Hands off that cellphone when you’re behind the wheel. Now it’s the law. And a large majority of the respondents to our most recent community survey think it will help cut down on wrecks.

More than twice as many respondents believe the new state law prohibiting drivers from holding cellphones or similar electronic devices while driving. will help reduce the number of car crashes, compared to the number who thought it wouldn’t. The new law took effect July 1.

“There are far too many distractions and temptations to use your phone if you are holding it,” a 51-year-old Buckhead man commented.

The responses from 200 1Q.com users to the question, “What practice do you think would offer the most effective way to reduce the number of traffic accidents in your community?”

And a 59-year-old Sandy Springs man noted that “it’s obvious that some accidents happen because people are texting or paying attention to their phone. I think it will reduce [accidents], so I’m in favor of it.”

But others thought the new rules just won’t work. They argue the new law will be too hard to enforce. “People will still do it. Just like people speed even though there are posted speed limits,” a 43-year-old Sandy Springs man noted.

“While I think it will help in some cases, I think it could also lead to some crazier driving with people trying to hide that they’re using their phones,” a 37-year-old Brookhaven woman said.

The survey was conducted by 1Q.com via cellphones to 200 residents in Reporter Newspapers communities. The results are not scientific.

When asked which of five possible answers they thought would be the most effective way of reducing traffic accidents, nearly a quarter of the 200 respondents chose requiring more training for a driver’s license. Almost as many chose setting tougher penalties on DUIs or installing more traffic calming devices. Fewer supported hiring more police to enforce traffic laws or restricting built-in video screens or similar devices in new vehicles.

Car crashes are drawing new attention in Perimeter communities. Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone has said publicly that traffic fatalities are “the thing that concerns me, as far as policing here in Sandy Springs.”

The city recorded 7,529 car crashes last year, or more than 20 a day. Although Sandy Springs recorded no non-vehicular homicides in 2017, traffic related deaths run about 10 a year, DeSimone said. And the main causes of fatal accidents, the chief said, are speeding, drunk driving and driving while distracted by activities such as texting.

“I think distracted driving is almost a bigger threat than drunk driving was years ago,” DeSimone told Sandy Springs City Council in January.

In response to similar concerns, state lawmakers this year imposed new restrictions on the use of cellphones.

According to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the new rules say a driver cannot have a phone in his or hand or use any part of his or her body to support a phone. Instead, drivers must use “hand-free” devices to make or receive calls. The new law also prohibits drivers from watching videos, except for navigation or sending or reading texts unless using voice-based technology that converts spoken words to text, according to the highway safety office. Violators face fines and points against their drivers’ licenses.

Some respondents to the survey pointed out that the effectiveness of the new “hands-free” law may depend on how well it is enforced. Others argued it will take time to determine whether the new law actually cuts down accidents. But many thought the restrictions are worth the effort to change drivers’ behavior.

A 59-year-old Sandy Springs woman, for instance, pointed to the damage traffic accidents can do.

“My daughter was hit by a woman who did not stop at a stop sign,” she wrote. “My daughter’s vehicle flipped three to four times and slid about 150 feet down the road on its roof. While we are grateful she is alive, her quality of life is greatly diminished as a result. Was the woman texting? Was she talking on the phone? Was she glancing down to read a text? These answers, we don’t know, but we do know the devastating outcome.”

Here’s what some other respondents had to say:

“While I do think it’s important to have laws in place preventing distractions in vehicles, I don’t believe it will fully get rid of traffic accidents caused by cellphone use. Cellphones are unfortunately quite addictive. Most people see it as a necessary risk. They’ll just try to get better at hiding their phones or if they do see any police, they’ll panic thus potentially causing an accident anyway. I think it’s an important law, but it won’t eliminate accidents caused by cellphone use.”

— a 23-year-old Buckhead woman

“Yes. I’m actually texting and driving right now.”

— a 25-year-old north DeKalb woman

“It might reduce the number of accidents, but it will also increase the number of arbitrary pullovers by police.”

— a 40-year-old Atlanta man

“Distracted driving is more deadly (and far more pervasive) than drunk driving.”

— a 53-year-old Atlanta man

“Too many accidents happen because people are looking at their phones instead of the road.”

— a 42-year-old Atlanta woman

“Distracted driving is dangerous and this [new law] adds more consequences.

–a 29-year-old Buckhead man

The ‘Hands-Free Georgia Act’

The new statewide “Hands-Free Georgia Act” prohibits drivers from holding cellphones in an effort to reduce distracted driving.

Under the new law, drivers cannot have a phone in their hand or use any part of their body to support their phone. Texts, emails, social media and internet data content may not be written or read unless using voice-to-text technology.

Drivers are allowed to talk on the phone or watch GPS navigation as long as they are using hands-free technology.

There are exceptions for reporting an emergency and for vehicles that are fully parked.

Penalties include a $50 fine for the first offense, $100 for the second and $150 for the third and after, according to the law.

Some other points of the law: Headsets and earpieces can only be worn for communication purposes and not for listening to music or other entertainment. A driver may not record a video or watch a video unless it is for navigation.

For more information, see headsupgeorgia.com.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.