State Patrol Commanding Officer Maj. Mark McDonough says the department's efforts are going to be "very compassionate" over the next few weeks while troopers and drivers get used to laws that bar adults from texting while driving, ban texting and talking for drivers under 18 and require pickup truck drivers and passengers to wear seat belts.
During a question and answer session Tuesday, McDonough acknowledged that enforcing the texting ban could be a challenge.
He said, for example, that while the law clearly says teens are not allowed to text or call while driving, determining who is a teenager might not be so easy.
"That would be very difficult for a trooper to just effect a stop based upon a person's age," McDonough said, according to a transcript of the session provided by the State Patrol.
Troopers will not receive specific new training, he added, but will have to be vigilant before making traffic stops for a texting or talking driver who may be distracted and not staying in the proper lane or following too closely.
"If he's wrong, he's going to have to let that person go," McDonough said. "The number one thing we have to have in our job is the ability to observe. Is it impossible? No, but it's going to require the trooper to do some observation in order to develop the reason why he pulls them over."
McDonough says the situation will be more clear-cut for drivers involved in accidents resulting from texting or from pickup truck drivers not wearing seat belts.
Drivers found guilty of violating the laws on texting or talking while driving face a $150 fine and a point added to their driver's license.
The new laws take effect July 1, which marks the beginning of the Fourth of July holiday, a busy travel weekend when traffic enforcement is an increased priority.
McDonough said he thinks the laws are good ones, and that the grace period will be effective. He also said he thinks the state's decision to end the ban on seat belts for pickups could save the lives of 100 people a year who would otherwise die on Georgia roadways.
Georgia was the last state to end the pickup exemption for seat belts. McDonough said about 20 percent of fatal vehicle accidents occur in pickup trucks statewide each year, and that in those circumstances, 75 percent of the time people are not wearing seat belts.
Two dozen other states have passed bans on texting while driving.
In Georgia, the adult law is named for Caleb Sorohan, a Morgan County college freshman who was killed in a head-on collision last year because he was texting while driving. The family of the 18-year-old has pushed state lawmakers to pass the texting ban since his death in December.
The Illinois-based National Safety Council estimates that 28 percent of crashes - or 1.6 million annually - are caused by drivers talking or texting on cell phones.
The push to address such dangerous driving practices has garnered the attention of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and organizations like the United Nations. Both launched campaigns to discourage drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.
Amy Stracke, a spokeswoman with AAA Auto Club South based in Tampa, Fla., said the law will mainly work as a deterrent.
"Most people are law-abiding citizens, so if there is a law on the books, most people are going to abide by that law," Stracke said. She added that the law is enforceable and that educating drivers will be key. "There's not a lot of history on it, but these laws have been shown to reduce the amount of texting that's done behind the wheel."