Distracted Driving 2

In this file illustration, Saidah Inniss, of Lithonia, looks at her cellphone in Marietta. A new law that prohibits cellphones behind the wheel went to effect July 1.  /Photo Illustration by Shaddi Abusaid

The cities of Smyrna and Marietta are putting their distracted driving ordinances on hold after a bill to keep cellphones out of the hands of Georgia’s drivers passed the General Assembly last week.

Marietta’s ordinance banning drivers from holding their phones behind the wheel was set to go into effect this past Sunday while Smyrna’s would have gone into effect Monday.

But both cities are postponing the ordinances as Gov. Nathan Deal decides whether to sign a bill implementing a statewide ban on holding a cellphone while driving.

House Bill 673, introduced by Rep. John Carson, R-northeast Marietta, would impose tiered punishments for Georgia drivers caught holding or supporting their phones. Drivers would still be allowed to speak on the phone or use navigation apps, but cellphones would need to be mounted or fixed to the car, and hands-free technology would need to be used.

Motorists may touch their phones to initiate calls and navigation programs, but holding a phone while driving would be illegal except for in certain instances — such as reporting an emergency.

Texting and driving was already against the law but police say it is difficult to tell whether drivers are sending and receiving messages or just dialing a phone number, which is legal.

The Smyrna City Council voted 5-0 Monday evening to push back the ordinance’s start date to July 2. Smyrna councilman Derek Norton, who introduced the city’s hands-free ordinance, said the move will give the governor time to decide whether he wants to sign Carson’s legislation into law. Marietta’s City Council is expected to vote April 11 to delete the ordinance altogether, city spokeswoman Lindsey Wiles said.

“State law would have ‘trumped’ our city ordinance anyway, but the pending council action will remove all doubt,” she said.

Smyrna will rescind its ordinance if the governor signs Carson’s measure into law, and Deal has expressed support for statewide distracted driving legislation.

“I’m fully confident he will sign the bill, but in case he doesn’t, we are extending the effective day to July 1,” Norton said.

Smyrna was the first city in the state to pass a hands-free driving ordinance late last year. Marietta followed suit shortly after.

“What Smyrna did really set the stage,” said Norton, who believes lives will be saved on Georgia’s roads and interstates as a result of the legislation. “It really had an impact on the debate of this statewide legislation. They didn’t want to have a bunch of municipalities with a hodgepodge of different laws for drivers to deal with.

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(1) comment

Richard Plent

The loopholes make the state law a waste of time. Prove you bought a 7 dollar phone holder or first time grace. There are not enough police to ever catch the same person twice anyway. Meanwhile insurance rates in Georgia are twice the national average.

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