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New laws will make driving in Georgia safer

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POSTED: May 26, 2010 1:25 p.m.
Sign seen outside local church:
“Honk while you’re driving if you know Jesus; text while you’re driving if you want to meet him…”

Georgia’s roads will be a safer place to drive soon as three bills that were passed by the Georgia legislature this past session are expected to be signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue in the next month.  
HB 23 and SB 360 deal with texting and cell phone use while driving while SB 458 will require seat belts to be worn in pickups.
As cell phone use has proliferated over the past years, the danger of talking or texting while driving has plagued Georgia’s highways.  
HB 23 sets out to resolve both of these problems, at least among drivers younger than 18 who have learner’s or a Class D license, by prohibiting them from operating a motor vehicle while engaging in wireless communication using a wireless telecommunications device - meaning texting or talking on a cell phone.
Such drivers will be fined $150 and assessed one point on their driving record. If the driver is involved in an accident at the time of a violation, the fine will be doubled.
Class D licenses are issued to teen drivers after they have had a valid learner’s license for one year and one day. Holders of this license are not allowed to operate a vehicle between midnight and 6 a.m. and face certain passenger restrictions such as having only immediate family as passengers in the vehicle during the initial six-months of issuance and only one non-family member under the age of 21 during the second six-month period.
There are exceptions in HB 23 when a cell phone can be used such as reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency or serious road hazard and reporting a situation in which the person believes their personal safety is in jeopardy. It also remains legal to use a cell phone while a motor vehicle is lawfully parked.
Meanwhile, SB 360 sets out to address drivers 18 years or older who possess a Class C license but only deals with texting and not cell phone use.
This legislation will create a $150 fine and assesses one point for those convicted of writing, sending or reading a text-based communication on a wireless telecommunications device, including instant messages, e-mail and Internet data while operating a motor vehicle.
Exceptions to this legislation are similar to those of HB 23 but also include a public utility employee or contractor acting within the scope of their employment when responding to a public utility emergency.   
So essentially, provided that the governor signs both bills, texting while driving in the state will be a violation for everyone and talking on a cell phone while driving will be a violation for those younger than 18.  
The other public safety initiative passed by the legislature this year, SB 458, will require the use of seatbelts in pickups, regardless of age.  
This two-decade effort has been opposed by many rural lawmakers but finally passed, thanks to the tireless work of Sen. Don Thomas (R-Dalton), for many years the only physician serving in the legislature, who is retiring this year after 14 years of service.
Sen. Thomas was finally successful in convincing a majority of legislators that not only would this legislation save lives and money- an estimated $25 million in Medicaid costs over a 10-year period - but it would also allow Georgia to draw down more federal transportation funds from Washington, D.C., as well as hopefully decrease insurance rates.
Soon Georgia’s roads will be safer thanks to these public safety initiatives as we’ll all have to buckle up when we get in our pickup trucks and no matter what vehicle we’re operating we’ll have to hang up and drive.

Carter, R-Pooler, represents much of Liberty County.
 

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