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Texting While Driving

Georgia HOUSE BILL 673- “HANDS FREE LAW”

Summary by Georgia personal injury lawyer Casey W. Stevens

On July 1, 2018 Georgia House Bill 673 took effect, taking the prior “no texting while driving” law one step further. This new law known as O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 makes it illegal for drivers to have a phone in their hand or use any part of their body to support a phone while driving. Victims of accidents caused by those who were distracted by their phones while driving are entitled to compensation for their injuries, lost wages, loss of enjoyment of life and other life impacts. The Law Office of Casey W. Stevens has nearly thirty years of experience handling accident cases resulting from distracted drivers, including those who are illegally texting while driving. We charge nothing for case evaluations and do not ask our clients to pay us a dime until their cases is successfully resolved. If you are looking for an Alpharetta car accident lawyer, give us a call at one of our five metro Atlanta area offices.

The State of Georgia has seen significant increases in car and truck accidents, fatalities and bodily injury. The vast majority of these increases have been crashes by drivers from 15 to 25-years-old resulting in rear or side impacts. These accidents are caused by driver inattention. 15 states before Georgia passed hands-free driving laws. They saw a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the first two years after the law was passed, with further improvements in subsequent years. The 15 states that have passed hands-free driving laws saw a 16 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in the two years after the law was passed. In addition, traffic fatalities were reduced even further in subsequent years. If you need the advice of a car accident lawyer in Alpharetta or metro Atlanta, we can provide you with the information you are looking for.

Texting While Driving and Calling While Driving - What is allowed in georgia?

According to Alpharetta car accident attorney Casey W. Stevens, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 was enacted by the State of Georgia in 2018 to address growing public policy concerns over the dangers associated with operating a motor vehicle while distracted. The general purpose of the statute is set forth in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b), which states, “a driver shall exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state and shall not engage in any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle.” In order to eliminate any ambiguity regarding what types of actions constitute “distracted driving,” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c) specifically delineates and prohibits certain specific actions. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(1), no individual operating a motor vehicle may “physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body a wireless telecommunications device…or stand-alone electronic device.” A “wireless telecommunications device” includes everything from a cellular telephone to a text-messaging device to a laptop computer, but does not include a radio, citizens band (CB) radio or an in-vehicle navigation system. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(3). A “stand-alone electronic device” means “a device other than a wireless telecommunications device which stores audio or video data files to be retrieved on demand by a user.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(1).

While O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(1) prohibits a driver from holding or supporting certain devices while driving, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(2) provides that no operator of a motor vehicle shall “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…” However, this prohibition does not apply to “a voice-based communication which is automatically converted by such device to be sent as a message in a written form, or the use of such device for navigation…” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(2). As such, while holding cell phones and other devices, and using such devices to send or read messages is prohibited, the use of voice activated messaging and navigation apps such as Waze are allowed, so long as the driver is not holding or reading from the device.

While the “distracted driving” statute does allow use of a cell phone or an electronic device for voice activated messaging and navigation purposes, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(d) provides limitations on such use. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(d)(1), no driver shall “use more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication.’ Further, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(d)(2) prohibits reaching 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.

To summarize, drivers can use their phones to make or receive calls only if they are using the hands-free features in their car or on their smart devices. They can use things like Bluetooth or Uconnect, earpieces, wireless headphones, or phones connected to their watches. They can so use their phone for navigational purposes, only if the address is entered before departure or by a passenger. After that, the phone must be left in a holder on the dashboard. 

Headsets and earpieces may only be used for phone calls, and not to listen to music or other entertainment. Texting, is not allowed unless the driving is sending a text via voice and listening to a text that has been transcribed by a text to voice recognition system.

Reading or writing emails, watching videos or doing anything on the internet at all while driving except in the instance of use for navigation. A driver can glance at, but not interact with an internet-based navigation system.

Drivers may listen to apps that stream music while driving, and may also listen to automatic play lists. They may not, at any time interact with their phone to change stations, skip or search for music or the like.

The hands-free law does not apply to the use of a car radio, citizens band (CB) radio, commercial two-way radios or subscription-based emergency communication devices. It also does not apply to medical devices prescribed by a doctor, in-vehicle security, built in navigation systems or remote diagnostic systems.

Drivers may only video if they have a continuous recording dash-cam, and may not start or stop a video or take a photo using their phone or other device while operating a vehicle.

Drivers of vehicles are not permitted to touch their phone or other hand-held device unless their vehicle is legally parked. Using a device at a traffic signal is not permitted.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE Hands-free law:

The only exceptions to the hands-free law are as follows:

There are a few exceptions to the prohibitions set forth in O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-241(c) and 40-6-241(d). Reporting a car accident, medical emergency, crime, delinquent act, fire or a hazardous road condition are acceptable exceptions to the hands-free law. Drivers are also exempt if they are using their device while their car is legally parked, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(g). First responders and utility service providers who are acting within the scope of their jobs are also exempt.

Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators may initiate or end a call using one button if the device can be operated without removing a seatbelt or maintaining a properly seated position.

School Bus Drivers cannot use any wireless communication device or radio while loading or unloading passengers. School bus drivers may only use communication devices while a bus is in motion to communicate with other drivers or school and public safety officials.

ENFORCEMENT

Any person convicted of violating the “distracted driving” statute shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(f)(1). However, any person appearing before a court for a first charge of violating O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(1), “who produces in court a device or proof of purchase of such device that would allow such person to comply with such paragraph in the future shall not be guilty of such offense.” Thus, any driver charged with physically holding a cell phone or other electronic device for the first time can avoid a conviction by simply purchasing a bluetooth or similar device and providing proof of such purchase to the court.

CONCLUSION

People who are injured as the result of a distracted driver are entitled to compensation for their injuries. If you have any questions about your case, give us a call today. Personal Injury attorney Casey W. Stevens has six Georgia locations to serve you: Atlanta, Dawsonville, Woodstock, Canton, Alpharetta and Suwanee. If you can’t come to us, we’ll be happy to come to you. Call today – 770-408-6364.

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After being involved and a five car accident I contacted Casey Stevens law firm. I was given his number by a fellow coworker at my job who had used him in the past and was very satisfied with his services. The car accident included myself my husband and my son, the accident was determined to be the fault of two drivers involved in the accident. Casey personally came to my home the next day and said down with me and my family at the kitchen table and went over all the events of the accident. There were months and months of physical therapy, doctor visits injections and while my son had to have his mouth wired after having his jaw broke in three places. Casey and his staff worked continuously on our case and after it was all said and done, they where able to get us over $300,000 in damages. I really want to Thank Casey Stevens and his staff for always being available for phone calls and answering any questions I might have. I will continue to recommend potential clients to Casey Stevens law firm. Nina F
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Outstanding Attorney. Casey Stevens is outstanding!! Everyone there put me at ease and made me feel that my case was important to them, I was not just another number to them. Their professional staff were always on hand to answer any questions that I had and they sincerely cared about my well being. If I ever need legal help again, you will be my first and only call Susan