Cherokee County law enforcement agencies said more drivers are making the risky decision to text and drive, and they are seeking ways to crack down on the phenomenon.
Lt. Jeff Hall, who oversees the Canton Police Department's special operations division, said cell phone use, including texting, making or receiving calls and sending or reading e-mails, has become "a contributing factor" in accidents and incidents.
The department's officers, he said, are more aware now of the dangers of cell phone use while driving and will ask drivers if they were using their phones before accidents.
"A lot of people don't understand that it takes a second," he said of the effect of being distracted by a cell phone. "You may have moved 80 feet if you're going 50 miles per hour while looking at a text."
Tracking exact numbers of incidents when texting while driving leads to crashes is difficult, according to law enforcement agencies, and they can't prove incidents were caused by texting alone. Also, unless an officer checks the cell phone, many drivers won't admit to using their mobile devices moments before a crash.
Cell phone and other electronic device usage in cars has grown exponentially across the country.
A 2008 study done by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, concluded that 6 percent of drivers visibly manipulated a cell phone device in 2008.
That means 812,000 vehicles were being driven by someone using a handheld cell phone at any given moment, the study concluded.
A study done earlier this year by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that drivers of heavy vehicles and trucks that sent or received text messages increased their risk of a crash or near-crash event by 23 percent.
In October, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning federal employees from texting while operating a government vehicle or using their own devices or cars while conducting government business.
Several U.S. Senators also have introduced a bill that would mandate states ban texting while driving or risk losing federal highway funds.
In Woodstock, officers are reporting to Lt. Robert Kline that texting while driving is also growing as a contributing factor in crashes there.
Kline, commander of special operations for the Woodstock Police Department said while texting or sending and receiving e-mails cuts across the age spectrum, younger drivers do it more often.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 19 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws on the books that ban texting while driving. Nine states prohibit texting by "novice" drivers, and one state bans school bus drivers from the activity.
"I would like to see Georgia be the 20th one," Kline said of banning text messaging while driving.
The issue of texting while driving is not high on the list of priorities for Georgia's state leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) said he would be "happy to look" at the issue if he receives enough evidence on texting.
Rogers, who said he primarily will be focused on property tax reform in 2010, noted there have been bills introduced to address the issue.
House Bill 23, introduced in November 2008, would prohibit the use of a cell phone, including text messaging, for drivers 18 and under. The House passed the bill in March, but it remains stalled in the Senate.
State Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat) said he's not sure banning a specific action would address the overall problem of driving while distracted.
Hill said texting and using cell phones are problems, but "so are eating a hamburger and playing with the radio."
He said it would be better for the state to address consequences for drivers who repeatedly do things behind the wheel that take their full attention off the road.
"We need to discourage that and make them more liable for their actions," he said.
Cherokee Sheriff's Office Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic (HEAT) Supervisor Mike Wells said education is key to reducing texting while driving.
With his unit, Wells said he does presentations at schools and also puts up public displays that shows the consequences of distracted driving.
Wells said the majority of people the sheriff's office stops for speeding usually have a cell phone in their hands. People sometimes even are in the middle of a phone conversation as they are being pulled over, he added.
Wells said texting while driving is more prominent locally with teenagers and younger drivers.
However, as more employers require employers to have smartphones with e-mail capabilities, Wells said older, experienced drivers are doing it, too.
"It's so embedded in our society that people don't think twice about it," he said.