Texting ban?: Locals, officials weigh in on proposed bill

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Lawrenceville resident Scott Denney was driving along Interstate 16 in Macon on Monday when another driver, who Denney said was using his cell phone to text, crossed over into his lane of traffic.

"I had to get in the emergency lane to get away from them," Denney said. "It's dangerous. People just need to pay attention to what they're doing while they're driving and leave the phones alone."

That's what lawmakers sponsoring House Bill 938 are saying, too.

Legislation proposed this week would prohibit drivers from sending or reading text messages while behind the wheel. Offenders would incur a $50 to $100 fine and points would be assessed on their licenses.

Drivers involved in an accident while texting would face a 90-day suspension of their licenses.

While Jessica Littleton said she doesn't text often while she's behind the wheel, she thinks the law is needed.

"It would keep me from doing it if there was a real, actual law," the 21-year-old Lawrenceville woman said. "People keep saying that there's going to be a law and it's like, well, until there is, it's like then what's the big deal? But I can see how it would really help."

The proposed legislation is raising some questions regarding enforcement.

"If you get in an accident or something are they going to look at your texting records and see the times?" asked Suwanee resident Betsy Shane. "That's kind of an invasion of privacy. If you hold your phone up and a policeman sees you with your phone up how do they know that you're texting instead of calling someone or just looking at your phone? I have no idea how they would catch someone doing that."

Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, who is a co-sponsor on the bill and chairman of the House Committee on Motor Vehicles, said texting while driving would likely be a secondary offense when enforced. Secondary offenses are offenses for which a driver can receive a citation after being stopped for other violations.

"Other states that have passed laws like this have the same issue," he said, "and primarily these are secondary offenses."

"We would anticipate enforcement opportunities where the officer will observe the violation similar to our enforcement efforts with seatbelt enforcement," said Capt. Bruce

Hendley, spokesman for the Lilburn Police Department, "or (we would) obtain statements from the motorists after the fact similar to that of an routine accident investigation."

Shane, who said she occasionally texts while driving, said the proposed legislation could lead to more restrictions.

"I feel like if texting is banned then pretty soon handheld GPS devices will be banned as well because it's pretty much the same concept," the 19-year-old said. "You're looking at a small screen pressing buttons. It's not much different."

Denney's wife, Janet Woodgeard, said she doesn't even like to answer calls while driving.

"It's bad enough in Georgia traffic, let alone trying to do anything on a phone," the Lawrenceville woman said.

Woodgeard heard recently the assertion by AAA Auto Club South that for every second drivers take their eyes off the road while going 70 mph they are driving blind for about 100 feet.

"That's scary," she said. "And I have to be an example for my ... 19-year-old daughter. She doesn't even answer her phone when she's in the car."

AAA has made the push to ban texting while operating a vehicle a top priority during this legislative session.

"Pass it," Denney said of the ban. "If (police) catch (offenders), take them to jail. That will put a stop to it."