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Texting and Driving: Now A Primary Offense

Last week, on September 19th, the Mayor of Athens-Clarke County Nancy Denson declared the day "Don't Text and Drive Day" and coordinated the message with the national "It Can Wait" campaign against texting while driving. For Georgians, September 19th has special significance: it is the birthday of the teenager for whom the state law banning texting while driving was named. The teenager was killed in a texting while driving accident which proved to be the rallying cry for Georgia's state legislators to get Senate Bill 360 passed. The law known as "The Caleb Sorohan Act for Saving Lives by Preventing Texting While Driving" became effective on July 1, 2010.

The law makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that a driver can be stopped for texting or suspicion of texting; no other reason is needed for the traffic stop. The penalty for adults is a $100 fine; for drivers under the age of 18 the penalty is a $150 fine. Both age groups receive a penalty point on their driver's license. If the texting while driving causes an accident, the fines and points can be doubled. Additionally, for drivers under the age of 18, any use of a cell phone --talking or texting--is prohibited. See: O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.21.

In the three years since the law became effective, enforcement has proven to be difficult. Despite statistics that show people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash, drivers are still texting. Furthermore, police are having a hard time determining if the driver is texting or just talking--the former being illegal but the latter not (unless the driver is under 18). This difficulty with enforcement are is leading some to look at the laws in states like California, New Jersey, New York, and Nevada where any handheld cell phone use is prohibited. Enforcement of the distracted driver laws in these states is much better, since police do not have to attempt to distinguish whether a driver is talking or texting on his or her cell phone; if the cell phone is in the driver's hand and is being used, the driver is committing an offense. As was discussed in last week's blog, Courts in New Jersey are indicating a willingness to extend liability of distracted driving laws even further to include the sender of texts to drivers, as long as it can be shown that the sender knew that the recipient of the text was driving.

Distracted driving laws are here to stay. Penalties for texting while driving are only going to increase as states continue to better enforce these laws. Stop texting while driving before you or someone else pays the ultimate penalty.

For more information on Georgia's distracted driver laws, contact our law office.

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