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The Gridlock Guy- Doug Turnbull

  • The July 1st initiation of the revamped distracted-driving law — the Hands-Free Georgia Act — is conjuring up questions, criticism, and anxiety. I’ve heard from many people who think that the beefed-up law is simply another source of revenue or that it doesn’t go far enough to stop distracted driving. Others are confused about if they’re allowed to stream audio on their phones (yes, as long as it’s only adjusted while the vehicle is legally parked; adjusting it on the dashboard screen is legal). And still others think the new rules ban phone calls and GPS (nope, they only ban people holding their phones while driving, unless they are making an emergency call). One fact should calm all of us down: this has been done already in 15 states. Fifteen. Over the past two weeks, we have covered what the law allows and bans and discussed some devices and advice for using a phone legally. The new law pretty much bans ever holding a phone while driving and makes other acts such as texting completely hands-free. It also completely bans watching or shooting videos behind the wheel. And the adjustments people must make are very similar to those people have made in other states. I cast a net on social media, asking my friends in states with similar laws what they did to adjust. One, who wished to remain unnamed, said the adjustment was simple: use a headset or Bluetooth earpiece. Having these or even earbuds on just one ear is perfectly legal under Georgia’s new law and makes using the phone without holding it much easier. This same friend was in New York when the laws changed and got caught holding his phone. But the officer gave him a warning, plus the threat of a $300 fine the next time it happened again, and he complied. He said that while using the headset was at first an inconvenience, he got used to it quickly and really had no issues once he got a car with a Bluetooth system. Kelli Kitchens moved from Georgia to Maryland, where the hands-free laws are more strict than Georgia’s now. It wasn’t a big deal to her. “I honestly can’t say it was much of an adjustment moving to Maryland. I admit to using my phone a couple of times while driving with no consequences,” Kitchens said in a Facebook message. “A co-worker of mine up there was holding and talking on the phone and stopped at a red light one time. She mentioned an officer pulled up next to her and motioned for her to put the phone down, but didn’t initiate a traffic stop or issue a citation for it.” These are two instances where officers could have ticketed and fined drivers, but chose not to. Enforcement has been a big question among many I have talked to about the law. The supposed “90-day grace period” is something that only the Georgia State Patrol has mentioned. But even GSP has said that they will nab people under the new law, if the circumstances are bad enough or extremely egregious. Each law enforcement agency can choose whether or not they have a grace period, though many likely will go easy at first. Other respondents to my question about laws in other states seemed very nonchalant about the laws’ existence. Technology is good enough now, even on older phones, to be able to obey the rules fairly easily. Tractor trailer drivers have had to comply with similar laws for several years. And even if the stricter law causes people to make major changes in their behavior, it is rightfully so. Traffic crashes and deaths have seen sharp increases in Georgia in the last few years and our insurance premiums are among the highest in the nation. Behavior needs to change. And texting behind the wheel, moving or not, has been illegal for eight years. But people do it now more than ever. Lawmakers needed to make the law against texting and driving, the most dangerous of the behind-the-wheel phone habits, easier to enforce. They now have banned people holding or resting their phones on themselves. Most states with similar laws have seen at least a 15% decrease in annual traffic deaths. If Georgia gets anywhere near that success rate, the changes are worth the culture shock.
