Texting While Driving

Have You Been Charged with Texting While Driving in Georgia?

A Closer Look At Distracted Driving Laws – O.C.G.A 40-6-241.2. Writing, sending, or reading text based communication while operating motor vehicle prohibited.

Distracted driving threatens the safety of drivers, passengers, and bystanders. While seemingly harmless, sending a quick text or scanning for a new radio station can have catastrophic consequences.

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." The United States Department of Transportation, as well as the Center for Disease Control, classify three specific types of distractions that can occur while driving: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off what you're doing). Using a cell phone or texting when driving can include one or all of these types of distractions.

Spotlighting the impact that distracted driving has on driving capacity and driver function, the United States Department of Transportation's website on distracted driving reports that over a half-million people were injured and almost six thousand people were killed in accidents involving driver distractions in 2008.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that texting while driving makes drivers 23 times more likely to be in an accident. Several factors contribute to this. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, five seconds is the average time a driver's eyes are off the road while texting. Texting while driving also slows braking reaction speed by 18%, according to Human Factors & Ergonomics Society's research.

Unsurprisingly, young drivers are particularly at risk of distracted driving. According to the Institute for Highway Safety Fatality Facts, texting while driving causes eleven teen deaths every day. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute teen driving studies have shown that teens are four times more likely to get into a crash or near-crash while distracted than their adult counterparts. Teen fatalities are three times greater than adult fatalities. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute reports that a quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every single time they drive.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute also says that 20 percent of teens admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving. A Pew survey reports that forty percent of all American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a manner that put others in danger. The 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report indicates that almost 65 percent of high school students admitted to texting or emailing while driving.

While research shows that young drivers are more at risk of accidents caused by texting and driving than adult drivers, texting while driving is not limited to young drivers. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute reports that 10 percent of parents admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

In response to the growing concern for the dangers of distracted driving, in 2001, New York became the first state to pass legislation banning cell phone use while driving. Since then, individual stories have triggered many state legislators to address the distracted driving issue. For example, Utah amended its traffic laws after a 2006 accident, where a college student was text messaging and crossed the centerline, clipped a Saturn sedan, and ultimately caused the death of two scientists.

Georgia has also amended its law after a tragic incident. On December 16, 2009, Georgia teen, Caleb Sorohan, was home for winter break.  He was driving to meet a friend in Athens, near his home in Rutledge.  Sorohan texted while driving, swerved into the other lane, and crashed into another car head on. He was killed instantly. Sorohan had a phone in his lap that he used to send six texts just minutes before the collision. In June 2010, Governor Sonny Perdue signed Georgia Senate Bill 360, which is better known as the "Caleb Sorohan Act for Saving Lives by Preventing Texting While Driving."

What are The Georgia Laws Regarding Texting and Distracted Driving?

Two Georgia laws specifically address wireless communications while driving. O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.1 prohibits drivers under 18-years-old, who hold a learner's permit or Class D license, from using any type of wireless communication while driving. The law carves out exceptions, which include cell phone use while the car is lawfully parked and cell phone use to report an accident or crime. In-vehicle navigation systems are also permitted. Violators will be subject to a $150.00 fine and 1 Point assessed onto the driving record.

O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.2 governs wireless communications for drivers older than 18-years-old holding a Class C license. It prohibits reading, writing, or sending a text-based communication while driving. This law includes texts, e-mail, Internet use, and instant messages. O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.1 also carves out exceptions while the car is parked lawfully and also allows drivers to use their phones to report an accident or crime. In-vehicle navigation systems are permitted. Violators will be subject to a $150.00 fine and 1 Point assessed onto the driving record.

At the federal level, on September 30, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment. Furthermore, on October 27, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted a ban that prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving.

Despite these laws and the increase in national awareness of the dangers surrounding distracted driving, drivers continue to use cell phones on the road. Several factors likely contribute to this.

First, enforcing these laws are a glaring issue. Police officers struggle to find methods that will more accurately establish a person text messaged while driving in violation of the law. For example, drunk driving is easier for an officer to detect. When determining if a suspect has been driving while under the influence of alcohol, an officer can use a Breathalyzer or other chemical test to test the driver's blood-alcohol content. No such test exists to establish that a person has been texting while driving. The ease and speed in which a driver can put away a cell phone pose additional enforcement hurdles.

The language of the laws is also problematic. In his law review article, Texting While Driving Meets the Fourth Amendment: Deterring Both Texting and Warrantless Cell Phone Searches, Adam M. Gershowitz, Professor of Law at William & Mary Law School points out that part of the problem is that these statutes do not provide clear definitions of what a "text-based communication" or similar term includes:

Some states have failed to define the terms "electronic message" or "written message." Other states have defined "written communication" or "text-based communication" as including but "not limited to a text message, an instant message, electronic mail, and Internet web sites." This definition is both unduly narrow and unhelpfully vague. Can a driver use the map function of an iPhone to read the directions to his destination while he is driving? Would the answer be "yes" if he only viewed the map (because it is a picture) but "no" if he read "Turn Right on Main Street" (because that is written in text)? Is looking at Facebook permissible if the driver uses a phone application to do so rather than looking at an "Internet website?" Is playing an interactive trivia game through the phone permissible, or does that somehow fall within the category of "instant message?" These questions and countless others are not answered by the vague statutory language and definitions in most states that have criminalized texting while driving.

54 Ariz. L. Rev. 577, 586-587.

How Does Georgia Define The Wireless Devises Are Covered By Georgia Law?

As used in the Georgia's Code sections, the term “wireless telecommunications device” means a cellular telephone, a text messaging device, a personal digital assistant, a stand alone computer, or any other substantially similar wireless device that is used to initiate or receive a wireless communication with another person. It does not include citizens band radios, citizens band radio hybrids, commercial two-way radio communication devices, subscription based emergency communications, in-vehicle security, navigation devices, and remote diagnostics systems, or amateur or ham radio devices.

Finally, these laws focus exclusively on cell phone use. By doing so, they fail to address other forms of distractions to drivers. In his note, Can You Hear Me Now?: The Myths Surrounding Cell Phone Use While Driving and Connecticut's Failed Attempt at a Remedy, Andrew F. Amendola states cellular phones have been “regulated to the role of the scapegoat in order to quell a public sentiment of frustration aimed at the increasing social acceptance of inattentive drivers sacrificing safety for convenience.” 41 Conn. L. Rev. 339, 341.

While laws addressing the issue of distracted driving have obvious pitfalls, they are at the very least a step in the right direction. The goal is to save lives and to protect property.

How Do The Texting And Distracted Driving Laws Affect Georgia DUI Cases?

Finally, and most importantly to the readers of this Georgia DUI Information website, texting while driving can be the reasonable articulable suspicion to pullover a driver and start a DUI investigation.  Many of our clients are pulled over for texting or some other very minor traffic violation.  Once, a DUI investigation starts, the reason you are pulled over (as long as it was legitimate) becomes irrelevant.  The driver is subject to arrest and prosecution like any other driver, pulled over for any other reason.  So, be careful.  Don't text and drive.  Drive responsibly. If you are charged with DUI in Georgia, call us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If you are charged with texting or any other minor traffic offense, call the Georgia Traffic Ticket Attorneys at our office.  Our Atlanta Traffic Ticket Lawyers are here to help when you need it most.

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