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Georgia has gotten tough on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by drivers.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect July 1, 2018. The law requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

It prohibits holding or supporting, with any part of the body, a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device. Also forbidden is writing, sending or reading any text-based communication. Watching a video or movie other than viewing data related to the navigation of the vehicle is outlawed.

The law allows the use of cellphones if the driver is speaking or texting while using hands-free technology. Using an earpiece to talk on the phone is also legal, as is monitoring a GPS system or mapping app.

Georgia and Rhode Island’s laws went into effect this past summer with the goal of reducing accidents from distracted driving. Other states, including South Carolina, are considering such a move, with proposed legislation presently in the S.C. House.

Both Carolinas are being encouraged by AAA Carolinas to take the step, with the American Automobile Association affiliate citing new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety research to back up its advocacy.

The study found that distracted driving remains on the rise – with cellphone use a primary culprit. Manipulating a cellphone was a contributing factor in more than 800 crash deaths on U.S. roads during 2017 amid a marked increase in the percentage of drivers observed interacting with cellphones.

In the 2018 survey, observers noted nearly 12,000 drivers during the morning, afternoon and evening on weekdays. They found 23 percent of motorists were engaged in one or more of the following distracting activities while both moving and stopped at red lights:

* Talking on hand-held cellphone.

* Manipulating hand-held cellphone (excludes looking at phone in mount).

* Simply holding hand-held cellphone (i.e. not obviously manipulating or talking).

* Wearing Bluetooth earpiece or headset with mic.

* Wearing headphones or ear buds.

* Manipulating in-vehicle system (touching radio, climate control, touchscreen display or other controls; excludes operating stalks or buttons on steering wheel).

* Manipulating or holding mobile electronic device other than cellphone.

* Talking or singing.

* Eating or drinking.

* Smoking.

* Grooming.

* Other (reaching for object, reading print material, adjusting sun visor, putting on glasses, holding another object).

Drivers themselves believe there is a problem. A 2018 national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found 64 percent of respondents consider distracted driving worse today than three years ago.

But there is division over the need to legislate limitations on cellphone use beyond South Carolina's prohibition on texting while driving.

A lot of people here are unfamiliar with hands-free technology regarding their phones. And in a poor state, many do not have vehicles equipped with such in-car technology. Far too many would find a law forbidding holding a cellphone while driving difficult to obey.

Still, as with the mandate on wearing seat belts years ago, a law limiting cellphone use is likely to come in South Carolina – sooner or later. In the state with the highest per-capita highway death rate in the nation, arguments against it as a component in combating deadly distracted driving will be hard to make.

In the meantime, consider what research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found: Drivers engaging in visual-manual interactions with cellphones (e.g., texting) are two to eight times as likely to be involved in a crash and drivers conversing on mobile devices, either hands-free or hand-held, are up to four times as likely to be involved in a crash.

As AAA says, "It is important to remember that hands-free is not risk-free."

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