Georgia’S New Hands-Free Law Takes Effect July 1St

If you’re a Georgia resident, you’ve probably heard about the “Hands-Free Georgia Act,” a new law that goes into effect July 1, 2018. If you ever use a cell phone or other electronic device while
driving, you’ll want to read on to learn what devices the hands-free law applies to, what it prohibits, and what it allows.

The Hands-Free Law

The text of Georgia’s new hands-free law can be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241. The law originated as House Bill 673, which was passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by
Governor Nathan Deal on May 2, 2018. The law is intended to reduce the number of car accidents caused by distracted driving. Other states that have hands-free driving laws have observed a reduction in the number of traffic fatalities.

The hands-free law applies to both wireless telecommunication devices and stand-alone electronic devices. The law defines “wireless telecommunication devices” as cell phones, portable
phones, PDAs, GPS units, text messaging devices, computers, and other wireless devices that can send or receive data. CB radios and in-dash navigation systems are among the devices excluded from this definition. “Stand-alone electronic devices” are devices other than wireless telecommunication devices that can store audio or video for retrieval on demand. An iPod or other media player would fall into this category.

What The Hands-Free Law Prohibits

The hands-free law makes it illegal to do the following while driving:

  • Physically hold or support a cell phone, media player, or other device listed above. In other words, you can’t hold your cell phone in your hand while driving or even
    keep your cell phone on your lap.
  • Write, send, or read any text-based communication. You can’t text, IM, Facebook message, read emails, pull up webpages, or scroll through Instagram while driving.
  • Watch a movie or video. (This was never a good idea to begin with.)
  • Record or broadcast video, so no Snapchat, Facebook Live, or Periscope while driving. This prohibition does not apply to dashcams, though.

What The Hands-Free Law Allows

Does the new hands-free law mean that drivers can’t use their cell phones at all while driving? No. The law allows drivers to talk on the phone and send text messages as long as both are done hands-free. Bluetooth headsets, earpieces, in-car speakerphones, and smartphone watches can be used to make and receive calls and send texts. The law also allows drivers to use their cell phones and GPS devices for navigation purposes as long as it is done “hands-free.”

Though the law doesn’t specifically discuss using music streaming services while driving, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has indicated that drivers can program and launch radio apps and music streaming services before driving and then listen while on the road. It’s also permissible to listen to streaming music if the programming can be connected to and controlled by the car’s stereo, and offline, stored music is always allowed as long as it can be played without physically holding or supporting your phone or other electronic device.

The new law carves out some exceptions for emergencies and certain categories of individuals. If you’re reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, an actual or potential crime, or a
dangerous road condition, you can pick up your phone to do so. The law does not apply to first responders performing their official duties or to utility company employees or contractors responding to a utility emergency.

It’s still permissible to pick up and use your cell phone or other electronic device while lawfully parked, but be aware that officers will likely not consider you “lawfully parked” while stopped at a red light or stop sign.

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