On July 1, 2018, Georgia’s new distracted driving law will go into effect. The new law is officially called the “Hands-Free Georgia Act” and it includes important new provisions relating to the use of “wireless telecommunications devices”[i] while driving a motor vehicle in Georgia.
It was already illegal to text and drive in Georgia, but now it is more difficult to use your cell phone at all, unless you have blue tooth or hands-free calling.
The Act, which will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, states in pertinent part that:
While operating a motor vehicle on any highway of this state, no individual shall:
(1) Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body a:
(A) Wireless telecommunications device, provided that such exclusion shall not prohibit the use of an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct a voice-based communication; or
(B) Stand-alone electronic device;
(2) 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; provided, however, that such prohibition shall not apply to:
(A) A voice-based communication which is automatically converted by such device to be sent as a message in a written form; or
(B) The use of such a device for navigation of such vehicle or for global positioning system purposes;
(3) Watch a video or movie on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device other than watching data related to the navigation of such vehicle; or
(4) Record or broadcast a video on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device; provided that such prohibition shall not apply to electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle.
While operating a commercial motor vehicle on any highway of this state, no individual shall:
(1) Use more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication; or
(2) Reach for a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device in such a manner that requires the driver to no longer be:
(A) In a seated driving position; or
(B) Properly restrained by a safety belt.
Each violation of the Act constitutes a separate offense. The points assessed against a license under Georgia’s point system for suspension or revocation are 1 point for a first offense, 2 points for second offense, and 3 points for a third or subsequent violations. Failure to comply with the Act constitutes a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine of not more than $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $150 for a third offense.
The Act includes language that is confusing and may lead to unintended consequences. It appears drivers of passenger vehicles can physically dial their phones as long as they aren’t holding them with a part of their body. For example, a driver of a passenger vehicle could be in compliance with the law if he/she enters numbers for a call, while his/her phone is propped in a cupholder, cradle or windshield mount. The rules are stricter for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. Drivers of commercial vehicles are expressly prohibited from dialing more than a single button to initial or terminate voice communication, regardless of whether they are physically holding their phones or not.
[i] The Act defines a “wireless telecommunications device” as “a cellular telephone, a portable telephone, a text messaging device, a personal digital assistant, a stand-alone computer, a global positioning system receiver, or substantially similar portable wireless device that is used to initiate or receive communication, information or data. Such term shall not include a radio, citizen band radio, citizens band radio hybrid, commercial two-way radio communication device or its functional equivalent, subscription-based emergency communication device, prescribed medical device, amateur or ham radio device, or in-vehicle security, navigation, or remote diagnostic system.” All types of cell phones, smart phones, flip phones, etc., are included in the definition. Further, laptop computers, tablet computers/iPads, and GPS systems which are not “in-vehicle” are also included in the definition. However, some more old fashioned forms of electronic communications such as CB radios and systems which are “in-vehicle” are not included in the definition.
For more information on this topic, contact your Construction Law counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.