Hands-Free Georgia Act: Impact on Employers

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

Governor Nathan Deal recently signed into law the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which will take effect on July 1, 2018.  With the passage of the Act, Georgia is now one of sixteen states that prohibits all drivers from using hand held cell phones while driving.

What Does the Law Prohibit?

The Act prohibits drivers from physically holding or using any part of their body to support their phone.  This means that Drivers can only use their phones to make or receive phone calls by using a speakerphone, an earpiece, wireless headphones, or a voice-based Smartphone watch.  

Headsets and earpieces can only be worn for communication purposes and not for listening to music or other entertainment.

It also prohibits writing, sending or reading any text messages, instant messages, e-mails, social media, or other Internet content unless using voice-based communication that automatically converts message to a written text or is being used for navigation or GPS.

The law makes clear that a driver may not watch a video unless it is for navigation (i.e., no watching Netflix or YouTube videos while driving or at a stop light).   A driver may not record a video (continuously running dash cams are exempt).

What Does the Law Allow?

Drivers are permitted to use GPS, voice-to-text features, and earpiece or wireless functions to make and receive calls.   Drivers are also permitted to hold and use their phone to report a traffic crash, medical emergency, criminal activity, fire, or a hazardous road condition.

What are the Penalties?

The penalty for violating the law will be a fine of $50 and one point on the license for a first conviction, $100 and two points for a second conviction, and $150 and three points for subsequent convictions.

What Should Employers Do Now? 

Employers can be exposed to liability if an employee is involved in an accident while using a cell phone. A comprehensive, clear cell phone policy can help reduce or mitigate liability against the employer.  Thus, employers without a specific policy prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving should consider adding one to their employee handbook.  While a cell phone policy is especially important for employers in driving intensive fields such as delivery, trucking, and transportation, even employers that do not provide company cars or employ drivers may be exposed to liability if an employee is on the phone for company business.  Cell phone policies already in place should be reviewed and updated to ensure the policy complies with the new law and to make clear that using a hand-held cell phone while driving is illegal under Georgia law.  The policy should advise employees they must comply with the law while on company time.