Fayette County Teens Wary Of Cel Phone Ban

Rep. Ramsey says law against using a cell while driving a matter of ‘safety vs. inconvenience’

A local legislator who wants to outlaw cellphone use by drivers under 18 took his case to that very age group Monday night in Peachtree City.

Matt Ramsey told the Youth Council Serving Fayette County that he also has had a bill drafted that would ban text messaging for drivers of all ages, and he is currently gauging whether there would be enough support from legislators to pass it this year. Ramsey said he is undecided about whether he will introduce that bill this year.

“Study after study shows text messaging in particular is incredibly dangerous,” Ramsey said. “The number of times you take your eyes off the road for text messaging is about eight times what it is when you’re using your cellphone just to talk. It’s incredibly dangerous.”

Eliminating cellphone use for drivers under 18 would limit the most common distraction for young drivers while they’re still learning to drive, Ramsey said. Recent studies have shown that 60 percent of all teens text while driving and 90 percent of teens talk on the phone while driving, Ramsey said.

Distractions, Ramsey said, are the number one cause of teenage auto crashes.

Ramsey’s proposal would forbid any cellphone use among drivers under 18, even if they use a hands-free device. Violators face a $175 fine and a one-point license deduction for a first offense and a $500 fine and a two-point reduction for additional offenses.

Also, any driver found at fault in a motor vehicle crash while using a cellphone would receive a mandatory 90-day license suspension.

During Monday’s give-and-take session at City Hall in Peachtree City, Ramsey also got feedback from the crowd.

One concern about the teen driver cellphone ban was the possibility of teen drivers hiding their cellphone use, perhaps exacerbating the danger.

Another concern was whether the law would apply to teens on golf carts as well. Ramsey said that was not his intent though he has asked for clarification on the matter from legislative legal staff.

Golf carts are considered motor vehicles under state law, but Ramsey said his proposal would add restrictions to a different code section, the one that governs driving restrictions for new drivers.

Some of the justification for Ramsey’s bill comes from a study conducted by Ford Motor Company that tested 16-year-old drivers and adult drivers in a driving simulator while they used hands-free cellphone devices. When confronted with dangerous situations, the teens made mistakes five times more often than the adult driver, Ramsey explained.

Ramsey said he had a close call a few months back when a teen using her cellphone nearly ran into his car. He avoided a crash by driving into the median on Peachtree Parkway south of Booth Middle School.

Ramsey said his bill is aimed at drivers under 18 so the cellphone ban would coincide with existing driving restrictions on that age group under the Teenage and Adult Driver Responsibility Act.

When those restrictions were adopted in 1997, it reduced by 40 percent the number of fatal crashes for 16-year-old drivers in a five-year period, he said.

Had cellphone use in autos been so rampant then it certainly would have been banned under that legislation, Ramsey said.

One teen complained that the fine was much higher than for other moving violations. Ramsey said it has to be high enough to gain the public’s attention. As an example, he said a similar ban in Nevada didn’t work because the $25 fine was not enough to discourage cellphone use while driving.

“As you know, with one or two tickets in your school, one of your classmates gets dinged with a $175 fine and they violate it again and get dinged with a $500 fine, people are going to start talking,” Ramsey said. “Word’s going to get out, people will talk. It will serve as a deterrent, in my opinion.”

Ramsey said he knows the bill would not make teen driver cellphone use go away.

“Teens are still going to use their phones while they drive, but if we can reduce the number, I think we’ve done a good thing,” he said.

One teenage audience member suggested the state needed to produce an informational campaign instead of enacting the teen driver cellphone ban. Ramsey noted that the state has undertaken just such a campaign for the past five years, but no one in the audience said they had even heard of it.

New Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah, who attended the meeting, was asked how the law would be enforced. He said that most likely deputies would enforce the law after pulling a driver over for another traffic violation.

As for some teens’ complaints about the need to make non-emergency calls while driving, Ramsey suggested there’s always a place to pull off the road to safely make a phone call.

“If it’s truly an emergency there are exceptions in the bill,” Ramsey said. “… If you’re talking about inconvenience versus safety for you and safety for others on the road, I think we need to come down on the side of safety over inconvenience.”

Ramsey said the bill is not guaranteed to pass this year as he has heard concerns from fellow legislators. One legislator was quoted in the Atlanta paper recently as saying she thought the proposed fine was too high.

The prospects of Georgia adopting a cellphone ban on drivers of all ages is not feasible at this time, Ramsey added.

“If we introduced a bill for everybody, it just wouldn’t pass. No question,” Ramsey said.

After the meeting Ramsey said he was encouraged with the turnout by the teens, and he urged them to stay in contact with him, Sen. Ronnie Chance of Tyrone and the governor’s office about this issue and others that might affect them.

Also after the meeting a junior at Fayette County High School said he supported the concept for the teen cellphone ban.

“I think it is a great bill because as teenagers are growing up they have to learn certain responsibilities,” Jacob Heard said. “… just like the drinking age — you can’t drink until you’re 21 — it allows us to grow up some more and learn from mistakes that a lot of teenagers like myself make.”

Article by Jon Munford, TheCitizen.com

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