Rome police

A Rome police officer watches traffic on East Second Avenue in this file photo taken the day before Georgia’s distracted driving law went into effect in 2018.

It’s been a year since the Hands-Free Law went on the books in Georgia, and Rome police officers have written up 943 citations to motorists for using their phones while behind the wheel.

“That’s a higher number than Rome police had anticipated,” according to Rome Police Department Assistant Chief Debbie Burnett.

Floyd County police issued 192 citations under the new state law.

“We wanted drivers to be compliant and not have the need for enforcement. Unfortunately many drivers ignored the new law and received citations,” Burnett said. “Some drivers thought it was OK to use the phone if they were stopped at a traffic light, which is not the case.”

There have been occasions when police have targeted enforcement specifically on the hands-free law and there will continue to be more in the future, but she is hoping to see more voluntary compliance on the part of motorists.

Sgt. Chris Fincher with the Floyd County Police said distracted driving has been around for quite a while and isn’t really limited to use of phones.

“It can be eating or just talking to another passenger in the car,” Fincher said.

If someone glances away from the road for just five seconds, they could travel several hundred feet and are fundamentally putting everyone else on the road in danger.

Has the new law cut down on wrecks? At this point, there is no solid statistical indication that it has.

In all of 2018, city police investigated 619 wrecks where the reason cited was following too closely — one of the most common reasons for a wreck related to use of a phone behind the wheel.

Through the first half of 2019, police have reported 328 wrecks where following too closely was the reason cited. It’s on pace to be slightly higher than the first half of 2018 prior to the law.

Fincher said he was not sure of exactly how related following too closely and distracted driving were, but said the most important thing people can do when they’re behind the wheel is to be aware of their surroundings at all times and remember “there are other people around you all the time.”