Smyrna’s “hands-free” ordinance for drivers using cell phones was set to go into effect Monday. Instead, it will go into effect three months later, on July 2, along with the rest of Georgia.
The council voted unanimously to delay implementing an ordinance prohibiting drivers from using cell phones with their hands because the state legislature has effectively taken the issue out of their hands. HB 673 passed on the last hour of the General Assembly’s 40-day session. It reads similarly to the city’s ordinance, and state law supersedes city ordinance where there are differences.
“This bill passed on the last hour of the last day [of the session],” said Smyrna councilman Derek Norton, who spearheaded the effort on the city council and pushed for it at the capitol. “I’ve been personally involved in this.”
Cobb County legislators John Carson and Rich Golick were among the bill’s sponsors. Norton said Smyrna’s council decided to delay implementing the policy rather than outright canceling it in case Georgia Governor Nathan Deal decides to veto the bill, though that isn’t expected to happen.
Under the new law, drivers are prohibited from using their cell phones with their hands while driving. This includes writing or reading any text-based communication or watching videos or data other than a GPS. Drivers are allowed to speak on the phone using a hands-free device and to use phones for navigation. Phones can be used while a car is parked, but not while stopped at a red light.
Smyrna’s very similar ordinance would have been the first in the state, and Norton said it played a role in the legislature’s decision to implement a statewide policy.
“We were a part of the debate,” he added.
The city ordinance was controversial, passing only after Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon voted to break a 3-3 tie. The ordinance was first introduced last November and initially set to take effect in January. Instead, it was delayed in case action was taken at the state level, which ultimately proved to be the case.
Several families who had been affected by distracted drivers spoke in favor of it during city council meetings, including two sets of parents whose children had died in traffic accidents. Some of those same people were present under the gold dome last Thursday as the measure became state law.
Georgia already has a law against texting and driving, which was passed in 2009, but law enforcement groups have held it is all but impossible to enforce.