The State of Georgia’s ban on texting and driving has been in effect nearly five years. Surveys have shown nearly 40 percent of drivers in Georgia admitted they text while driving. With the New Year, we wanted to have a refresher on the law.
Stewart Melvin & Frost is one of Northeast Georgia’s oldest and largest regional law firms and is widely respected as an “Uncommon Practice” – the firm features an experienced team of attorneys, each of whom is recognized as an expert in highly specialized areas of the law.
Question: Mark, what can you do and what can’t you do with your cell phone while driving?
Mark: Let’s start with what you can do. You can talk on your phone. That’s not prohibited. However, the law says you cannot write, send, or read text messages, instant messages, emails, or surf the web on your phone while operating a vehicle.
There is a separate law that prohibits teen drivers from using their cell phones for any use. That means teens under 18 cannot text, talk or even listen on a cell phone while driving their cars. The only exception for your teen driver is they can use their phones in the case of an emergency.
Question: Is there still confusion about the law?
Mark: The confusion comes from what people think is constitutes texting and driving. When you are stopped at a traffic light, you cannot write a text or read a text. You are still operating a vehicle, so no checking your phone at the stop light. It’s my experience in working on cases that involve distracted driving, most accidents happen at intersections.
Question: How is the law being enforced?
Mark: There are not a lot of statistics out there about it. I read an interesting article about an officer in Marietta who has written the most tickets for operating a vehicle while using a wireless device. She said she looks for drivers at intersections and most of the violations occur there.
In auto accident cases, one of the first things an attorney will do is subpoena cell phone records from the drivers involved to see if there was data use at the time of the accident – talking, texting, or surfing the Internet.
Question: If you are involved in an accident and it’s not your fault can you still be cited if you were texting and driving?
Mark: You can look at it like drinking and driving. You have had a few drinks but still have the capacity to drive. If another driver crashes into your car, you will still be cited for drinking and driving even if the car accident was not your fault. You have alcohol in your system. If you are reading at text and another drive runs into you, you still may be assigned some blame for the accident.
The Georgia State Patrol has a box on its accident report form that inquires whether you are distracted while driving.
Question: Is there any new initiatives on the horizon about distracted driving regulations?
Mark: There is a transportation bill in Congress that seeks to regulate smartphone maps and navigation apps. If passed the law, would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to regulate apps like Google Maps or Apple Maps.
Last year, the NHTSA released a set of voluntary guidelines for automakers, for their cars with built-in navigation systems. The guidelines regulate the amount of time for a single interaction between the system and the driver to cut down on distraction.