Fatal crashes were down 6 percent in 2018, said Harris Blackwood, director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
That may not seem like a big drop — but it means 92 fewer lives have been lost on Georgia’s roads than in 2017. Plus, that’s for the whole year, including the six months before the hand’s free law took effect.
“This year (2018) is on track to be the first year there have been under 1,500 fatalities in four years,” Blackwood said. Last year, there were 1,549 and in 2016 there were 1,561.
As a cause of fatal accidents, “roadway departures” are down 18 percent, and lane departures are down 8 percent, Blackwood said.
Blackwood said he can’t say with certainty that the hands-free law is completely responsible for the decrease, but “it is certainly a contributing factor toward the decline in overall fatalities.”
Statistics for non-fatal crashes won’t be available until a few months into 2019, Blackwood said.
While the new law seems to be decreasing fatal accidents, local law enforcement agencies have noticed some less-than-positive effects on driver behavior.
“Now I see more people looking down into their seat, into their laps, instead of looking forward — because they’re hiding their phones,” said Sgt. Mike Searcy, commander of the Georgia State Patrol Newnan Post.
“You see more cars on the wrong side of the road or coming across the yellow line,” he said. “The crashes haven’t really increased or decreased a whole lot, either,” Searcy said.
The law allows drivers to get leniency for a first offense if they show up to court with proof they have purchased a hands-free device since the ticket was written.
Searcy said he saw a big effect when the law first went into effect, and there was a significant decrease in crashes.
But now, “I guess everybody has gone back to the old business as usual,” Searcy said.
The GSP is starting a new distracted driving initiative where days will be set aside to do focused enforcement each month, and data will be collected statewide, he said.
Armuchee Republican Rep. Eddie Lumsden, an insurance agent and retired Georgia State Patrol trooper who lost a child to a distracted driver, was the second co-sponsor of House Bill 673. Lumsden spent much of the early part of 2018 pushing for passage of the safety measure.
Georgia’s Hands-Free Law prohibits Georgia drivers from holding their phones or supporting them with any part of their bodies. Drivers are also forbidden from looking at their phones to view any kind of text-based communication, except for GPS navigation or in emergencies. Public safety officials and utility workers using phones to do their jobs are exempt.