Distracted driving is the number one cause of traffic deaths in the United States.
Drivers who text while behind the wheel are at least 8 times more likely to be in an auto accident.
States across the country are cracking down on distracted drivers, and Georgia is no exception. Distracted driving was a big problem in the state, with traffic deaths rising by a third from 2014 to 2016.
A new law took effect in July of 2018 that makes distracted driving illegal. Whether you are a driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian, this law affects you.
Not only does Georgia distracted driving law increase your safety, but it also affects how insurance companies, judges, and juries determine fault in an accident.
Keep reading to learn more about the law and how it affects you as a Georgia driver.
What is the Georgia Distracted Driving Law?
The state of Georgia has made distracted driving illegal.
As we mentioned before, distracted driving is much more than just texting and driving. In fact, under the law, the definition of distracted driving is any activity while driving that distracts you from safely operating your car or vehicle.
This is not limited to texting but includes talking hands-free on your phone, adjusting the radio, and more. This definition is much broader than many people would expect.
Any activity that takes your attention away from the road could be distracted driving.
There are three types of distractions:
This is when you are doing something with your hands other than driving. Adjusting the radio, tending to your kids, eating, dialing on your phone, and putting on makeup all fall into this category.
Anytime you take your eyes away from the road to look at something else, even something that enters your line of sight, you are visually distracted.
Even if your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are focused on the road, you can be cognitively distracted. A common example of this is talking on the phone via a hands-free headset like Bluetooth.
Here are some examples of the most common types of distracted driving:
- Watching a video
- Talking on a cellphone, even if you are not using your hands
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to other people in the vehicle
- Fussing with children in the backseat
- Using the map on your phone, a paper map, or a GPS system, even if it’s hands-free
- Adjusting the radio or music listening device
- Looking in the mirror or applying makeup
As you can see, Georgia’s law regarding distracted driving is broad and encompasses any activity that diverts any of your attention from the task at hand.
The law does not target teens either. The restrictions and consequences are the same for drivers of all ages.
How the Law Affects You
The truth is, Georgia’s distracted driving law affects everyone on the road, especially if an accident occurs.
Because the law makes distracted driving a crime, it is often used to establish fault in a car accident. For example, if you cause an accident and it is determined that you were driving distracted, you can be found at fault and liable for the entire cost of the accident.
This includes any physical damage to property and bodily injury to other passengers, people in other vehicles, and pedestrians. You could also face criminal charges in addition to a civil lawsuit.
If you do not have insurance or are underinsured you could be held personally liable for damages. It is important to keep this in mind if you do cause an accident.
It can be tempting to explain yourself by admitting to being distracted by something as simple as changing the station on the radio. However, under the law, saying something like this will incriminate yourself, even if you weren’t being negligent.
On the other hand, if you are the victim in an accident that was caused by a distracted driver, this law can help you. If the driver who was at fault was distracted by anything, you will have a better chance of winning your case.
Even if the driver was not on a cellphone, if they were distracted by their kids or eating carry-out, stating so could help you recover your damages from their insurance company.
If you are caught driving distracted you could face many consequences. A ticket is the least of your worries.
Potential consequences of distracted driving include:
- Increased insurance rates
- Fines and fees
- The cost of an attorney
- Loss or suspension of driving privileges
- Court costs
The Law in Action
After Georgia’s distracted driving law went into effect, distracted driving convictions across the state doubled.
Here’s the breakdown of statewide distracted driving convictions by year:
- 2010: 2,308
- 2017: 8,660
- 2018: 19,597
Research has shown that the law seems to be working. A study focused on cell phone use behind the wheel found a sharp drop off in activity after the law went into effect.
This coincided with a law enforcement crackdown on distracted driving. Often times, it takes a financial consequence to get citizens to cooperate with a new law.
Distracted Driving Law Strengthened
The Georgia legislature has responded to this problem. The legislature previously outlawed texting while driving. But in 2018, the legislature strengthened that law and added regulations about using cellphones. The new law, called the Hands-Free Law, prohibits a driver from holding a smartphone or even allowing any part of the phone to touch the driver’s body.
New Law on Texting
Under the new law, a driver is guilty of distracted driving, not only if the driver holds or touches a cellphone while driving. The driver is also liable if the driver is writing, reading, or sending texts, emails, social media content, or any other Internet data while on the road. Only voice-to-text technology may be used.
No Videos or Recording
Behind every law is a need for that law. Surprisingly, the legislature had to make watching videos distracted driving, but it did. The legislature also stated that a driver breaks the law if the driver watches videos projected onto the windshield while driving. Also, drivers may not record videos while on the road, although continuously running dash cams are allowed.
Listening to Music Not Distracted Driving
Drivers may listen to streaming music through their smartphones while driving, but only when their cellphones are connected to and controlled through the vehicle’s radio. Drivers may control the music feed with the radio’s controls, but they may not even touch the smartphone.
Penalties for Distracted Driving
Although the new law is specific about what drivers may and may not do, the penalties for violation are relatively mild, with correction of behavior rather than punishment as the goal. The penalties are:
- First Offense:Fine of $50 and one point on the driver’s record.
- Second Offense: Fine of $100 and two points on the driver’s record.
- Third Offense:Fine of $150 and three points on the driver’s record.
On the first offense, the driver may have the charge dismissed by showing the court that the driver has obtained a device that allows the driver to talk hands-free on the phone while driving.
For more information on the Georgia distracted driving law, contact us today.
If you have been involved in an accident where the at-fault driver was distracted, contacting an experienced personal injury attorney will help you get the compensation you deserve.
If you have been charged with distracted driving under the new law, contact us immediately for a case evaluation.
Seth Bader is an Auto accident, Workers Compensation and Personal Injury Attorney who practices in Atlanta, Rome, Savannah, Norcross, Carrollton, Georgia. He graduated from Florida State University College of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years. Seth Bader believes in fighting for the injured. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.