  • The July 1st Hands-Free Georgia Act meets Georgians at the intersection of driving and phones. Any changes with either are not just about enforcement, they are culture-shock. As we covered here last week, the amended “Anti-Texting Law” now bans drivers from holding or resting phones while they use them anywhere on their bodies, period.  The law allows people to dial phone numbers and adjust GPS navigation, as long as the phone is in a holder, on the seat, or on the console (again, not on the person). The law allows zero device-touching for texting, adjusting streaming apps, social media, emails, or anything else.  Drivers can do those things completely hands-free or through a car entertainment system in the dashboard.  And the law completely bans watching or shooting videos from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. This then bears this question: do drivers need to buy anything to use phones more legally behind the wheel? “We don’t want to get into the situation where we’re telling people they have to buy something,” Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Communications Manager Robert Hydrick told the AJC and WSB.  Hydrick said that the law is lenient enough to prevent people from having to buy tools or better vehicles to use their phones, but that does not mean people should simply just obey the new law. Drivers should strive higher to decrease their chances of getting hurt and hurting others.  “You can make phone calls, but what we want people to understand is to limit your phone calls,” he said. Hydrick said that a good rule of thumb is to just try to limit calls to the bare minimum of length, instead of 30-minute, soul-baring therapy sessions. (Okay, I added that last part). For people that compare phone-use to other acts, like talking to a passenger or eating, Hydrick said the difference is that phone calls and texts take much longer than taking a bite and are more mentally distracting. And he said that some studies show that any kind phone use increases chances of death by four times. That and the increasing crashes and insurance premiums recently in Georgia is why this law is getting more strict. To legally and more safely make calls, drivers can start with just putting an earbud in one ear. If drivers use the earbuds that come with their phones, they normally have mics on them that allow for easy hands-free control of calls and other phone functions. Driving with one earbud or a cheap Bluetooth earpiece (as cheap as $7-10) is legal and much more safe than holding a phone or using speakerphone. As for housing the phone, the law says it cannot be on your body at all when in use. While drivers can put the phone in a cup holder, on a console, or on a seat and then use the speaker, trying to reach over and make calls and input addresses into a GPS is very difficult. Having the phone at or near eye-level makes using it much easier and safer.  Walmart (no, they are not sponsoring this article) has phone holders that clip into AC vents for as cheap as five bucks. I personally use one that is similar to what police use, that extends off of a post attached to my console, but that may be over the top for most people. Many stores also carry phone holders that suction to windshields and, contrary to some rumors online, windshield mounts are not illegal in Georgia. If drivers have newer cars, they should learn how to use the in-car options. Most late models are Bluetooth-ready, as are most mobile devices. The newest cars interact nearly seamlessly with phones for calls, texts, streaming, and GPS. Android Auto is even more user-friendly than Apple CarPlay, but both mobile giants have gone to great lengths to innovate in this field. A little time spent in the driveway with a car owner’s manual and the phone could go a long way to improving the commute. Drivers should also explore what options in their phone settings can limit notifications and even calls. Apple’s “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature under “General” and “Restrictions” in the “Settings” part of the phone allows drivers to choose to allow certain interactions when the phone thinks the vehicle is in motion. Android and Windows phones have a similar “Driving Mode” feature that users can manipulate in the “Settings” section of the app list on the device. Enabling these will help set up some useful guardrails as people adjust to the law. Hydrick said the law is more about changing a mindset. “What we hope to see happen when this law goes into effect is to see people get the phones out of their hands and spend more time driving and less time interacting with their phones.” GOHS has a very helpful site for those with questions on the law: http://www.headsupgeorgia.com/. This is part two in a four-part series on the Hands-Free Georgia Act. Next week, we look at how drivers and law enforcement adapted to similar laws in other states. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.
