As arguably the first personal injury attorney to achieve a punitive damage award from a jury in Georgia for cell phone use while driving, I was interviewed for a front page article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution over six years ago regarding my thoughts pertaining to a cell phone ban ordinance. At the time of that article, I opined that the ordinance was a good idea in theory. However, in practice, the ordinance was almost impossible to enforce.
Fast forward to the present. The State of Georgia enacted a law that went into effect on July 1, 2010 that was designed to curb motorists who text and drive. Recently, the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote a story pertaining to this law and its impact on motorists.
The results are not good. The Georgia State Patrol issued 105 citations since the law went into effect. Cobb County Police only issued 25 citations and surprise, wait for it, Fulton County Police have written zero citations. A violation carries a $150 fine and one point on the motorist’s driver’s license.
One similarity between the cell phone ordinance and the texting ordinance is the lack of enforcement. As I mentioned in my previous interview with the AJC, the only real opportunity that law enforcement has to issue a citation is either from personally witnessing the criminal behavior or the admission of the motorist. Self-interest usually stops the motorist from confessing to a $150 fine, a point on the license and a trip to the courthouse. And being in the right place at exactly the right time usually prevents police from being a first hand witness to a texting. In support, the recent AJC article references a citation issued as the result of a motorist being caught by an officer at a red light while texting.
I believe that a majority of rear end collisions today in the Greater Atlanta area are due to inattentiveness of the motorist caused by physically dialing a phone number on a mobile phone or texting while driving. The question becomes how do you prove it at trial? I handle numerous bodily injury claims resulting from car crashes in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Henry counties. If the claim results in a lawsuit, I am entitled to propound certain questions and document requests to the offending motorist regarding cell phone and/or texting use at the time of the car collision. The motorist must generally verify that his or her answers to my questions or production of documents to my requests are true. As an additional matter, I will subpoena a certified copy of the motorist’s cell phone records to see if the driver was using the mobile phone device at the exact time of the crash. If the records indicate that the driver was using the mobile device at or very close to the time of the collision (as usually referenced in the first page of the accident report by the investigating officer), then the motorist has some explaining to do to the jury and the judge.
As a matter of opinion, the vast majority of offenders of the texting ban are between 16 and 25 years old. The question then becomes how do you motivate this demographic to follow the law? Perhaps, higher monetary fines that are triple the amount of the current $150 fine and many hours of court ordered community service.
The AJC article makes a valid point pertaining to the amount of time it takes a law to have the desired effect on the populace. For example, when seat belts were first introduced many years ago, resistance was commonplace. Today, seat belt use is common. Similarly, judging from the folks I see on the road everyday, resistance to the texting ban is widespread. But, in ten to fifteen years, adherence to the ban may be universally accepted. As auto collisions and serious bodily injuries continue to rise from the use of cell phones and texting while driving, let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.
The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting bodily injury cases throughout Georgia caused by the negligence of motorists using cell phone devices and/or texting while operating a vehicle. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a truck or auto collision, then please contact an experienced car accident attorney for a free consultation.