by: Jim Strickland Updated:
Despite being on the books for two years, few Georgia drivers have been convicted under the state's texting and driving statute.
Georgia State Patrol Lt. Les Wilburn told Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland that enforcement can be tricky.
“You have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were violating that traffic law," he said.
What may look like texting to a police officer may instead be a driver checking a map, which is legal.
“We're taught in trooper school if you're not 100 percent sure, you don't issue a citation," said Wilburn.
Georgia Department of Driver Services records show in two years of enforcement, the state has only 1,281 convictions. That's fewer than two per day, statewide. Gwinnett County said it has an additional 239 convictions not yet counted in the state total.
But 750 miles to the north in Voorhees, N.J., Strickland found a traffic officer stopped five drivers in only 70 minutes. The township covers only 12 square miles.
New Jersey has one of the toughest cellphone laws, yet one of the easiest to enforce. Hands-on cellphone use is banned. Drivers must use either ear pieces or speaker phones. Since the beginning of 2011, the state has averaged 7,600 tickets per month. That figure is six times what Georgia produced in two years.
"Is it a better law? It's a stricter law," said Voorhees police Officer Anthony Rusterucci.
Georgia has a hands-free only law for 16- and 17-year-olds.
"I feel I'm a good enough texter to be texting and driving at the same time," said Graham Redmond, a 17-year-old from Fayette County.
Using a television remote control, and with his parents’ consent, Redmond demonstrated how easy it is to text and drive without consequences. Redmond drove by several police cars from several jurisdictions near his home in Fayette County imitating texting motions, but no one stopped him.
"I've never ever heard of anyone getting in trouble for texting and driving, not once," he said.
State numbers Strickland obtained show fewer than three dozen teens were caught on the phone in two years statewide.
Mandi Sorohan, whose texting-related death inspired Georgia's current law, is now advocating a New Jersey-type law.
“If they could just get a full ban on handheld, that's the way to enforce it," she said.
State Sen. Horacena Tate, of Atlanta, told Strickland she plans to introduce legislation in January to make Georgia the nation's ninth hands-free state.
"We need to strengthen the law, and we need to get the word out, and it's going to take time like the seat belt law, but we've got to make changes," she said.
Gov. Nathan Deal told Strickland in a one-on-one interview that he's not taking a position yet.
"If that's something that we need to do to reduce fatalities, I'd be more than willing to hear the reasons why and the information that backs it up," said Deal.