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Education first, citations next
Hands Free
The Hands Free law went into effect July 1, but seeing people with phones in their hands while behind the wheel is still a common sight on the road as drivers continue to use their devices while driving. - photo by Lainey Standiford

From July 1 to present, it’s safe to say it’s been a transition period for many, including both local and state law enforcement. Gov. Nathan Deal signed Housebill 673, or the Hands-Free Law, on May 2. Since July, police have cracked down on those caught breaking it. Georgians are still feeling the effects of the hands-free act nearly three months later.

The first violation is a $50 fine and a point off a driver’s license. The fine and point system increases as the number of violations increase, according to

Locally, Hinesville Police Department, Walthourville Police Department and Liberty County Sheriff’s Office granted drivers a 30-day grace period, according to Chief Bill Kirkendall with HPD, Interim Chief Jerald Burgess of WPD, and Cpt. Jim Chapman of LCSO.

“We chose to educate our citizens versus trying to cite them right out of the gate,” Kirkendall said. “Hopefully that had a positive impact.”

As of Aug. 1, law enforcement began issuing citations. The law states a driver cannot physically hold or support with any part of the body a wireless telecommunications device or standalone electronic devices; and cannot write, send, or read any text based communications,

The grace period served as a way to let drivers adjust to the new law, Kirkendall said. Yet, according to a Georgia Distracted Driving Survey conducted by AAA in Aug., nearly 43 percent of 1,171 people polled said they saw drivers holding and talking on cellphones regularly.

“We’ve written eight citations and 12 warnings,” Burgess said, which remains the lowest number of the three departments. “We’re not just out there issuing tickets for fun.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk-driving crashes claim more than 10,000 lives per year, whereas distracted driving crashes claim nearly 3,500 lives a year.

As of Aug. 22, HPD has issued 27 citations, Hinesville Municipal Court Administrator Malissa Oberlander said. LCSO has issued 35 citations and 14 warnings, Chapman said.  

“People will say anything in the spur of the moment to avoid citations,” Kirkendall said. 

The USDOT says that since 2010, during daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving. An easy translation, some said, for spotting cellphone use. Burgess said that most times, drivers are caught using their phones during the day, but Kirkendall said they catch more at night, when the screen backlight is easy to see.

“You’re going to see those traffic violations during peak traffic periods—morning, lunch and night, especially in this town,” Kirkendall said. “They’re a lot easier to spot at night because of the glow from the screen. We’ll also see people sitting at the traffic lights, doing what we call ‘red-light’ praying. They sit there bowed, looking at their phone, and that’s one thing officers are going to look for.”

HPD Traffic Accident Investigator officer Richard Boucher said that officers know what drivers tend to do, and the sneaky tactics used.

“We know that’s what they’re doing, we can tell,” Boucher said. “They’re looking down, arm extended down, we know what they’re doing but we can’t prove it.”

“The law was passed with the greatest of intentions,” Kirkendall said. “It’s about your personal safety, not about the other person on the road, it’s about you. Take that the way it’s intended and take care of your own personal safety. Put down the devices, keep your hands on the wheel where they belong, and just arrive alive. Do the right thing and you’ll be a lot safer.”
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