Georgia bills intended to limit driver distractions

| 1/15/2009

Truckers often drive alongside people who appear to be interested in everything but actually driving. Among the first bills to be filed in Georgia for consideration during the regular session are a few that address driver distractions.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, is the sponsor of a bill that would make it illegal for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to use any cell phone while behind the wheel. Police would be allowed to pull over suspected violators.

Teens found to be in violation would face a loss of one point on their driver’s license.

Another bill offered by Oliver would charge individuals with “driving while distracted” if they are talking on a mobile communication device, including a CB radio, and get in a wreck.

The distracted driving bill would fine offenders up to $500 if they cause a wreck while chatting. Truckers and others also would face a loss of one point on their driver’s licenses.

Advocates for the teen-driving measure say it is a step toward safer roadways.

Currently, 17 states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel.

California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that have bans on all drivers using hand-held phones. With the exception of New York, each of those states also prohibits text messaging. Alaska, Louisiana and Minnesota have their own text messaging bans.

A Georgia lawmaker would like to add teens in the state to the list of drivers who are prohibited from “texting” while driving. Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, has offered a bill that also would forbid drivers under 18 from using their cell phones while at the wheel.

The state’s youngest drivers who are found to be in violation would face fines up to $175. Subsequent violations would result in up to $500 fines.

Police would be authorized to pull over drivers they believe are in violation of the restriction. Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Drivers found at fault in wrecks while in violation would have their licenses suspended for 90 days. Second-time offenders would lose their driving privileges for six months.

Offenders who are involved in wrecks also would face a loss of one point on their driver’s license. Repeat offenders would lose two points.

The Georgia teen cell phone bill (HB21), the distracted driving bill (HB19) and the text-messaging bill (HB23) are in the House Motor Vehicles Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Georgia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor