Georgia looking to fix school bus passing law

One thing we want Georgia traffic laws to do is to keep us safe on the roads through reasonable enforcement. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia General Assembly is looking to fix Georgia’s school bus passing law that went into effect on July 1, 2018. The statute at issue, O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163(b), arguably was written such that it is no longer a violation to pass a school bus from the opposite direction of travel when on a road divided by a center center turn lane. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr came to that opinion on August 20, 2018.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story reports, Georgia lawmakers in both the House and Senate are looking to fix the law this year. This law is a major safety issue for our state and needs to be changed. The story cites a survey of school bus drivers in which 10,988 drivers witnessed 7,465 illegal passes in just a single day.

Further, there has been at least one documented wrongful death of a child since the new law went into effect. This past October in Colquitt County two children were struck while crossing the street to a waiting, stopped school bus. According to WCTV one child died and the other was seriously injured.

Hopefully, the Georgia General Assembly will fix the apparent error with school bus passing law and make our roads safer for children getting on and off the school bus.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia automobile or pedestrian wreck, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Poll on public compliance with Georgia hands-free driving law

An article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (link here) cites a poll by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs about how Georgia drivers are obeying the new hands-free law that went into effect on July 1 of last year. According to the article, 45% of those surveyed obey the new law all the time, while an additional 40% obey the law most of the time. However, 8.5% of the respondents said they seldom obey the law and 4.3% said they never obey it.

Encouragingly, the article mentions preliminary figures show fatality accidents appear to be down 7% last year, after several years of increasing numbers of roadway deaths led to the passage of the law to combat distracted driving.

As more statistics become available over the next few years, we may have a better idea whether the Hands-Free Georgia Act is making our roads safer. Distracted driving is a real danger and hopefully this law is and will prevent deaths.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia automobile wreck, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Family Purpose Doctrine in Georgia Automobile Accident Cases

This article by Georgia personal injury lawyer Richard Armond is designed to give the reader a brief explanation of Georgia's "family purpose doctrine" or "family car doctrine" as applicable to automobile accident cases. The doctrine is one that is rooted in the law of agency and allows a plaintiff to pursue a claim for damages against the owner of an automobile who was not the driver during an accident when, in certain circumstances, a member of the owner's family was driving (in situations where the doctrine is applicable, a plaintiff can sue, for example, the parents of a minor child in addition to the child so that there is a source of recovery for damages).

What is the "family purpose doctrine?"

"The family purpose doctrine in Georgia provides that "[e]very person shall be liable for torts committed by . . . his child . . . by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily." Thus, "when an automobile is maintained by the owner for the use and convenience of his family, such owner is liable for the negligence of a member of the family having authority to drive the car while it is being used for a family purpose."" Dashtpeyma v. Wade, 646 S.E.2d 335, 337 (Ga. App., 2007).

In other words, a parent (or other member of a driver's household depending on the facts) can potentially be held liable under Georgia law for negligent acts of a driver from the household pertaining to the use of the family car for family use. A common example would be parents being held liable for an accident caused by their teenage son who was driving the family car home from school. There are, however, many other scenarios in which the doctrine can apply.

What legal elements muse be present for the "family purpose doctrine" to allow for liability?

There are four necessary preconditions along with a requirements regarding the parent/owner/furnisher's authority and agency under Georgia law. The four preconditions are:

(1) the owner of the vehicle must have given permission to a family member to drive the vehicle;

(2) the vehicle's owner must have relinquished control of the vehicle to the family member; 

(3) the family member must be in the vehicle; and 

(4) the vehicle must be engaged in a family purpose.

Dashtpeyma at 337.

Then, the authority and agency requirements, if those preconditions have been satisfied, are:

". . . [T]he doctrine renders the defendant vicariously liable if [defendant] had the right to exercise such authority and control that it may be concluded that an agency relationship existed between [defendant] and the family member with respect to the use of the vehicle." Id.

What is the purpose behind the "family purpose doctrine?"

"The policy behind the origin of the doctrine was the ever increasing number of automobile collisions and the frequency with which the negligent driver was found to be judgment proof. In the case of a family at least, this factor was minimized by finding liability as to the owner of the car who allowed family members to use the car for family pleasures." Anderson v. Lewis, 809 S.E.2d 260, 261 (Ga. App., 2017).

In other words, it is a policy based principle of law designed to give those people injured in automobile accidents by drivers who do not have funds to cover the losses (example: teen drivers) the ability to pursue the claim against a member of the household of the driver who supplied the car (example: the parent who gave the teen a car).

Conclusion:

This is a very brief summary of an area of Georgia law that can sometimes benefit a person who has been injured in a car accident. Factual scenarios such as whether grandparents supplying a car to a grandchild can be held liable, whether family members are actually part of the same household, and whether the doctrine even applies to certain parents of children depending on parental rights or household living arrangements are just some of the issues that can arise in this area of the law.

The law can be very fact specific when a motion for summary judgment is litigated on the family purpose doctrine and a knowledgeable plaintiff's attorney licensed in the State of Georgia is needed to protect the interests of an injured person.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia automobile wreck, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Utah change in legal BAC limit to 0.05 may save lives

This blog post addresses a change in DUI law designed to prevent wrongful deaths and serious injuries in automobile accidents involving alcohol impaired drivers. Earlier this week a new law went into effect in Utah lowering the legal BAC to 0.05. Other states will surely be watching to see what effect this change has in saving lives in DUI related traffic accidents.

The USA Today (link to story here) published an interesting piece regarding some of the statistics regarding DUI accidents and fatalities pertaining to the lower 0.05 BAC limit. The story cites and links to a study (link to study on National Institutes of Health website here) by James Fell and Robert Voas which “concluded that a .05 BAC limit would prevent 11 percent of fatal crashes involving alcohol and save nearly 1,800 lives each year.”

The USA Today story further cites NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) statistics which show that when a person has a BAC between 0.05 and 0.079 that person is seven times more likely to be in a fatal accident than a person with no alcohol in his blood.

They also cite statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) which show a person can start exhibiting impairment from alcohol with a BAC as low as 0.02 and that driving skills worsen considerably when a person’s BAC reaches 0.05.

Of particular note in the story, though 67% of fatality DUI accidents involve drivers with BACs of 0.15 and above, in 2016 there were 2,017 alcohol related fatalities nationwide involving drivers with BACs of under 0.08 (the legal limit currently in Georgia).

It will be interesting to see what effect this change has on traffic fatalities in Utah in 2019. If it has any significant impact on saving lives I would predict other states will soon follow by changing their laws. The USA Today story notes that most developed countries already have stricter DUI limits such as Utah’s new 0.05 legal limit.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia traffic accident with a DUI driver, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Georgia Traffic Fatalities for New Year's Travel Period

The Georgia Department of Public Safety has issued the final statistics regarding automobile accidents and fatality wrecks for the New Year’s travel period which began at 6:00 PM, Friday, December 28, 2018, and ended at 11:59 PM, Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

In total 18 people lost their lives in traffic crashes in Georgia during this recent holiday travel period.

These fatal crashes were investigated by the Georgia State Patrol, Dougherty County Police, Loganville Police, Atlanta Police, Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, Chatham County Police, Gwinnett County Police, Newton County Sheriff’s Office, and DeKalb County Police.

The Georgia State Patrol alone investigated 550 traffic wrecks that resulted in 223 injuries and seven fatalities. They also made 368 DUI arrests and issued 6,971 citations during the New Year’s travel period.

Here is hoping you and your loved ones had a safe New Year’s celebration and will have a happy and prosperous 2019!

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia traffic accident, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Georgia Traffic Accident and Fatality Statistics for Christmas 2018

The official statistics for Georgia traffic fatalities for the 2018 Christmas travel period are in and tragically 26 people lost their lives. According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, there were 700 traffic crashes resulting in 333 injured persons handled just by the Georgia State Patrol (not accounting for local agencies). The Georgia State Patrol alone also made 285 DUI arrests.

Of the fatal accidents in Georgia for the 2018 Christmas travel period, the incidents occurred in the jurisdiction of the following agencies: Georgia State Patrol, Atlanta Police Department, Gwinnett County Police Department, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, DeKalb County Police Department, Clayton County Police Department, Savannah Police Department, Lawrenceville Police Department, Dade County Sheriff’s Office, and Floyd County Police Department.

