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Prepare now for new Hands-Free law

The time to prepare is now. On July 1, just a matter of days, a new Georgia law goes into effect making it illegal for drivers to touch their electronic devices while behind the wheel. The Hands-Free Georgia Act will not only make it illegal to hold your cellphone; the law makes it illegal for any electronic device to touch any part of your body while operating a motor vehicle on the road. According to the law, drivers can only use their phones to make or receive phone calls by using speakerphone, earpiece, wireless headphone, vehicle-connected phone or an electronic watch. GPS and navigation devices will still be allowed but drivers must not be holding the device. The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) is encouraging drivers to practice the new requirements so going hands-free will become the new normal. ’It’s become a habit we don’t think twice about since we have been talking on our phones while driving for more than three decades and it is going to take time for all of us to stop automatically reaching for the phone when it rings,’ GOHS communications director Robert Hydrick said in a statement. The law does not require the purchase of any device or holder for your phone, but the GOHS recommends drivers who want to talk on their phone while driving to place it where they can access it easily so as not to interfere with their ability to drive. Local drivers have seemingly taken notice. Barnesville’s Verizon store manager, Mary Strickland, said the increase in customers asking about hands-free options has been ‘substantial.’ She said about four out of every 10 customers who come in ask about it because of the new law. She also says she feels she has an obligation to bring it up on her own. ’It’s our due diligence,’ Strickland said. ‘Most commercial customers opt for Bluetooth headset devices while the everyday consumer has been opting for other devices.’ Aside from buying new devices, drivers are also encouraged to explore the safety features already on their phones. Some phones have a do not disturb feature which, when activated, detects when a phone is moving and notifies the sender of a message or call that the person they are trying to contact is driving and will get back to them once they are off the road. ’While the new law will allow drivers to use ‘hands-free’ technology to make/receive phone calls and use GPS devices, drivers cannot at any time use their phones to write, read and send text messages, e-mails, social media and internet data. The use of voice-to-text technology is allowed, Hydrick said.’ Drivers are also prohibited from watching and recording videos. Drivers are allowed to listen to music through streaming apps on their phone so long as they do not activate the app or change music through their phone while driving. Music streaming apps programmed and controlled through the vehicle’s radio are allowed. ’Whether it is listening to music, making a phone call or finding the best route on your GPS, we want to everyone to remember keeping your focus on what is happening on the road is your top priority every time you are behind the wheel,’ Hydrick added. Hydrick said the law will not contain a 90-day grace period and will be enforced immediately. Officers will be issuing warnings for violations for the first few months as part of the education effort, but citations can and will be issued starting July 1 where officers believe they are warranted, especially those violations that involve crashes. For more information on the new law, go to headsupgeorgia.com/handsfree-law or send questions to info@gohs.ga.gov.Â

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