  • July 1st is a landmark day for transportation safety in Georgia. The highly ballyhooed, awaited and analyzed Hands-Free Georgia Act goes into effect and drivers everywhere are scrambling to figure out just what they can and cannot do. AJC’s David Wickert has a good, concise breakdown on the basics of the law. Very basically, drivers can no longer hold phones and drive. That is the biggest change.  Smilin’ Mark McKay and I recently hosted a two-hour show show on this very subject on News 95.5/AM750 WSB. Listeners packed the phone lines with questions about what they could and couldn’t do and on enforcement. Almost everyone was completely in favor of the law — in fact, plenty thought it does not go far enough. We spoke with state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, co-author of this seismic new bill that amended the 2010 anti-texting law. Carson said the initial bill allowed for only one swipe to answer a phone call, but the final product is slightly more lenient. “The biggest misconception is that Georgia drivers will not be able to use their phones,” Carson explained. “What the law says is that you physically cannot hold it or support it.” Drivers soon will be no longer allowed to cradle or hold a phone or other electronic wireless device behind the wheel, unless we are making an emergency call. Georgians cannot use more than one button to answer or use a mobile phone. And they cannot reach for one, if doing so requires undoing a seat belt or standing up. Drivers are allowed to use GPS, voice-to-text features, and can make and receive phone calls hands-free. Single-ear headphones and Bluetooth pieces are acceptable aids for this. If a driver doesn’t have a Bluetooth-capable car or device, using an earbud with a mic on it (like the ones that come with most phones) is a good workaround. The bill also still allows for use of in-car navigation, communication and entertainment systems. The no-brainer part of the bill is straightforward: Along with already-banned texting, drivers can no longer answer emails or other queries, watch videos or record from behind the wheel. Believe it or not, these actions are still legal, technically, until July 1st. But don’t do it! As long as someone is legally parked, they are allowed to do these things. But “legally parked” does not mean at a stoplight or in gridlocked traffic. Also, law enforcement, emergency and utility workers are still allowed to use their phones. One big benefit of the law change may be that enforcing the original anti-texting law will be more enforceable. Now officers can easily see if someone is holding their phone or not, no matter what they are actually doing. But the Georgia State Patrol knows this is a learning process for drivers. “While we intend to issue a great number of written warnings and have a lot of conversations on the benefits of going hands-free, each particular interaction is being left up to the discretion of the trooper,” GSP Capt. Mark Perry said. “If the trooper feels that a citation is warranted for a particular situation (crashes with injuries/fatalities etc.), then a citation will be issued. But by and large, the first few weeks and months will be focused on education about the new law.” Whether state law enforcement agencies go easy or not at first, we all have a duty to keep our hands off of our phones and carefully use them in the situations the law allows. Carson said that 13 of the 15 states that already have similar laws have seen at least a 16 percent decrease in traffic deaths. GDOT says that 1,549 people died on Georgia’s roads in 2017. If we all do our jobs and obey the Hands-Free Georgia Act, that number could decrease by almost 250 per year. Penalties for breaking the law aren’t steep. First-time offenders get one point on their license and a $50 fine. The second offense is two points and $100 and the third is three points and $150. Over the next three weeks leading up to the July 1st start date, we will explore tools to make using phones in the car more hands-free, how drivers in other states with similar laws behave, and what employers will have to do to make their fleet drivers legal. Be sure to check back for that. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com
  • Campaign season: where ads drench the airwaves like May weather drenches shirts. Accusations and proclamations fly and snippets of headlines, bills, and quotes quickly frame and cram a candidate’s point into a 30- or 60-second avail. With local races, people (and admittedly this writer) barely know the candidates and the commercials become a main “CliffsNotes” of what the candidate and their opponents believe. Of course, falling hook, line, and sinker for facts in campaign ads is akin to believing the artisanal chef in Taco Bell commercials. This is certainly true with one such claim from Georgia gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins about Republican primary front-runner Casey Cagle. This is verbatim from a heavy-rotation radio ad: “Casey spent $250,000 of your tax money on private planes to beat the traffic, because Casey’s statewide, billion-dollar-a-year tax increase to fix Atlanta