Georgia roadway fatalities in 2019 drop after hands-free law enacted

The Hands-Free Georgia Act was signed in 2018 by then-Gov. Nathan Deal to curb distracted driving.

| April 11, 2019 at 12:00 AM


Distracted driving is a pervasive problem throughout the United States, and various states have enacted their own measures to tackle the issue. In Georgia, where fatal crashes increased at three times the national average, the Hands-Free Georgia Act was signed in 2018 by then-Gov. Nathan Deal to curb distracted driving.

After going into effect on July 1, 2018, the law virtually closed all loopholes and prohibited any cellphone use in a driver’s hand. Even with hands-free technology, “drivers cannot write, read or send text messages, emails, social media content and other internet data while on the road.”

As a result, the annual fatality trend on Georgia’s roadways in 2019 currently sits at 348, down from 1,514 in 2018, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

 

The big picture

Before the Hands-Free Georgia Act went into effect, the Georgia House of Representatives created the House Study Committee on Distracted Driving. The committee found that increases in traffic crashes caused the state’s auto insurance premium rates to increase from 2012 to 2016. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Georgia had the highest average increase in auto insurance premiums in 2016, leading the nation at 12.2%.

Driver behavior factors into auto insurance rates and premiums. While this isn’t the first time The Peach State has issued a law to limit distracted driving, drivers are following the law much more closely this time around. An analysis by TrueMotion of over 21,000 drivers in Georgia — three months before and four months after the law began — revealed just how the law has altered driver behavior.

TrueMotion found that in the three months leading up to the new law, drivers in Georgia were texting and using apps 19.5% of their time behind the wheel. But after the law went into effect, distracted driving fell to 15.4% of total driving time, a 21% decrease.

Law enforcement gets a boost

As the state’s traffic crashes became more frequent and severe, law enforcement efforts were “unenforceable” because they couldn’t determine whether a driving “is texting or simply dialing a telephone number.”

A key finding from the committee’s study stated: “Our texting laws are ineffective. For example, there were more Georgia traffic fatalities per [vehicle miles traveled] in 2016 than before our 2010 texting law.”

With the law in its current format, law enforcement will likely have an easier time issuing penalties. Each time a driver is stopped for illegal use of their cellphone, they will be fined at higher amounts and receive an increasing number of points on their license.

As pervasive as distracted driving is, Georgia’s law highlights one way it can be curbed. But the problem remains an elusive one across the country, so states must consider all options if there is ever to be a day where roadways in the United States are free of distracted drivers.

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