Since I handle cases as a Newton County car accident lawyer, I often get asked the question: Is it legal to text and drive in Georgia?
Since July 1, 2010, it has been illegal to text and drive in Georgia. The legislature passed O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2, which make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle on a public road "while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data."
The law applies to any "wireless telecommunications device" ("cellular telephone, a text messaging device, a personal digital assistant, a stand alone computer," etc.), but not to "citizens band radios, citizens band radio hybrids, commercial two-way radio communication devices, subscription based emergency communications, in-vehicle security, navigation devices, and remote diagnostics systems, or amateur or ham radio devices."
The Georgia Code makes exceptions for:
(1) Someone reporting a traffic accident, emergency, serious road hazard, or "a situation in which the person reasonably believes a person's health or safety is in immediate jeopardy";
(2) A person reporting a crime or potential crime;
(3) Public utility employees or contractors responding to a public utility emergency;
(4) Law enforcement and public safety first responders who are performing their official duties; and
(5) Someone sitting in a lawfully parked vehicle.
Texting while driving is a misdemeanor, and can result in a fine of up to $150.
According to Text'n Drive, in the year after its passage, only 36 people in the entire state of Georgia were cited for violating this statute. Woodstock police gave out 24 citations, Canton police gave out 9, and Holly Springs police cited 3 people for texting while driving. See Georgia Issues 36 Citations in a Year for Texting While Driving.
It seems unlikely that Woodstock, Canton and Holly Springs drivers are the only ones texting and driving, and more likely that the Woodstock, Canton and Holly Springs police are just more serious about the offense.
Sgt. Jeff Tucker from the Canton Police Department told Text'n Drive that law enforcement officers have had trouble enforcing the law because a driver who is pulled over on suspicion of texting can refuse to hand over his phone. Drivers also can erase the recent messages, and then law enforcement would have to subpoena the records.
Proving the violation, of course, would be a tremendous amount of work to generate only a $150 fine. Although the police did not explain when the citations were issued, I would guess that the majority of the citations were issued when a Canton, Woodstock or Holly Springs driver caused an accident and a personal injury when he was texting and driving.
At the time the bill came to his desk, Governor Perdue admitted that he was concerned with how police would be able to enforce SB360, but he signed it anyway, saying it was worth it, "if it would save even one life." See Banned in Georgia: All Texting by Drivers Under 18, 11Alive News (6/5/10).
SB 360 is named after 18-year-old Caleb Sorohan, who died in a Morgan County car wreck while texting and driving. Caleb's family and friends had lobbied at the State Capitol for both bills.
For more information about studies on texting and driving, see The Wallace Law Firm, L.L.C., Texting and Driving Wrecks.