traffic … didn’t fix a thing.” This line has more holes than a tin can in Brian Kemp’s yard. First, does commissioning a private plane for this really make sense? Doing so may be wasteful, but flying to different corners of the state saves far more time than the delays traffic causes. Have you ever heard the saying, “As the crow flies”? And did Cagle really fly over only Atlanta (whose traffic the ad singles out) just to avoid the bad traffic? That’s a very short distance for a plane flight. The ad connects two potential truths — Cagle’s private, taxpayer-funded flights and the bad Atlanta traffic — and makes a likely false axiom. Classic move. The next part of the commercial really sinks low and is dangerous to the notion of an informed populace. The ad claims that the $1 billion transportation funding bill that Cagle championed did nothing to help traffic. This is simply untrue. The 2015 Transportation Funding Act increased gas, electric vehicle, heavy vehicle and hotel taxes to fund mostly a backlog of road maintenance. At the time, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said just that to the AJC. “We may be able to do other projects outside of maintenance … but not like rebuilding 285 or something huge like that.” Actually, I-285 is getting some love. The bill required GDOT to develop not just a plan for routine maintenance, but also a 10-year strategic plan to move Georgia forward. In the fall of 2016, McMurry exclusively shared highlights of this plan with WSB and the AJC. Parts of it include the Express Toll Lanes being added to I-85 up to Hamilton Mill Road and the Transform I-285/GA-400 project. There are longer term plans to build four additional toll lanes around some of I-285, redo the I-285/I-20 interchange in Fulton, add toll lanes to GA-400, widen I-16 and I-75 in central and south Georgia, build new lanes along I-85 up to the South Carolina line, and add more capacity to Spaghetti Junction in DeKalb. These are just the big projects. The plan is comprehensive and makes bolder moves than the voter-rejected 2012 TSPLOST plan. Traffic is getting worse in Atlanta, as the population grows. If the government doesn’t move forward with infrastructure and transit plans and if the private sector doesn’t change its behavior and policies, the jams grow worse, faster. Tippins’ correlating the worsening traffic to Cagle’s failed plan is typical political theater, but incredibly misleading. Infrastructure plans don’t eliminate current traffic; they build for the future growth. And we can’t forget the importance of routine maintenance and how cash-strapped GDOT has been in staying ahead on it. Decreasing fuel revenue has hampered GDOT’s budget, so the 2015 plan was a big shot in the arm. Without enough funding, road-paving, grass-cutting, pothole-filling, bridge-inspecting and the like do not happen on schedule. The roads are in bad enough shape — does defunding their maintenance even more help traffic? Most Georgians, especially Atlantans, agree that traffic is bad and that government should have at least some role in maintaining and building the roads. While there are many disagreements about how to do this, spreading false narratives about efficacy just keep Georgia standing still both literally and figuratively. Fixing our biggest traffic problems starts with making a move, not rebuffing all ideas.
  • If one commutes enough in Atlanta, they’re sure to get in a crash — I’ve been in my share. The feeling of confidence and safety behind the wheel completely vanishes when bumpers connect. Suddenly, involved parties are standing on the side of the road, eyeing damage, dialing phones, waiting, and running late. Happy Monday! Drivers in wrecks, however, can take some steps to improve the commute around them, shorten their wait times, make themselves safer, and ensure they satisfy their insurers. First, Georgia law 40-6-275 explicitly states that any drivers in a wreck on a public road must, “… remove said vehicles from the immediate confines of the roadway into a safe refuge on the shoulder, emergency lane, or median or to a place otherwise removed from the roadway…”. Big exceptions to this include injuries to the licensed driver of the car (though another licensed driver is permitted to safely move it) or if the vehicle is incapacitated. The “Steer and Clear” law is often ignored, but it’s vital. The WSB Traffic Team and I see many minor wrecks stay in travel lanes for far too long, causing big jams on interstates and side roads. Drivers that violate “Steer and Clear” can get a ticket. People do not need to wait for first responders’ arrival to try and move their cars. When calling the police about a wreck, be very explicit about the exact location and the types of vehicles involved. Almost every driver has a smartphone and a mapping app to find their location (might I suggest the WSB Triple Team Traffic Alerts App?). If you’re stuck in travel lanes or another dangerous spot, call the GDOT HERO Units at 511. If police and/or HEROs don’t respond quickly, keep calling. HERO trucks (or the new GDOT CHAMP vehicles in some outlying areas) heighten their response times when traffic