ATLANTA (AP) —Texting and talking while driving could soon be off-limits for teens in Georgia.
The House voted 138-34 Thursday to ban drivers under 18 from texting and making calls on their cell phones while driving. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, threatens to slap those who don’t hang up with fines and even a suspended license.
Georgia could join at least 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have passed cell phone restrictions for teen drivers if the Legislature adopts the changes.
State Rep. Matt Ramsey, the measure’s author, said it plugs a hole in Georgia law that seeks to crack down on “the number one distraction” that faces teen drivers.
“This will, unequivocally, save lives and reduce crashes,” said Ramsey, who acknowledged pushback from the teens he consulted.
“But then I asked the parents — and every single one of them said, in no uncertain terms, that their kids should not be talking or texting while diving,” said Ramsey, R-Peachtree City.
The House plan would ban motorists under the age of 18 from talking or texting while driving, except in the case of an emergency such as a life-threatening situation or a call reporting a road hazard. The ban includes hands-free devices, computers and other electronics.
Violators would be fined up to $100 for the first offense. Drivers found at fault in an accident while violating the law would have their licenses suspended for 90 days. Second offenders would lose their licenses for six months.
Some Democratic lawmakers worried it could encourage racial profiling by giving police officers another reason to pull over drivers. And other critics worried the government was interfering with what they said should be a family matter.
“That’s my job as a parent,” said state Rep. Steve Davis, R-McDonough. “I really don’t believe it’s the state of Georgia’s job.”
He also questioned whether the measure would have a lasting impact.
“If we pass this bill, teenage drivers are still going to die on our roads,” Davis said. “This bill isn’t going to stop teenage drivers from being stupid, because they’re going to drive fast, they’re going to get in accidents.”
Similar measures have come before the House Motor Vehicle Committee in past years, but state Rep. Tom Rice, who chairs the panel, has long rejected them. But Rice said he’s changed his mind after seeing studies showing text messaging has led to more teen driving accidents.
Still, some questioned why the chamber isn’t banning texting outright. One critic asked House Speaker Glenn Richardson why lawmakers were asking teens to take a step they themselves wouldn’t gladly shoulder.
“I ask my 16-year-old to do a whole lot I wouldn’t do,” he answered.