Breaking down the new ‘hands free’ law

LET’S call Georgia’s "hands free" driving legislation what it is for all of us, including me: The biggest change in driving that, quite possibly, many of us ever have experienced.

Unless you’re old enough to remember the introduction of seat belts laws in the 1980’s or regularly drove drunk before the start of .08 DUI laws in the 2000’s, this is going to hit you hard.

And it’s going to hit you where the id of our 21st Century resides: the ding.

“When we’re driving and that phone rings or dings, we pick it up. We all do,” says Robert Hydrick, spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “And we have to break ourselves of this habit.”

Starting July 1, Georgia will become the 16th state in the nation to enact “hands free” driving legislation. And even though it should be very simple to understand what this means, there’s a lot of confusion about what the law does and doesn’t allow.

I’m here to clear up some confusion. Let’s start with the words “hands free.”

I like this phrase because it emphasizes the most important part. Don’t touch it. Put it away. Turn it off. Put it in airplane mode. Just don’t touch it.

Kind of like a strip club.

Pretend that, if you touch it, you’re touching the ickiest, scuzziest thing you can imagine. A politician maybe.

Part of the confusion comes because, in fact, the law specifically allows use of “navigational aids.” And so you might think, “Okay, Google Maps exemption!”

Nope. Don’t touch it.

“You need to program the address where you’re going when you’re parked and then once you get on the road, follow it,” Hydrick says. “But if you need to reprogram it or change directions, then you need to find a safe place to park.”

Yes, you can touch your phone when you’re legally parked. And I’ll stress “legally” here.

That means on the road shoulder, in a parking space, etc. and not a stop sign or stop light!

Honestly, the thing that’s going to tempt me the most is when I have a Spotify playlist programmed or a radio station streaming and I want to “change the station.”

Nope. Don’t touch it. I’m just going to have to listen to that annoying and inappropriately selected song (what algorithm thought I wanted Pantera?) or flip to FM (the horror!) until I can pull off to the side of the road.

“But wait a second,” you say. “I have a fancy car radio that lets me browse files or otherwise controls the music on my phone.”

Did you touch the phone? No?

Okay then. That’s legal.

I splurged on a fancy car radio three years ago and I love it. I can talk to Siri, have her read and send basic text messages, call people and even ask for directions just by talking. But Siri has her limitations.

And that leads me to my main criticism of the law, namely, that it’s not a “distracted driving” law at all, despite the fact that many people are calling it that.

Distracted driving refers to many road behaviors. Talking to Siri, talking to anyone, is one of them. Music, wallets, kids, food.

The law can’t and shouldn’t outlaw all driving hazards. You have a responsibility to treat your vehicle like the potential death trap it is.

“When you get behind the wheel of a car, we want everyone to get to where you’re going safely,” Hydrick says. “And that involves taking driving seriously.”

No more recording video while driving, either. Sorry, Facebook ranters.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire text of the law at: And arrive alive!


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