is interrupted. And stay in the vehicle — do not get out to take pictures or make calls, until having moved safely out of the road. Also, turn on the hazard lights, to warn passing motorists of the problem. Law enforcement sometimes struggles in responding to non-injury fender-benders, especially those that are not blocking lanes. Crashes right on county or city lines can cause jurisdictional squabbles. Georgia State Patrol handles some agencies’ interstate wrecks, such as Atlanta, Cobb, and Gwinnett — but they often do not on weekends and nights. Add in personnel shortages, and response times can really disappoint sometimes. So know that calling the police is not always imperative in a wreck. State law 40-6-273 does say to call the police immediately when, “… in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or property damage to an apparent extent of $500.00 or more …”. If the wreck is more minor than that, law enforcement sources tell the AJC that drivers only must exchange license, insurance, and tag info. This is particularly true if drivers are not trying to claim any piece of the wreck on their insurance. If drivers want to claim a wreck on their insurance, AAA, which helps provide auto, life, and home insurance, has some advice. If those in the crash do not request the police at the scene, the parties should go together to the police department. “This helps the insurance company with its investigation and helps determine who is not at fault in the loss,” AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend told the AJC. Drivers can help their own cause by taking pictures at the crash scene. AAA’s policy is to request a police report for a wreck, but customers should submit their own on a claim, if they have one. Every driver should know what their insurance company requires, so they know how to handle crashes. Drivers knowing and following Georgia law will help traffic move better and keep them safer. Contacting 511 for wrecks on interstates and major highways clears lanes faster. Knowing the law and their respective insurance company’s rules will make the claim process easier. Put these things into practice and crash scenes become safer and less of a hassle than they normally are.

News

  • Two brothers accused of at least seven robberies across metro Atlanta in May are no ordinary criminals: they’re identical twins. Marquavious and Juntavious Burton, 20, were arrested in early June. According to Fulton County jail records, the twins have been arrested multiple times since 2015 on charges such as aggravated assault and theft by receiving stolen property. The latest charges include seven counts of armed robbery and a charge of participating in criminal street gang activity. Police believe they may be responsible for even more recent robberies. The Burton twins have also been accused of shooting at some of the robbery victims, Channel 2 Action News reported.  In other news:
  • Two Cobb County siblings were killed after their 17-year-old sister allegedly lost control of the family’s SUV on a South Carolina interstate, police said Monday.  Jessica Wolwark was driving a Chevrolet northbound on I-85 in Anderson County when she ran off the highway and the SUV overturned Saturday morning, according to police.  Wolwark and her mother, Natalia Anggraeni, were both wearing seat belts and were seriously injured in the crash. Two other family members died from their injuries after being ejected, police said.  Kirana “Kiki” Wolwark, 15, and 12-year-old Nate Wolwark were both killed, a family friend posted on a Go Fund Me page. The family was traveling from their Kennesaw home to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where the girls were to attend a religious retreat, according to Chrissy Concepcion, who set up the fundraising page for the family. The family does not have medical insurance, she said. The South Carolina medical examiner was unable to confirm the identities of those killed, but family friends confirmed the names and ages of the Wolwark siblings.  “Kiki was a joy to be around, and spread her love for animals to everyone she knew,” Concepcion posted. “Nate was the perfect boy; always helpful, caring, and accepting of everyone around him.” The driver and her mother were both taken by helicopter to a Greenville hospital, where both remained Monday. Anggraeni has a broken neck and several broken ribs, Concepcion said. Jessica Wolwark has torn ligaments in her arm, but is expected to be released from the hospital this week.  The South Carolina Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.  In other news: 
