Distracted Driving in Georgia has been illegal since 2010. According to the Georgia Code, “no person who is 18 years of age or older or who has a Class C license shall operate a motor vehicle on any public road or highway of this state while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.” O.C.G.A. §40-6-241.2(b). Another part of the statute prohibits drivers under 18 years of age to use any type of wireless communication while driving (applying to drivers holding their learner's permit or Class D license). O.C.G.A. §40-6-241.1. Currently, there are exceptions to this statute such as while the car is legally parked or for the purpose of reporting an accident or crime.
In Georgia, the law defines a wireless telecommunications device as a cell phone, a text messaging device, a digital personal assistant, a stand alone computer, or anything else that is used to initiate and receive wireless communication.
So what's with the new Bill?
Last Wednesday, House Bill 673 passed through the Georgia House of Representatives committee. The goal is to continue to protect Georgia drivers. House Bill 673 would require all drivers to utilize hands-free technology regarding cell phones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel. The purpose of the new Bill is to amend Title 40 of the O.C.G.A. (referenced above). The Bill will be referred to as the “Hands-Free Georgia Act.”
The “Hands-Free Georgia Act” makes edits throughout Title 40 of the O.C.G.A. and replaces the term “cell phone” with “wireless telecommunications device” as defined above in O.C.G.A. §40-6-241, so as to cut out any confusion as to what constitutes a device. There is also an entirely new provision to §40-6 which states that while operating a vehicle on any Georgia road that no one will be permitted to:
- “Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body, a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device
- Reach for a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device in such a manner that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a safety belt
- Write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device
- Watch a video or movie on a wireless telecommunications device or stand alone electronic device other than watching data related to the navigation of such vehicle
- Record a video on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device.”
There are, however, some exceptions to the added provision. A driver will be permitted to send a voice-based communication (even if it's automatically converted to be sent as a text message) and to use his or her device for navigation or for global positioning system purposes.
The final added provision is that violating any of the above sections will be considered a misdemeanor. Each provision is charged individually. The penalty includes a minimum fee of $300.
But, wait, this is a DUI blog…
What I haven't mentioned yet is how this relates to DUI in Georgia. Distracted driving or texting while driving in Georgia can be the articulable suspicion for a law enforcement officer to pull over a driver and start a DUI investigation. Most of our clients are pulled over for distracted driving or another traffic violation. If the Bill for the "Hands-Free Georgia Act" becomes law, then something as simple as physically holding your device could get you pulled over. But for now - be safe and don't text and drive.