It is no secret that distracted driving is a major problem in Georgia. While there are a number of different types of distractions that can lead to a driver losing focus, cell phones in particular are one of the major contributors to the distracted driving epidemic. You can just drive on any major roadway in Atlanta, like I-285, and look to the lanes beside you and see any number of drivers with their eyes glued to their iPhones instead of the road.
National, state, and local government authorities have explored a number of different solutions to help fix this problem. The City of Smyrna, a suburb of Atlanta located in Cobb County, recently tried to tackle the problem by becoming the first local government in the state of Georgia to enact a ban on handheld device use by drivers.
In January, the Smyrna City Council passed a temporary ordinance banning the use of handheld electronic devices while driving a vehicle. The law takes effect April 2, 2018, though police will only issue warnings for the first 45 days. The law is temporary (lasting just two years) in hopes that the Georgia Legislature will soon enact a statewide ban.
Drivers are allowed “one touch” for actions such as starting GPS or accepting a phone call, so long as the device is mounted to the vehicle. Emergency calls can still be made with a handheld device. But, otherwise, a driver can be ticketed for having an electronic device in their hand, even if stopped at a red light. The fine is $150. Drivers in Smyrna will need to use either their vehicle’s Bluetooth capabilities, if the vehicle has a Bluetooth system, or a hands-free headset while driving. (Using an electronic handheld device while parked off the roadway is, of course, still legal.)
The good news is this ordinance is a step in the right direction to make everyone safer on the road. The only way roads will truly be safer is for every driver to realize driving is a dangerous, divided attention task that requires focus and responsibility. But, until drivers overall come to this realization, bans on handheld devices, if strongly enforced, provide a measure of protection.
The bad news is one city cannot tackle a statewide (and nationwide) problem alone. Disconnected laws that vary from city to city can cause as much confusion as they do protection. Hopefully, the Georgia Legislature will act soon to better protect drivers on Georgia roadways.