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Georgia seeks to double fines for distracted driving

Although motor vehicle fatalities have decreased in Georgia since the state enacted a new distracted driving law in 2018, lawmakers and safety advocates report that many drivers still use smartphones and devices behind the wheel. In February, State Representative John Carson sponsored a new bill with higher fines to discourage drivers from taking their attention off the road. 

Explore the changes that House Bill 113 could bring to the current Hands-Free Georgia Act. 

Increased penalties 

Currently, the maximum fine for a first distracted driving offense is $50. The new bill would increase the maximum first-offender fine to $100 and double the fines for subsequent offenses to $200 and $300 respectively. Proponents of the changes say that higher penalties would discourage more drivers from texting and using social media apps behind the wheel. House Bill 113 also allows courts to increase the fine with added fees and costs. 

Existing distracted driving laws 

Although House Bill 113 is still under state legislator review, drivers must abide by the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which took effect in 2018. This law prohibits drivers not only from texting behind the wheel, but also from handling any smartphone or electronic device while driving. The person may not be touching or supporting a device with any part of the body when operating a vehicle. 

Drivers may talk and text only when using hands-free technology. The law also prohibits taking and watching videos while operating a motor vehicle, although the state makes an exception for GPS and navigational videos. Dashboard cameras that run continuously and do not contact the driver’s body also fall under this exception. 

Drivers may control streaming music playlists through their vehicle’s stereo system or infotainment screen. However, they may not play videos on this screen while driving or control the playlist by touching the smartphone or device. 

In addition to the fines described above, drivers who violate the Hands-Free Georgia Act receive one driving record point for the first conviction, two points for a second conviction and three points for a third conviction.