I was the first attorney in Georgia to be awarded punitive damages against a motorist who used his cell phone at the time he caused a car wreck. This jury verdict was back in 2002 in DeKalb County, Georgia. The law regarding distracted drivers has changed since that time; mainly, due to numerous and horrific collisions by distracted drivers that have resulted in death and serious injuries. I have over 11 blogs regarding distracted drivers.
Today marks a milestone in curbing and preventing motorists from using cell phones while operating vehicles as Governor Deal has signed HB 673 that had been passed by both the House and Senate. Effective July 1st, the State of Georgia has outlawed drivers from operating a motor vehicle while: 1) physically holding or supporting a cell phone; 2) writing, reading or sending any text or communication from a cell phone or stand alone device; 3) watching a video or movie on a cell phone or stand alone device; 4) recording or broadcasting a video from a cell phone or stand alone device. Additionally, truckers are prohibited from: 1) using more than a single button to make or stop a call on a wireless device; and 2) reaching for a wireless or stand alone device that would result in the trucker getting out of his car seat or removing his/her seat belt.
However, motorists are allowed to: 1) send written communications by a voice activated device; 2) use GPS or similar device for navigation; 3) report an accident, hazard, criminal or emergency situation; and 4) use a cell phone or stand alone device while parked. Moreover, utility workers, firefighters, police, ambulance personnel, etc. can use a cell phone or stand alone device while responding to an emergency while on the job.
While the law is helpful in criminalizing certain conduct, I feel that the loophole in the law is that the prohibited conduct relates to hands on conduct that occurs on state highways only. My hope is that counties and/or cities will enact similar laws. Yet, my concern is that most motorists will claim an exception to the law by alleging that they were merely sending written communications by mouth or using their cell phone for “navigation” purposes. Presumably, a Georgia State Trooper will only be able to prove any written citations under this new law if the trooper/independent witness/victim personally witnessed a motorist/truck driver in violation of the law. What are the odds of such an occurrence?
If the State of Georgia could obtain certified cell phone records of the motorist in an efficient and quick manner, then the State would have a better chance of proving its case by a review of the cell phone usage records – assuming the records would affirmatively indicate prohibited usage. Of course, this action by the State could raise privacy issues.
If cell phone usage is only recorded for a limited time by the cell phone provider, then what prevents a motorist from fighting the ticket and requesting that the criminal hearing be moved from traffic court to State Court? Such a strategy would delay the criminal trial for months/years and prevent any quick subpoena by the State to the cell phone provider to obtain usage records. The advantage is to the accused.
Nevertheless, this current law is a step in the right direction to protect Georgians on the highways. Now – we just need to get the counties and cities to join the fight!
If you are injured as the result of the negligence of a motorist or truck driver that is texting, tweeting, reading, sending or otherwise using his/her cell phone while operating a vehicle or truck, then it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney immediately to investigate and gather evidence for your claim.
The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford have over twenty five (25) years of experience in handling the claims of Georgia accident victims caused by the negligence of motorists on cell phones, and if you or your loved ones have been the victims of such an accident in Georgia, we can help you, too. Contact us today, to speak to an attorney right away. As always, the consultation is free, and there is no obligation. Call us at 404-869-6969, or use the online form. We are available to answer all your questions.