Georgia State Representative Sam Park has apologized to voters for driving in a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, reserved for cars with at least two occupants, despite being the only person in the car.
Park, a Democrat from Lawrenceville, was also pictures using a cell phone while driving – an act made illegal during Park’s tenure as a lawmaker.
“Y’all! Come get your state rep out of the HOV lane!”
On Wednesday, local resident Jim Shumake was crawling along a section of a notoriously busy downtown Atlanta highway when he spotted a lone driver occupying a space in the HOV lane. It is a misdemeanor for cars with only one occupant to drive in an HOV lane in Georgia.
Shumake noticed the car had a license plate which read “SR101,” indicating the driver was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, representing district 101.
He managed to get a photo of the driver, who was indeed District 101 Representative Sam Park. Park was not only driving illegally in the HOV lane, but was also breaking a recently passed Georgia law prohibiting cell phone use while driving.
Shumake later posted the photo on Facebook, along with the caption, “Y’all! Come get your state rep out of the HOV lane! Who does he think he is?! And on his phone.”
Sam Park apologizes, thankful for being held accountable
Shumake’s Facebook post was picked up by local television station WXIA-TV. Reporter Jon Shirek contacted Park for an explanation on Thursday.
After cancelling an arranged interview, Park sent Shirek and email with the following explanation:
“Yesterday, I was heading to my Industry and Labor and Higher Education Committees, but got stuck in traffic due to a car accident near the City of Atlanta. To ensure I would not be late to my 2pm hearing, I got onto the HOV lane so I would not miss a vote. I also gave my colleagues a call to update them with where I was. I take very seriously my duties as a State Representative, and I apologize for driving in the HOV lane. I appreciate voters holding me accountable.”
Park also sent a Facebook message directly to Shumake, apologizing again for using the HOV lane. “Thanks for holding me accountable,” he wrote. “Happy to meet in person for further discussion if needed.”
Illegally occupying an HOV lane is not a great look for a state legislator, but it it does not actually endanger anyone. The same cannot be said for Park’s second infraction – driving while operating a cell phone.
The Hands-Free Georgia Act, which took effect in July 2018, prohibits drivers from “operating a wireless communication device or stand-alone electronic device while driving.” Park, who was first elected in 2016, was part of the Georgia General Assembly that passed the law.
Neither Park’s statement to WXIA-TV nor his message to Shumake contained an apology for this infringement.
While Georgia law does provide state legislators with some extra rights and privileges, they are not exempt from HOV rules or cell phone use restrictions. Unlike Arizona, there are no laws in Georgia to protect state legislators from arrest when they are in session.