Cops pose as utility workers to catch distracted drivers

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Three Marietta officers dressed as city utility workers fanned out across the intersection of Cobb Parkway and Roswell Road near the Big Chicken and watched for motorists violating the hands-free law or not wearing their seat belts. When they spotted violators, the undercover cops radioed the vehicle descriptions to uniformed officers waiting in nearby parking lots, who then pulled over the vehicles.

The operation was coordinated by Marietta police with the help of the Cobb County Police Department and Georgia State Patrol. Marietta officer Jake Rakestraw said Wednesday’s operation began around 9:30 a.m. and ran until around 11:45 a.m.

Georgia state troopers wrote 29 tickets, and Marietta and Cobb police wrote 141 tickets and made three arrests. Two of the arrests were related to driver’s license issues and one was a person wanted for an earlier crime.

Sgt. Wayne Delk, spokesman with Cobb County police, said the traffic detail was done to remind drivers that the state’s hands-free law is still in effect and to reduce the number of collisions caused by distracted driving.

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Georgia’s hands-free law went into effect July 1, 2018, and while it got lots of publicity at the time, some drivers may have returned to bad habits.

“People assume that if they are not getting pulled over for this law that it’s still OK to slip back into that habit of using their phone while they are driving,” Chuck McPhilamy, spokesman for Marietta police, said. “We’re asking the public to realize that the law is in effect for a reason. It’s there to protect you from an accident as well as save lives.”

McPhilamy added the 15 states that have passed similar laws have collectively experienced a 16% drop in traffic accidents in the two years after their laws went into effect.

Georgia’s law prohibits drivers from using their hands or parts of their body to hold or support a cell phone or other mobile device. Drivers are also banned from writing, sending or reading any text messages, emails or instant messages; browsing the web or using smart phone applications; watching a video or movie unrelated to GPS navigation; or recording a video.

Drivers are allowed to make and receive calls using hands-free technology such as a Bluetooth device or headset. Exceptions are also in place for when a driver is reporting a traffic crash or medical emergency; public safety and first responders who are performing their jobs; utility service employees or contractors acting within the scope of their duties; and when a vehicle is lawfully parked.

For the first hands-free offense, a driver is fined $50 and gets one point on their driver’s license. The second conviction will bring a $100 fine and add two points to a driver’s license. The third and subsequent convictions cost $150 and three points to that person’s license.

>> Related: Study: Georgia cellphone law reduced distracted driving

Wednesday’s traffic detail was another example of law enforcement agencies working together to remind drivers about the importance of obeying the hands-free law, Delk said.

“This is just one concerted effort to remind people that the law exists for a reason and we do want people to be safe,” he said. “We are as law enforcement officers are bound to enforce the law. This is not something we pick and choose.”

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