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Hands free is a great law

The state of Georgia has made a serious step in the right direction for public safety and it doesn’t involve any gun/mental health, immigration or terrorism rhetoric. It’s a law that will assuredly save lives, will affect all of us and really tick off a lot of people.

The Hands Free Georgia Act prohibits holding a cell phone while you drive. It was signed by Governor Nathan Deal last week in Statesboro to recognize five Ga. Southern nursing students killed in a highway crash (see story on page 6A).

The new law, which will start with a $50 fine in July for anyone spotted with a cell phone pressed to their eye or in front of the their face while behind the wheel, is desperately needed.

Cell phone use has become so commonplace while in transit that dramatic increases in wrecks are mostly ignored. A Georgia Highway Safety official referred to talking on a cell while driving as “second nature.” It’s amazing that the bill actually had to state that it is unsafe and now illegal to watch a video while driving -- as though people were oblivious to the fact that Youtube and maneuvering a vehicle don’t go together.

The problem now will be convincing the public to really put down that phone. A survey by the National Safety Council found that 25 percent of all drivers felt that sending text messages or e-mails didn’t affect their driving and this percentage jumped to 65 percent for drivers under 35 years old. Many cited the fact they slow down as why their texting and driving was safe – sort of like a drunk claiming to drive better while impaired.

This new law will take aggressive and rigid enforcement to shift the travelling public’s belief that they have some right to talk on the cell while driving. If you have not been following this law, it really does prohibit holding a cell unless you are “legally parked.”

Despite some people’s opinions, statistics grimly show that cell phone use (even taking calls) behind the wheel kills. 

• The National Highway Safety Institute finds that distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016.

The National Safety Council found that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes a year.

Texting while driving is considered six times more likely to cause a wreck than drinking and driving. 

Georgia banned texting and driving in 2010 but that law didn’t have the effect that was desired. Georgia’s crash rate continued to climb, while states with hands free laws were dropping.

Savannahnow.com found that crashes in Georgia rose 36 percent over the last two years as compared with a 16 percent drop in accidents over the same period in 13 of the 15 states that have enacted hands-free laws.

The total ban on holding cells was needed for at least two solid reasons.

First, officers said the texting ban was impossible to enforce as drivers could claim they were making a call, checking a GPS or doing something else on the phone (you should set your GPS before shifting the car into drive).

Second, there are plenty of other actions besides texting you can do on a phone that are distracting. Do you really want someone checking scores on a busy college football weekend while driving along the street where your kids are playing?

Anyone who has ever seen that person weaving all over road, holding a cell in front of their face should support this law. If you are the person who is sure they can use their cell and drive at the same time, get over your privileged attitude because you can’t.

Traveling at 55 mph and looking at your cell for just two seconds allows your vehicle to move half the length of a football field (about 50 yards) without any eyes on the road. If you don’t think bad things happen in that length of time, refer to the fatalities and crash statistics above.