mea­sured within a 24 month pe­riod, from con­vic­tion date to con­vic­tion date. For a first con­vic­tion, the max­i­mum fine is $50 and 1 point will be as­sessed on the in­di­vid­ual’s driver’s li­cense. Upon a sec­ond con­vic­tion within the 24 months, the max­i­mum fine in­creases to $100 and 2 points are as­sessed against the in­di­vid­ual’s driver’s li­cense. For a third or sub­se­quent con­vic­tion within a 24 month pe­riod, the max­i­mum fine is $150 and 3 points are as­sessed against the in­di­vid­ual’s driver’s li­cense for each con­vic­tion.

While many so­cial me­dia posts have ref­er­enced a grace pe­riod af­ter July 1, 2018, for the law, none ex­ists out­side of an in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cer or agency’s dis­cre­tion. What the law does al­low for is a once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity to avoid a con­vic­tion for the of­fense of hold­ing or sup­port­ing one of these de­vices with any part of the body. The law says that “[a]ny per­son ap­pear­ing be­fore a court for a first charge of” phys­i­cally hold­ing or sup­port­ing one of these de­vices “who pro­duces in court a de­vice or proof of pur­chase of such de­vice that would al­low such per­son to com­ply with such para­graph in the fu­ture shall not be guilty of such of­fense.” The per­son will also be re­quired to af­firm that they have not pre­vi­ously done this in an­other court. It should also be noted that this one op­por­tu­nity is not avail­able for any of the other pro­hib­ited ac­tiv­i­ties ex­cept hold­ing or sup­port­ing the de­vice with a part of the driver’s body.

Drivers should know that this act did not change Ge­or­gia’s re­quire­ment that a driver “ex­er­cise due care in op­er­at­ing a mo­tor ve­hi­cle on the high­ways of this state and shall not en­gage in any ac­tions which shall dis­tract such driver from the safe op­er­a­tion of such ve­hi­cle.” Drivers should re­mem­ber to al­ways drive safely and to avoid tak­ing any ac­tion that can dis­tract them from op­er­at­ing a mo­tor ve­hi­cle.

Paul Ghanouni is a lo­cal at­tor­ney and former as­so­ciate mag­is­trate judge. His firm, the Teen & Young Adult De­fense Firm, fo­cuses on help­ing young peo­ple make sure they have ev­ery op­por­tu­nity for their fu­ture when fac­ing a crim­i­nal charge. To learn more about Paul and his team, visit www.TeenAndYoungA­dultDe­fense.com.

Paul Ghanouni

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