ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers will soon consider a measure that would ban teenage drivers from texting and making calls on their cell phones while driving - and suspend the licenses of violators found at fault in accidents.
Georgia would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have passed cell phone restrictions for teen drivers if legislators adopt the measure during the legislative session that begins in January.
The measure's Republican sponsors say it would help keep Georgia's rookie drivers safe from distractions that could lead to fatal accidents.
The House plan would ban motorists under the age of 18 from talking or texting while driving, except in the case of an emergency such as a life-threatening situation or a call reporting a road hazard.
Violators would be fined up to $175 for the first offense and up to $500 for a second one. Drivers found at fault in an accident while violating the law would have their licenses suspended for 90 days. Second offenders would lose their licenses for six months.
"These are drivers just getting their sea legs in terms of driving ability, and we need to make sure every bit of their focus is on driving, and not on texting and talking to their friends," said state Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Peachtree City Republican who sponsored the measure.
But some analysts say driving restrictions aimed at specific age groups are difficult to enforce.
"The passage of the law is just the first step," said Anne McCartt, a senior vice president with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
"If people don't believe the law is being enforced, getting compliance of the law is tough," she said. "That's true with any laws, but legislation focused on teens is a separate problem: It's tough for police officers to enforce any law directed at particular age."
The institute studied a law enacted in North Carolina in 2006 that fines motorists under age 18 who are caught using a cell phone. It found that the drivers used their cell phones at about the same rate both before and after the law took effect.
McCartt urged legislators to draft measures that focus on all age groups, and to aggressively promote them to encourage the public to comply.
"Laws that cover all ages make the most sense," she said. "And enforcement combined with publicity is a proven deterrent."
A broader bill may yet come, said Ramsey, who began investigating the law after he got into an accident with a young driver talking on a cell phone. But he said he's first focused on a bill aimed at teens.
"We don't get many opportunities as policymakers to write laws that save lives," Ramsey said. "This is a first step. I think we need to take care of the most vulnerable, and see how it works. Anything we can do to improve Georgia roadways deserves consideration."