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Cell phone laws reach anniversary

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Law enforcement officials are reporting encouraging numbers, reflecting fewer incidences of driver distractions as a result of cell phone use and texting. They point to laws enacted a year ago today, which limit the use of cellular devices while driving.

The laws -- signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on June 4, 2010 -- went into effect July 1, 2010. They ban cell phone use by drivers under age 18, and restrict cell phone use for all other drivers in Georgia

Specifically, House Bill 23 makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to use a cell phone while driving. The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), who garnered support from several of his legislative colleagues, including Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming).

Murphy sponsored Senate Bill 360, which makes it illegal for someone "who is 18 years of age, or older, or who has a Class C license [to] operate a motor vehicle on any public road, or highway of this state, while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text-based communication, including, but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data."

The state senator compared the no-texting law to seat belt legislation passed years ago, and commonly followed by citizens today. He said several organizations around the state, and nation, have joined campaigns against texting while driving.

The campaigns have supporters like Kathy Lombardo, a 33-year-old married mother of four in Nicholson, Ga. Lombardo decided in May to create a company, Text2Go, to give cell phone users a safer alternative to texting while driving. She said customers call her services to have text messages dictated, transcribed and sent, by live people on the other end of the call.

Sen. Murphy expressed his excitement that the movement against texting while driving has caught on so quickly.

"In talking with law enforcement officers and the public, it seems like the anti-texting bill is doing what we thought it would do in cutting down on texting while driving," said Murphy. "We think that part is being successful."

Data from police agencies in Henry and Clayton counties demonstrates a less distracted populous on local roadways when it comes to using cell phones while driving.

Henry County Police Crime & Intelligence Analyst Rich Lemmon extracted data related to admitted and confirmed cell phone usage as contributing to accidents in Henry. "Determining cell phone usage as a contributing factor in any accident is difficult ... without admission by one or more of the individuals involved," Lemmon explained.

The analyst uncovered 18 accidents, between July 2009 and June 2010, in which cell phone usage was reported as a contributing factor. He said the accidents involved 34 vehicles, nine injuries and one fatality.

In contrast, the police department had 13 reported accidents, from July 2010 to present, where cell phone usage was reported as a contributing factor. Lemmon said those accidents involved 21 vehicles, eight injuries and no fatalities."

The Clayton County Police Department has issued four "cell phone use" citations, since the laws were enacted, according to Clayton County Police Lt. Tina Daniel.

"None involved traffic accidents," said Daniel, noting the citations represent a fraction of the police force's traffic citations overall. Police issued 29,882 traffic citations in Clayton, during calendar year 2010.

Daniel said she believes drivers are more conscious of their cell phone use and driving habits, now, knowing the text-based communications have been outlawed.

She said officers are enforcing the new laws essentially as they have enforced laws governing erratic driving by those distracted by eating, drinking, shaving, or putting on makeup.

Daniel warned, however, that texting is much more distracting than eating.

"It takes a lot more concentration and focus to text a sentence than it does to take a bite of a hamburger," she said.

Officials with the Governors Highway Safety Association recommend that drivers pull over to a safe area beside the road, if distractions cannot be avoided. Other tips on managing driver distractions are available at the association's web site, at www.ghsa.org. To learn more about Text2Go, visit www.Text2Go.org.