Ok, that was admittedly a clickbait headline. But this is a serious topic, so it was warranted.
Beginning on July 1, it will be illegal to hold a mobile phone while operating a vehicle in Georgia. Drivers will be required to use a cradle or other type of “hands-free” device (which can include a smartwatch, earpiece or wireless headphones) to operate the phone while the vehicle is on a public roadway. The ban on device use extends not only to making phone calls and texting but includes a prohibition on reading of texts, emails, and watching of streaming videos or movies.
But what about while you’re stopped at the red light? Car is not in motion? While everything around seems reasonably “safe”? Text at will? Nope.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. This is a good law. The passing of House Bill 673 was motivated in no small part by the deaths of five Georgia Southern University nursing students who were killed in April 2015 while driving on Interstate 16 near Statesboro. The family of one of the students was represented by my friend – lawyer Jim Imbriale of Imbriale Injury Law.
“This law is long overdue, as this phone problem has been far too common for a long, long time; with dire consequences, even death,” says Imbriale. “Unfortunately, we saw this first-hand when we represented a family who lost their daughter when a trucker was texting while driving his huge tractor-trailer and slammed at high speed into the rear of her vehicle. Perhaps if this law were in effect, then he would have thought twice about holding his phone while driving.”
The fines are relatively small. But the hope and belief is that for a professional driver like that one, at least, a ticket for violating a law of this type might mean losing a high-paying job. That’s a powerful incentive to drive more safely and just “leave the phone alone.”
But why, you might ask, is a real estate closing attorney like me passing time pushing information about a traffic law? Because the law is extremely important – and other than being a socially responsible step in the right direction, it’s a game changer for a Realtor’s daily work life, if you really think about it. Realtors spend an extraordinary amount of time driving every day. According to a survey from the National Association of Realtors, its member agents alone drove a collective 3.6 billion miles one year. A full-time, active real estate agent in metro Atlanta can easily accumulate 20,000-30,000 miles or more in annual business driving.
A real estate agent’s vehicle is frequently also her full-service mobile office. Docusign. Dotloop. E-sign. Dropbox. Upload. Download. Screenshot. Snapchat. . . . oh, wait. Maybe not that one.
But anyway. The point is, so much can be done, and must be done on the road, no physical office is really needed anymore. Executing the next contract in between closings; or uploading photos of a listing while showing homes to buyers all over town. All while processing 100s of texts, emails and phone calls each day to run the business. From “your mobile office.”
The lawmakers intended for a pretty specific list of can-dos and can’t dos, and I will hilight a few of them in this piece. But the main take-away is this: get comfortable with voice command technology and get used to pulling into parking lots to do any work that requires hands-on or eyes-on interaction with your device. So when it comes to the “quick text reply” and reading emails and texts – think twice about un-cradling the phone at the red light. Besides this being the right and safe way to do things – and really, you know that it is – you’re less likely to get a ticket this way as well.
My phone stays in the cradle at all times when I’m in motion. But I will tell you that for myself, the toughest part will be to keep my hands off the phone at the red lights – which really seems like a “victimless crime” to me. (unless you’re one of these a**clowns that gets so selfishly lost in your device that you make everyone miss the turn arrow). The quick “on my way home – I love you” to the wife, or even a “Like” or two on Facebook waiting for the light to turn — no longer allowed if I have to physically operate my phone to do it.
To begin educating and making the point, police have already utilized officers in unmarked vehicles on Towne Lake Parkway in Woodstock to pull over drivers who were observed looking at their phones or exhibiting other “distracting behavior” while driving or at stoplights. The point is, they are watching with this renewed purpose in mind.
And the last thing we need is you watching your phone while you’re watching for them watching for you and you’re also trying to watch the road – all at the same time!
Of course there are circumstances when it’s OK to grab the phone – to report a traffic accident or fire, criminal activity or hazardous road conditions or during a medical emergency. First responders are exempt as are utility service workers if responding to a utility emergency. And if you’re lawfully parked, then grab the phone and talk, swipe, hunt, peck, like, love, post, share, IM, DM and Snap away.
I often make light and joke of the fact that I have sat for closings with sellers in a few county jails, a Waffle House here and there, and on the hoods of many pickup trucks. One buyer was in active labor at Northside Hospital as I sat beside her and witnessed the signing of her mortgage papers. (It was a boy). Real estate professionals adjust and adapt every day.
So there you go — now you know what’s ahead. Update your devices – get good voice command apps and a great hands-free cradle; and practice good driving habits. Be safe out there!