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made a trade betting that the stock in a shipping company with Russian-government ties would fall, a transaction coming just days after he learned of a possible negative news story about his investment in the company. Ross reported on a government form released Monday, as required by federal ethics rules, that he shorted stock in Navigator Holdings in October. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the transaction came three business days after a Times reporter submitted questions to Ross about Navigator. The transaction, listed as worth between $100,000 and $250,000, was first reported Monday by Forbes. Ross rebuffed any suggestions that he shorted the Navigator stock based on confidential information to make a profit. He said the transaction was part of his effort to divest from Navigator and that he did not stand to gain if the stock fell, or lose if it rose, at the time. In short selling, a person borrows shares of a stock and sells them. The aim is to then replace the borrowed shares with others bought later at a lower price, reaping a profit from the difference. Navigator counts a Russian gas producer with ties to the Kremlin among its major customers. President Donald Trump tapped Ross, a billionaire investor in distressed companies, to be his administration's point man on trade and manufacturing as Commerce chief. His spokesmen said in November that Ross planned to completely divest from Navigator, although he wasn't required to do so under his ethics agreement as an incoming Cabinet member, because he wanted to avoid any possible perception of a conflict of interest. Ross says now that he has completely divested his Navigator holdings. In a statement Tuesday, Ross said it would be 'completely false' to imply that the transactions involved insider trading using nonpublic information. The Times reporter 'contacted me to write about my personal financial holdings and not about Navigator Holdings or its prospects,' he said. 'I did not receive any nonpublic information due to my government position, nor did I receive any nonpublic information from a government employee. Securities laws presume that information known to or provided by a news organization is by definition public information,' Ross' statement said. Ross said he had been in the process of selling off his holdings in the company when he learned in late October that there were additional shares belonging to him in an account opened by the company. Because the shares were 'in electronic form' and he didn't have physical access to them to deliver them to the broker on time, he said he 'technically sold them short.' When he received the physical shares on Nov. 16, Ross said he delivered them to the broker to close the transaction. 'Therefore, it made no economic difference to me whether the shares went up or down between the sale date and the date I delivered them,' he said. The owners of Sibur, the Russian gas producer that is a major customer of Navigator, have included two Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin and a businessman believed to be Putin's son-in-law. Navigator ships products from Sibur. Navigator is one of a few companies in the world that can transport liquefied petroleum gas in cold and icy conditions. Russia is known for its brutal winters as well as its giant, state-controlled oil and gas producers.
  • President Donald Trump took a dig at Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican who has been critical of the president, during a meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday night. Trump told the lawmakers in a closed-door Capitol Hill meeting that he wanted to 'congratulate Mark on a great race,' according to two attendees. Another attendee said Trump's remarks elicited some boos from members of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group in the House. The three attendees spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting focused on immigration. Sanford, a Freedom Caucus member, said he was unable to attend because his flight was delayed at the Charleston, South Carolina, airport. 'The president has his own style. You gotta give him credit. He's an equal opportunity insulter. He gets just about everybody,' said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas. Sanford lost his primary bid last week to South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington and blamed his defeat on Trump, who urged Republicans to dump the former South Carolina governor. Trump tweeted on the day of the primary that the congressman had been unhelpful to him, adding, 'He is better off in Argentina.' That was a reference to Sanford's surprise disappearance from the state when he was governor, which he later revealed was to continue his affair with an Argentine woman. Sanford had called Trump untrustworthy and culturally intolerant, prompting Arrington's primary challenge. The congressman later said support for Trump had become a litmus test in GOP primaries. __ Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly contributed.
  • Three months after a tornado rumbled through a South Fulton County neighborhood and destroyed people’s homes and lives, several neighbors told Channel 2 Action News they’re still recovering.  We’ve learned they’re on their own because the storm didn’t fit the criteria to be considered for state or federal disaster relief funds, on the Channel 2 Action News Nightbeat at 11.    TRENDING STORIES: Sole witness to deadly shooting says Tex McIver 'needs to be in hell' 2 dead, others injured in I-285 crash in South Fulton County Man arrested after beating, stabbing 15-year-old sister to death, police say