THOMASVILLE — On July 1, Georgia will become the 16th U.S. state to enact a law banning drivers from having a cell phone in their hand or supported by any part of their body.

The new law — approved by the 2018 General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this month — requires drivers to have an earpiece, wireless headset or smartphone watch to make and receive calls and to use navigational devices.

Drivers can text if they are using technology that converts voice to text messages.

Georgia State Patrol (GSP) troopers will begin educating the public about the hands-free law, said Lt. Tommy Peeples, assistant commander of GSP Troop G.

“We want to give people a chance to learn about the new law,” Peeples said. “But citations are forthcoming.”

Peeples, whose office is at the Thomasville GSP post, said distracted drivers are becoming a bigger highway safety problem than people who drink and drive.

“Both are major problems,” said Peeples, who is over GSP posts at Americus, Albany, Thomasville, Colquitt and Cuthbert.

Troopers want to change the way people think about using cell phones while driving.

Sgt. 1st Class John VanLandingham of Thomasville Post 12 GSP, said Post 12 troopers will aggressively look for people driving while using a hand-held cell phone after July 1.

“The main thing is to make people aware of the law,” VanLandingham said.

After a grace period while drivers are learning about the new law, Post 12 troopers will write citations.

The Thomas County Sheriff’s Office said it supports any law that will prevent traffic crashes, particularly those that injure people or result in fatalities.

“If the new law will make the motoring public safer, the sheriff’s office is behind it,” said Capt. Steven Jones, sheriff’s office public information officer.

Thomasville police are preparing a training video about the law that will be posted on the Thomasville Police Department (TPD) Facebook page.

Maj. Wade Glover, TPD public information officer, said that although law enforcement officers are exempt from the new law in emergency situations, TPD officers will be held to the same standards involving hand-held phones at other times.