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Georgia becomes 16th state to outlaw handheld cellphone use while driving

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Georgia drivers caught using handheld cellphones will soon be subject to a fine. A ban signed into law Wednesday by Governor Nathan Deal makes handheld phone use illegal beginning July 1.

The move makes Georgia the 16th state with a handheld cellphone ban and it’s the most dramatic measure against distracted driving to occur in Georgia since 2010 and it comes in the wake of a massive increase in road fatalities in Georgia. Last year, 1,549 people died in vehicle wrecks, a roughly 33 percent increase from 2014.

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“If you had a phone in your hand and said you were talking on it (instead of texting), they couldn’t do a thing to you,” state Rep. Bill Hitchens, a retired state trooper and a co-author of the bill, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In addition to targeting talking on the phone and sending text messages, the bill also prohibits drivers from watching videos on their phones or shooting video while driving. The bill has provisions to allow drivers to use handsfree devices such as Bluetooth while behind the wheel, however.

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The bill wasn’t passed under the dome in Georgia’s capitol in Atlanta. Instead, the governor signed it in Statesboro, where five Georgia Southern University nursing students were killed by a distracted truck driver in 2015. In Statesboro, Deal was surrounded by families of the five students, including Craig and Kathy Clark whose daughter Emily died in the wreck.

“This is something that’s coming out of a horrific situation.” Kathy Clark told TV station WBS. “To take a life, I don’t know how someone could live with themselves just because they were looking at a text message or talking on the phone and was distracted.”

“If you can say that this saves one life, then everything that we went through and hoped for could be well worth it.”

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