Texting While Driving: Risky Business In Georgia

As of July 1, 2010, Georgia drivers are facing penalties for texting while operating a motor vehicle. Two Georgia laws address cell phone use while driving: O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 and 40-6-241.2. It is crucial that all Georgia drivers are aware and knowledgeable of what is legally permissible while driving and what is not. It is especially important that Georgia drivers know of these cell phone and texting laws because they are considered “primary” laws. This means that an officer may pull over any driver based strictly on the officer’s belief of the driver committing this offense. The officer does not have to witness any other offense to pull the driver over and issue a citation. This means you do not have to be driving recklessly or breaking any sort of traffic law as a result of texting while driving to be pulled over. If an officer views you breaking either of these cell phone and texting laws, he may pull you over and give you a ticket.

According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, a driver shall exercise due care when operating a motor vehicle on all Georgia highways and shall avoid engaging in any activities which are distracting in nature from the safe operation of his or her vehicle. However, this statute continues to state that excluding in the mannerisms described in Code Sections 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2, responsible use of a cellular device and radio, as well as other devices, within a vehicle is not in violation of the law, especially when the vehicle is lawfully parked.

What this statue is essentially stating is this: when used in a safe, appropriate manner, mobile telephone use within your vehicle is legal. What it is expressing simultaneously, however, is that if a police officer witnesses what he or she believes to be distracted driving as a result of the use of a mobile telephone or any other technologies, then he or she may issue the driver a citation with the authority granted by this Code Section. An officer may deem it necessary to issue a driver a ticket if he or she appears to be distracted by his or her use of a cell phone or any other device while driving. This includes an act as seemingly harmless as changing the radio station. If switching from country to pop causes you to cross the centerline, it’s within your best interest to endure that Willie Nelson tune until you reach your destination. The United States Department of Transportation defines distracted driving as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.” If talking on the phone, or participating in any other activity, appears to be affecting your ability to safely operate your vehicle, you are at the mercy of the officer who witnesses your impaired driving abilities.

The second statute that addresses cell phone use while driving involves less of a gray area. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241.1 states that it is unlawful for all drivers younger than 18 years of age who hold a learner’s permit or Class D license from partaking in any kind of wireless communication while driving, under any circumstances. Essentially, handheld and hands free cell phone use is prohibited for novice drivers, drivers younger than 18 years of age. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241.2, subsection (b), states that it is unlawful for any individual that is 18 years or older and has a Class C license to operate a motor vehicle on a public road in Georgia while using a wireless telecommunications device in order to write, read, or send any and all text based communication. This includes but is not limited to text messages, instant messages, e-mail, or using Internet data. The five exceptions to this involve using the device in the following ways: reporting an accident or other emergencies; reporting a crime; use of the device by contractors or public utility workers in response to a public utility emergency; use by a law enforcement officer, EMS personnel, ambulance driver, firefighter, or other public safety personnel while performing their official duties; and use of the device while the vehicle is lawfully parked.

Texting while driving is simply not worth the repercussions. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, research studies show that individuals who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash. If you choose to take part in this illicit activity despite the perils and clear legal ramifications, you are not only putting your safety at risk, but you are additionally endangering the lives of so many others sharing the roads alongside you. The obvious consequences, the best-case scenario consequences, of simply being caught participating in this act by law enforcement officials include a $150.00 fine and 1 point against your driver’s license. If the violator convicted is age 17 or younger, he or she will receive a double fine if their inability to pay attention to the road results in an accident. If the violator is 18 years of age or older, a conviction is punishable as a misdemeanor. Repeat offenders face increasing fines and even, in some situations, potential jail time.

Unfortunately, Georgia law officers admit enforcing these new laws is challenging. It is difficult for Georgia police to determine whether a driver is actually texting or if they are dialing a number or talking on the phone. However, while it is difficult for officers to make an arrest for texting behind the wheel, once your offense causes an accident—it’s an entirely different ball game. Cell phone records may be subpoenaed for a crash investigation, and they can reveal any texting you committed while driving. Any texts sent or received and whether these texts coincided with the timing of the accident will be analyzed during an investigation. Depending on the conclusion drawn from these cell phone records, you may be facing serious legal ramifications, including a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit by any drivers injured or killed as a result of your hazardous driving. Evidence of texting while driving often serves as valid proof of negligence or recklessness in any lawsuits stemming from an accident. Proof of texting while driving may determine the outcome of an auto injury lawsuit. Texting while driving may also prevent the offender from receiving any kind of compensation if attempting to sue another individual over an accident. In this case, texting while driving can serve as proof of comparative or contributory negligence.

If you are one of many individuals guilty of thinking you will never get in an accident because of texting behind the wheel because you are more “cautious” than others, think again. Accidents resulting in injuries and fatalities because of cell phone use while driving are more common than thought. According to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, in the year following the establishment of cell phone and texting laws, there were 3,840 crashes resulting from distracted driving due to cell phone use. Of these, 9 were fatal and 955 resulted in serious injuries. It is possible, and it can happen to you. Avoid an expensive fine, points against your license, and a potential lawsuit because you either jeopardized or took another’s life, and put the phone down while driving. Whatever it is, no matter how important it feels at the moment, can wait.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by texting while driving, an experienced attorney from Dove Law LLC can help you receive the compensation you deserve. While insurance companies are often unwilling to pay claims for injuries resulting from a car accident caused by texting while driving, we will negotiate with them or pursue a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit on your behalf.

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