Georgia is heating up and summertime is near. After being cooped up all spring due to coronavirus stay-at-home orders, Georgians will be flocking East to Savannah and South to the Panhandle any day now.
A traffic ticket and fine would put a damper on summer vacation. That’s why we’ve put together this Guide to Georgia’s Hands Free Law, also known “cell phone law.” The law is a part of a series of distracted driving laws that have been passed in the state.
If you pass through Alabama, Florida, or South Carolina on the way to your tropical paradise, don’t worry. We have everything you need to know about those states’ laws, too.
The Basics of HB673
The Hands Free Georgia Act (HB673), passed in 2018, has caused confusion ever since. The catch-all phrase forbidding “anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle” is the main cause of this confusion.
Is it really up to the cop’s discretion? Yes and no. We’re going to lay out in concrete terms what is legal, what isn’t, and what falls in that risky “grey area.”
First, let’s define our terms.
The law uses the terms “wireless telecommunications device” and “stand-alone electronic device.” What exactly do these mean?
Wireless communication devices are portable, wireless technology that are used to transmit information. The most obvious example is a cell phone, and devices that serve a similar function. Excluded from this definition are things like your in-vehicle radio or navigation system.
Stand-alone electronic devices are devices that store rather than stream audio and video. This includes MP3 players, iPods, GoPros, camcorders and the like.
Both types of devices are restricted in some manner in the 2018 Hands Free Georgia Act. Rather than get into the nitty gritty of the how and when restrictions come into play, we’re going to keep it simple with a Q&A format.
Your Guide to Georgia’s Hands Free Law
Can I make a call on speaker phone?
Yes, you can make and receive calls on speaker phone, but there’s a catch. You cannot under any circumstances hold your phone in your hand while operating a vehicle. The easiest way to comply with the law is to connect your phone to a bluetooth device. These include built-in systems, earpieces, or portable bluetooth speakers.
Alternatively, you can mount your phone to your dash or place it in the passenger seat while it is on speaker phone. In either case, the best strategy is to dial your friend or family member while parked.
In the eyes of the law, you’re still operating your vehicle when stopped at a red light or stop sign.
The Bluetooth device option is optimal as these systems allow you to keep your eyes on the road while dialing and receiving calls. Without a bluetooth device, dialing or receiving a call without holding your phone could prove to be difficult.
Sure, you can technically make or take a call while your phone is mounted on your dash, but this can take your eyes off the road. It can also leave you vulnerable to a cop’s discretion with that catch-all “anything which distracts” wording in the law.
Here’s the gist of it: Use Bluetooth and minimize the amount of buttons or screen-taps it will take to dial or answer a call while driving. Also, don’t hold your phone.
Can I text using Siri or Voice Control?
Yes, you can. In fact, there is a specific exception in the law which allows use of “voice-based communication” to send and receive text messages. Otherwise, sending or receiving text messages while driving is prohibited.
To be clear, the use of voice-based technology like Siri or Voice Control has to go both ways. It needs to be able to read text messages, as well as compose and send messages using voice-to-text.
Can I change my playlist on Spotify?
Yeah, we know you might get tired of hearing the same twenty songs on repeat for five hours, but the answer is “no.”
Under Georgia law, drivers are prohibited from touching their phones to do anything to their music apps while operating a vehicle. You can listen to music, assuming you pressed “play” on your playlist while parked.
If your music can be controlled through your vehicle’s radio or sound system, you are free to adjust it while driving using these systems.
One final note: Drivers are not allowed to watch videos while on the road, so beware of Spotify’s music video feature. Turn on Spotify’s “driving mode” to avoid getting distracted or pulled over.
Can I binge watch my favorite Netflix show?
No. Watching videos is not allowed except for navigation purposes, so your Netflix binge will have to wait until after a long day at the beach.
Can I talk on the phone with my earbuds in?
No, unless you have the earbud in one ear only. Keep in mind that you can only do this to make calls. Listening to music or audio recordings through earbuds (or a single earbud) is not allowed.
Similarly, Bluetooth headsets or earpieces can only be worn for communication purposes.
Can I FaceTime or video chat while driving?
I know your grandma can’t wait to see you, but she’ll have to wait till you arrive at her beach house in a few hours. Video calls fall under “watching video” and are strictly prohibited while driving.
Can I balance my phone on my knee when using Google Maps?
You know who you are, glancing down at the directions in your lap every thirty seconds while weaving through Atlanta traffic. Just because you’re not holding your phone, does not mean you’re good with the law.
Georgia’s hands free law prohibits supporting your phone with any part of your body, so don’t even try to get creative.
Now is the time to invest in a hands-free mount if you’re the type of person who likes to see the map animation on Google Maps. If you’re looking for an affordable, good quality hands-free mount, check out WizGear’s magnetic mounts.
Can I record my road trip on my GoPro?
Yes and no. A driver cannot record a video except for with a continuously running dash cam. If you want to strap your GoPro on the back of your mirror and record all seven hours of your drive from the hills of North Georgia to the swamps of the Panhandle, no one can stop you.
What if I’m under 18? Does the law treat me differently?
Despite 2010 statues that treated adults and minors differently, the 2018 Georgia Hands Free Act overrides these. The current law treats adults and minors the same.
There are no “special” distracted driving laws for teenagers in Georgia since 2018.
Can I eat while driving?
This question and the next don’t exactly fall under “hands free” laws, but they are surely relevant to your upcoming road trip.
You’re going to get hungry on your trip to the beach. Why? You skipped breakfast to get on the road, and the chicken biscuit on that Chick-fil-A billboard looks delicious.
Though you might be tempted to eat and drive to save some time, a cop has every right to pull you over for doing so.
Eating while driving is often cited as a distraction, so it is best to avoid it.
Can my dogs ride in the front seat?
Technically, Georgia does not have any law that prohibits driving with an unrestrained dog in your vehicle.
However, if your dog decides to give you a “kiss” while you’re on the highway, it can be a dangerous distraction. Like food, the question of “dogs in the front seat” depends on whether or not the dog is distracting you.
The bottom line is this: if a cop observes signs of distracted driving, they can pull you over. For safety purposes, it is a good idea to restrain your dog in the back seat by installing a barrier.
That’s a lot of information, but it isn’t that complicated. Follow these simple tips to avoid a run-in with the law.
Unless you’re going to Savannah or Tybee Island, you’re going to cross a state border or two on the way to the beach. Let’s address the differences and similarities of Georgia’s border states’ laws.
I’m going to the panhandle. What do I need to know about Alabama’s distracted driving law?
While the state has yet to pass a hands free law, texting while driving is illegal in Alabama. If you’re under 18, watch out. Minors are prohibited from using cell phones while driving, including hands free.
What about Florida’s law?
As of January 2020, drivers will be fined and ticketed in Florida if caught holding their cell phone in school and construction zones.
Texting is not allowed except for at red lights. Since Florida’s law is more lenient, it seems that if you follow Georgia’s hands free law you should be okay in Florida, too.
I’m heading East to Charleston. What do I need to know about South Carolina’s law?
Currently, South Carolina does not have a hands free law on the books, regardless of driver age. Texting while driving is illegal.
It is important to know the law to know your rights. However, just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s something you should do.
Avoid accidents by committing to driving hands free. Before your summer road trip, equip your vehicle with a Bluetooth device and cell phone mount so that you can keep your eyes on the road.
Lamar Law Office wishes you safe travels this summer!
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