Georgia Distracted Driving Laws
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on all cell phone (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
Georgia’s Texting While Driving Stand
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal department charged with keeping an eye on the nation’s highways and byways, with a particular eye toward safety on those roads. States use information from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to help gauge the safety of the roads citizens travel and how those drivers are behaving when behind the wheel. The Georgia legislature has considered information from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in recent years to craft legislation aimed at making drivers put down their cell phones and quit texting while behind the wheel.
Georgia Senate Bill 360
In 2010, state legislators approved a ban on sending text messages while driving for all drivers. Senate Bill 360, now a state law, states in part “no person who is 18 years of age or older or who has a Class C license shall operate a motor vehicle on any public road or highway of this state 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.” Those in violation of the law are subject to a fine of up to $150 and one point on their license.
SB 360 is also known as the “Caleb Sorohan Act for Saving Lives by Preventing Texting While Driving.” It is named for a Dahlonega teenager who was killed in a car wreck in which texting while driving was a contributing factor. SB 360 specifically states it is legal to text from a parked vehicle. A few other exemptions let drivers report an accident, serious emergency, or a crime. People in the public safety sector, firefighters, police and so forth, are also exempted from the law if they are using cell phones in the course of their job.
Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed SB 360 into law after being lobbied by safety advocates and some students. Despite signing the law, the governor expressed some reservations about the law and how it would and could be enforced. He said the issue was not “black and white.”
Judging from the enforcement results so far, Gov. Perdue was on to something. As of December 2011, a report on the Georgia Highway Patrol showed officers with that state agency had handed out around 100 citations for illegal cell phone use.
That is despite the fact Georgia’s cell phone and texting laws are primary laws, meaning a law enforcement officer can use evidence of improper cell phone use like texting while driving as the reason to make a driver pull over for a possible ticket. A secondary law means the officer must have another reason to pull the driver over to issue a citation.
Georgia’s driver’s license test manual, available online as a PDF, clearly points out driving and texting is illegal.
Numerous Georgia attorneys point out that while texting and driving is illegal, many people still do this, resulting in accidents across the state. Some traffic and accident studies show texting and driving is on the increase and shows no real signs of slowing down despite the penalties which may be incurred.
Georgia House Bill 23
Minors (those under 18), are prohibited from using any cell phone or computers while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, regardless of whether or not the cell phone is a hands-free device. Violators are also subject to be fined up to $150, as approved in 2010 as House Bill 23.
HB 23 also included a possible license suspension for teen drivers who violate the law. If the under 18 driver was in a wreck and cell phone use was found to be a contributing factor, the law allowed the fine to be doubled and guaranteed a license suspension. HB 23 originated in 2009 but was stalled in the Senate. When the General Assembly came back into session in the winter of 2010, the bill was “recommitted” and finally passed on a unanimous vote as the legislature wound down in the spring. New Georgia laws typically become effective on July 1 the same year the laws are approved, but enforcement of House Bill 23 was delayed until Aug. 1, 2010.
HB 23 was sponsored by Reps. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, Edward Lindsey of Atlanta, and Tom Rice of Norcross. School bus drivers are permitted to use cell phones while driving, but only if there are no passengers on the bus.
Crossover Day in Atlanta is now passed for the 2012 legislative session. No more bills may be introduced this year for consideration by both houses. The 2012 House took up only one bill this year, which died in the House. The bill sought to expand the Peach State’s current cell phone-while-driving ban to allow hands-free accessories use. This would not affect sending text messages via cell phone while driving as fingers must be used to tap out a message on the phone’s keyboard. The bill may be revived in the 2013 session of the General Assembly.
This legislation was spurred in part by Deborah Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. In a story in a December edition of The New York Times, Ms. Hersman gave a heartfelt plea to states to get tougher on cell phone use by drivers. She likened cell phone use by drivers to smoking, calling it an addictive activity that needs to be stopped.
For those who doubt the addictive nature of cell phones and text messaging, Dr. David Greenfield, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, suggests leaving the cell phone behind for a day or two, stating the proof of addiction will be evident.
The same New York Times story gave details from a 2010 federal government study, reporting that some 120,000 drivers send text messages or otherwise handling a cell phone at any moment during the day. The report also said this number is up 50 percent from 2009.
The now-idle House bill is the most recent effort in Atlanta to curtail cell phone use by drivers. A similar bill in 2011, HB 67 died after the second reading. This bill was an amendment to an existing Georgia law. The bill added “the use of a hand-held mobile telephone by any driver while operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state shall be a violation of this Code section” to a law that covers driver use of CB radios and ham radios.
The Georgia Chapter of the National Safety Council sought tighter regulations on cell phone use but declined to support HB 67. Speaking for the Georgia Chapter, Robert Wilson said hands-free makes little difference. The problem is the distraction created by the device, he said.
The legislature attempted several restrictions on cell phones in 2010:
House Bill 938 sought to ban all drivers from text messaging. It set fines of $50 to $100 and put two points on a driver’s license. This bill was weaker on those drivers under the age of 18 than HB 23. If the driver was found at fault in a wreck and using a cell phone was a contributing factor, this bill would have taken the license for 90 days on the first offense and six months for a later offense.
House Bill 944 sought to prohibit all drivers from texting and emailing while behind the wheel. It called for a $300 fine.
Senate Bill 327 pushed a ban on text messaging and any use of a cell phone while driving. Fines for those found guilty started at $175 and rose to $500. The first offense put one point on a driver’s license, and the second offense ordered two points.
In 2009, the Georgia legislature considered two House bills on cell phone use while driving, but neither bill had enough support to move.