Georgia considering ban on handheld devices for drivers over 18

Brett Daniel

The Georgia House of Representatives is currently considering passing a bill that would ban drivers over the age of 18 from using handheld devices while driving.

Presently, all drivers in the state of Georgia are prohibited from writing, sending and reading text messages while driving, but drivers over the age of 18 (aside from bus drivers) are not forbidden from using handheld devices to make a voice call while driving.

House Bill 163 would change this.

Currently, distracted driving citations warrant a $150 fine. Kathy Clark, mother of Emily Clark, one of the five Georgia Southern nursing students killed by a distracted driver in April of 2015, doesn’t think this is an adequate punishment.

“Our family believes it is going to have to be something similar to driving under the influence,” Clark said.

In Georgia, a driver aged 16 to 20 may have his or her license suspended anywhere from six to 12 months if caught driving under the influence. This is in addition to a $210 fine and a DUI Alcohol and Drug Risk Reduction Program.

A driver aged 21 or over may face a $300 to $1,000 fine, suspension of his or her license for up to one year, a DUI program, community service, possible imprisonment and possible limitations placed on his or her license.

GS Police Chief Laura McCullough said she doesn’t see much of a difference between Georgia’s prohibition on texting and driving and the prohibition on handheld devices as addressed in HB 163.

“If I pull out my phone and make a call, I’ve got to read [text] to find who I’m going to call,” McCullough said. “So, am I violating the law or am I not? In my opinion, there’s a little bit of ambiguity in that.”

Clark believes part of the reason drivers are so prone to distracted driving is the fast-paced world they live in today. She said as soon as people see their phone light up with a notification, they check it out of habit.

“You never think that something bad can happen to you,” Clark said. “It’s just our human nature.”

House Bill 163 was introduced by Rep. Betty Price (R) in January and is currently undergoing its second reading. If the bill receives a majority vote after committee discussion, it will move to the Senate for further consideration.