I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: Are GA drivers getting the message on the now year-old hands free law?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

Georgia's Hands-Free Law is almost a year old, but has it been effective? (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Georgia's new hands-free driving law isn't so new anymore. On July 1, it will have been in effect for a full year.

Have you gotten a ticket? Know anyone who has? We figured it was time for our I-team to see if drivers have been following the law.

Have people been getting the message?

"I don't think they are," Master Deputy Alan Alspaugh said.

Since the Hands-Free Law went into effect, Richmond County deputies have written more than 370 tickets for using a phone while driving.

It's not just texting. Master Deputy Alan Alspaugh recently pulled over a driver who admitted she was plugging in the address for her GPS.

Today was her lucky day, though. Since she had never been pulled before, the woman received a warning.

It didn't take long to spot another one. Six minutes after our first stop of the day, Alspaugh spotted another one. This time, he caught a driver with a phone in her hand.

The driver said she was on speaker, but that's not what Alspaugh saw. That earned her a ticket. It actually ended up being two tickets because her license had expired.

We wanted to know what it was like, however, when a deputy isn't around.

For a couple of days, I-Team photographer Ben Boocker and I saw a lot of people obviously on their phones in Richmond and Columbia counties. We saw some who appeared to be texting and others holding a phone to their ears to talk. Most tried to hide it.

"And they can still get cited for it," Alspaugh said.

In Richmond County, again, deputies wrote 370 tickets, but that number is much lower in Columbia County. Deputies there report writing only 62.

Fines start at $50 and accrues points against your license, but the cost could be even greater.

"Commercial vehicles," Alspaugh said, "You catch them, some of them get fired."

At least they aren't paying with their lives.

It's illegal to text and drive in South Carolina as well, but the law in Georgia is much more strict. Law enforcement officers say it's also difficult to enforce in South Carolina. If you combine the texting and driving tickets written by Aiken County deputies and Aiken Public Safety Officers, that number only comes to 10 for the last year.

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