Etowah County residents often drive into Georgia (it doesn’t take long to get there through Cherokee County on Alabama Highway 9 or Calhoun County on U.S. Highway 278).
We could fill up this space with the reasons, whether for business, pleasure or the dreams of getting rich. (How high are the lottery jackpots this week?)
So, we’ll offer some friendly and potentially money-saving advice to those who travel next door. (We forgot to single out Atlanta Braves fans; their team is off to a pretty fair start and likely drawing more than a few folks from these parts to SunTrust Park.)
Spend the next couple of weeks looking into Bluetooth earphones or headsets and cellphone cradles for dashboards or consoles, making sure your phone’s settings are on “auto answer” (or checking out apps that do that), getting acquainted with Google (the app) and Siri if you haven’t already, and making some long playlists if you use Apple Music, Pandora or Spotify.
On July 1, Georgia’s new hands-free driving law goes into effect — and the folks who passed it mean business.
There are specific restrictions for bus drivers or commercial truckers, but we’re going to focus on everyday vehicle drivers.
They now will be banned on Georgia’s highways not just from holding their cellphones or similar electronic devices (like tablets or laptops), but from even having them sitting in their laps or supporting them with any part of their bodies.
Basically, aside from using a finger to answer a call without picking up the phone, you can’t touch your device while you’re behind the steering wheel unless you’re reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, crime or hazardous road condition; or are lawfully parked (and being stuck in traffic doesn’t count).
You can’t record or watch video (unless you’re looking at a GPS or mapping app’s screen to navigate, again without holding the device), send or read emails or texts (unless you’re using a voice-to-text system), fool with social media or visit a website.
If you’re streaming music, you have to activate those apps before you start driving and can’t revisit them until you’re stopped. The music also must be coming through your car’s stereo system; you can’t jam away to 100-decibel tunes through headphones (preventing you from hearing emergency sirens).
Violators — and this is a primary offense, law enforcement in Georgia absolutely can stop you for no other reason than seeing a phone in your hand — face a $50 fine and a point on their license for a first offense, a $100 fine and 2 points for a second offense and a $150 fine and 3 points after that. (Those points will be posted to Alabama licenses.)
There also is no designated grace period; you can get popped at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
The idea is to compel people to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their brains focused on what’s in front of and around them — and we say “Bravo!”
Of course this law has drawn anguished complaints about nanny state-ism and governments just looking to pick people’s pockets from the “how dare you tell me what I can do when I’m in my car in my own little private world” brigade.
Our answer: Libertarianism isn’t a good philosophy for roads and highways, and drivers cannot be permitted to be in their own little private worlds, clueless of their surroundings. It’s sad that it takes legal compulsion to remind people of what once was, and still should be, considered basic common sense: An individual driver’s actions can have devastating, even fatal effects on the people they share the asphalt with.
According to the SmartDrive website:
• More than 10 percent of all fatal vehicle accidents are the result of distracted driving; the annual cost to the U.S. economy is $129 billion.
• Distracted drivers are 36 percent more likely to be involved in near collisions, 87 percent more likely to drive 10 mph over the speed limit, 83 percent more likely to run stop signs or red lights and 91 percent more likely to drift out of their lanes. (We also could fill this column with anecdotal tales from drivers who have seen or dodged such foolishness.)
The focus has long been on the dangers of texting and driving. More states — Georgia is the 16th to pass a total hands-free requirement for drivers regardless of age — are realizing that there are many more benefits of modern technology that people should leave alone while driving a vehicle.
Are you listening, Alabama?