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LEGISLATURE REINVENTS THE WHEEL WITH TEXTING BAN

Posted by Wm. Daniel Floyd
Effective July 1, 2010, it is illegal to text while driving or stopped at a traffic light in the State of Georgia. Drivers caught breaking this law face a $150 fine and one point on their driver’s license.

While this law has received a lot of publicity lately, there was already a law on the books that regulated texting by drivers. The old law prohibited drivers from performing any action that would distract from driving carefully. The legislature created this generic statute in 1990 as an attempt to limit the increased use of mobile telephones while driving. Primarily, the law was used by police officers when investigating accidents as an additional charge if they believed the improper cell phone use caused an automobile accident. Further, some local governments, like DeKalb County took the stronger stance by imposing an additional $500 fine if the driver causing the accident was talking on the phone at the time of the accident. See OCGA § 40-6-241.

Now, because of the explosion in use of iPhones, Blackberries and iPads, drivers are becoming even more distracted. Again, the legislature attempted to step in and discourage this dangerous behavior. The new law was created to specifically define the prohibited methods of personal communication while driving. This new law is only an amendment to the old one, preserving the general prohibition against any action that distracts from driving. Further, the new law addresses the alarming increase of distracted teen drivers in auto accidents. To curb this trend in young drivers, the new law makes it illegal for any driver, age sixteen to seventeen, to use a cell phone at all while driving. See OCGA § 40-6-241.1.

While these laws address important safety issues on the road, both have enforceability issues. The original law required the police officer to show what type of communication device was in use and how that use was improper at the time of an accident. The new law faces the same challenges and creates new ones by providing broad exceptions. The problem is that while the legislature tried to make it easier to ticket someone for texting, it has also made it easier to defend against. The new law has built in exceptions to forms of distracting communication. The exceptions include the use of citizen band radios, commercial two-way radio device, subscription-based emergency communication, in vehicle security, navigation, remote diagnostic systems or amateur ham radios. As such, a driver can merely claim they were looking at navigation on their iPhone rather than sending a text. Therefore, while the legislature attempted to prevent more accidents by expanding the law against distracted driving, they also widened the loopholes.