Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Georgia laws prohibiting text messaging and other cell phone use going into effect July 1, 2010

Starting July 1, 2010, Georgia drivers who use their cell phones to "write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data," will be subject to prosecution and penalties under new legislation signed into law earlier this month by governor Sonny Perdue. Contrary to some reports, this legislation applies to all drivers in the state, not just drivers under 18 years old. The law is codified at Official Code of Georgia, Annotated (OCGA) section 40-6-241.1 - click here for the full text of the law signed by the governor.

However, a full ban on the use of cell phones and other mobile communications devices by drivers under 18 will also go into effect on July 1, under another bill signed that same day and modifying the same code section - click here for full text.

As we reported earlier this year, the federal government/US Department of Transportation has already banned text messaging by operators of commercial vehicles. This came following reports that drivers texting while driving were many times more likely to be involved in collisions.

Both laws carry a penalty of $150 upon conviction, plus a point against the driver's history. Drivers accumulating an excess of points can be subject to license suspension. The laws contains exceptions under certain circumstances, such as reporting automobile accidents or crimes.

Many questions surround the extent to which law enforcement officers will enforce the law. It is not necessary that the driver commit any other offense in order for the officer to write a ticket for violation of the new laws - an officer observing someone driving down the highway that he suspects of violating the law can pull over and cite the driver even if no other laws are being broken. How the officer will confirm his suspicions, and how a prosecutor could prove such a case, are also open questions, though it is possible that the government could use subpoena powers to seek communications usage information from the phone or internet provider in order to prove the violation.

There are also questions involving the effect of the new laws on civil cases arising from automobile collisions. In cases where individuals are guilty of hit-and-run or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, those individuals can be subject to punitive damages against them if a lawsuit is filed by an injuries party. Some courts in Georgia have held that mobile phone usage likewise opens up a defendant to punitive damages, which may result in personal liability outside of insurance coverage for those defendants. Now that certain uses of mobile cell phones have been officially made criminal offenses, this may become more common. We previously reported higher than normal settlements and verdicts resulting from collisions where the at-fault driver was using a cell phone.

The attorneys at Turkheimer & Hadden are experienced litigators who encourage everyone to drive safely and in compliance with state law. If you have a question involving insurance coverage, an automobile collision, or any other litigation matter, please contact us at:

Turkheimer & Hadden, LLC
44 Broad Street, Suite 600
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
(404) 890-7200
jhadden@haddenfirm.com
www.georgiajusticeblog.com

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