Executive Summary: Employees are increasingly exposed to traffic and longer commute times, and some employees drive during the course and scope of their employment. Hands-free technology makes it possible to safely conduct business from a vehicle. As such, Georgia employers should be aware of recent changes to state law regarding the use of hands-free technology by drivers. Vehicle use policies may need to be updated to ensure compliance with state law.
In 2010, in an effort to prevent distractions caused by texting while driving, the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 360, the “Caleb Sorohan Act for Saving Lives by Preventing Texting While Driving Act.” This 2010 Act added a new Section 40-6-241.1 to the Georgia Code that made it a criminal offense to write, send, or read a text on a cell phone (or other wireless communications device) while driving.
In the years that followed, law enforcement complained that the law was difficult to enforce because it was difficult to ascertain whether a driver was unlawfully texting or otherwise lawfully using his or her phone. Further, the widespread use of in-vehicle and accessory hands-free devices have made it possible and safe to engage in communication while operating a vehicle without physically touching a cell phone.
As a result, in the 2017-2018 legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 673, the “Hands-free Georgia Act.” House Bill 673 amends Section 40-6-241 (and repeals Section 40-6-241.1) of the Georgia Code, which relates to the duty of drivers to exercise due care in the use of mobile telephones and radios.
Effective July 1, 2018, the following actions are prohibited while driving, with regard to wireless communication devices or stand-alone electronic devices:
- holding or supporting such devices,
- writing, sending, or reading text-based communication on such devices,
- watching videos or movies on such devices, and
- recording or broadcasting a video on such devices.
Under the new law, the devices cannot be held or supported by any part of the body. However, an earpiece, headphone, or watch can be used to conduct voice-based communication.
The devices cannot be used to write, send, read text or internet data, or record or broadcast a video. However, voice-to-text can be used. Further, the devices can be used simply for vehicle navigation or GPS purposes. Further, drivers are not prohibited from engaging in such conduct when the driver is lawfully parked (not temporarily at a stop light or sign), engaged as first responder/emergency/utility services personnel, or reporting emergencies, accidents or hazards.
Operators of commercial vehicles are additionally allowed to use no more than a “single button” on a wireless communication device (stand-alone device is excluded) to initiate or terminate a call. Further, they are prohibited from reaching for devices in a manner that requires them to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a seatbelt.
“Wireless communication device” generally means a cell phone, but includes all devices used to initiate or receive communication, information or data. Examples are personal digital assistants (PDA), stand-alone computers, tablets, iPads and global positioning systems (GPS). “Stand-alone electronic device” means devices that store audio or video data files to be retrieved on demand by a user. Examples are iPods, iPads, or tablets.
The penalty for the first conviction of this offense is $50.00, and a third conviction carries a maximum penalty of $150.00. A first-time offender who produces, in court, a hands-free device or proof of purchase of such device can (in certain circumstances) be acquitted.