COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - One month into Georgia's recent hands-free law, local officers want to remind drivers their behavior could hurt the youngest in the community.
The Columbus Police Department's patrol squad is fully aware of the dangers caused by distracted drivers who are not obeying the hands-free law. That concern is even higher as students return to school throughout August.
Columbus police sergeant Chris Anderson said he has seen more drivers improve their focus behind the wheel thanks, in part, to the new law.
"It's starting to help, but there's still a long way to go," he said.
Anderson said it will still take some time for drivers to adjust what he calls their past "behaviors" - holding a phone, slowing down to text, and more - that contribute to deadly accidents.
"Between 2014-2016, traffic fatalities went up nearly a third," Anderson said. "It's a bad behavior we have acquired over years of having that convenience with us at all times."
Law enforcement across Georgia has already punished distracted drivers for violating the Hands-Free Law.
From July 1 to July 31, Georgia State Patrol and other partner agencies issued 961 citations throughout the state - the highest number of citations; for holding or supporting a mobile device.
With students in Muscogee County returning to class, Anderson and Columbus Police want to remind drivers there are consequences for their choices.
"In school zones - Georgia law does not require us to give you any grace," Anderson said, "Now you've gotten more points, because you're in a school zone, and you're speeding... now you just added another point because of distracted driving."
Anderson, CPD and enforcement statewide also urge drivers to research purchasing wireless tools or activating Bluetooth technology in their vehicles and phones; that way, Anderson said, they will keep their hands on the wheel and not on their devices.
"[Are we] going to continue this behavior and risk lives," he said, "or are we going to learn from this behavior, change our behaviors and save lives? That's what we have to do."