These statistics are based on a 126 hour travel period from 6:00 PM, Friday, December 21, 2018 to 11:59 PM, Wednesday, December 26, 2018.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia traffic accident, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Parking Lot Injury Risk During Holiday Shopping Season

This blog post by Georgia personal injury and wrongful death attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, discusses the dangers posed to pedestrians in parking lots by cars and trucks during the Christmas shopping season. The Armond Firm, LLC, is located in Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia. Call 678-661-9585 for a free case consultation. Please stay safe to avoid personal injuries from car and truck accidents in parking lots this holiday season!

The holiday shopping season makes parking lots a greater risk of personal injury:

Christmas is right around the corner. People are hurrying about finishing their shopping. Roads are and parking lots are packed. Drivers are tired and frustrated. Factors such as these make a lot of people concerned about car accidents when driving around places like malls and shopping centers.

To stay safe this holiday season please keep in mind that once you park just getting to and from your vehicle is more dangerous at this time of year. The National Safety Council points out in its article “‘Tis the Season for Parking Lot Injuries” that the number of insurance claims for parking lot accidents increases on Black Friday and continues throughout the holiday shopping season.

The article also points out the many distractions drivers admitted to doing while driving in parking lots in a nationwide poll. These include grooming, texting, programming GPS systems, making calls, and taking photos.

The article further reminds us all of the dangers of vehicles backing or reversing in parking lots. Somewhat surprisingly, only 9% of pedestrian deaths in parking lots result from backup incidents.

When you are out holiday shopping please stay safe when driving on roads and parking lots, as well as when walking in parking lots to and from your car. When you have children please be extra vigilant about the potential dangers some motorists pose in parking lots. Stay safe this holiday season!

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a Georgia parking lot accident, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Final Georgia Traffic Fatality Count for Thanksgiving Travel Period

The last thing anyone wants to think about around the holidays is the need for a personal injury and wrongful death attorney or the statistics of Georgia traffic wrecks and fatalities. Unfortunately, with the high volume of motorists traveling and the fact that some people choose to drink and drive, car accidents, deaths on our roadways, and DUIs are more prevalent around major holidays.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety has released the final statistics for the 2018 Thanksgiving travel period. Statewide 15 people lost their lives in traffic crashes during the 102 hour period. Ten of these deaths were investigated by the Georgia State Patrol, while local agencies in Gwinnett County (1 fatality), DeKalb County (3 fatalities), and Cobb County (1 fatality) also investigated roadway fatalities.

The report also indicates there were 242 people injured in car or truck wrecks investigated by just the Georgia State Patrol over the travel period. The Georgia State Patrol alone also made 339 DUI arrests during the time frame.

As we head into the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, please take extra precaution on the roads and report suspected drunk drivers.

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed as a result of an unsafe driver, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Georgia Traffic Fatalities for Labor Day 2018

According to WSB-TV, traffic fatalities in Georgia for Labor Day weekend in 2018 were double the number of fatalities from 2017. Additionally, DUI arrests and crashes increased from 2017 to 2018 for the Labor Day holiday weekend.

As cited in the WSB story, there were 18 traffic fatalities over the Labor Day holiday weekend this year in Georgia, while only nine last year. Total crashes increased to 446 from 396 the prior year, while DUI arrests increased to 332 from 248 the prior year.

Many holidays have higher fatality, accident, and DUI statistics than regular weekdays and weekends. Part of the reason for this is the consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants during holiday celebrations and part of the reason is the increased travel (with more vehicles on the road) during holidays.

The 2018 Labor Days statistics cited in the WSB story certainly do not show a trend when the only comparison is with the previous year, but they do offer all of us a safety reminder. When on the roads around any holiday, take extra safety precautions because there will be more cars on the road and there may be more intoxicated drivers out there. 

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed as a result of an unsafe driver, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

The Definitive Guide to Georgia's New Hands-Free Distracted Driving Law

HB 673 Signed by Georgia Governor; New Hands-Free Distracted Driving Law, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, Explained

Today Governor Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 673, the Hands-Free Georgia Act, Georgia's new hands-free distracted driving law. This blog post, by serious injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard C. Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, offers an in-depth explanation of the new law. The Armond Firm, LLC, is based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, near the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center, and handles cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. Please remember this post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

HB 673 Amends Three Georgia Code Sections and Repeals Two Others

Georgia's new hands-free distracted driving law will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 and goes into effect on July 1, 2018. HB 673 significantly amends O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 which currently criminalizes failing to use due care while operating a motor vehicle, but specifically allows for "proper use of a mobile telephone" except as prohibited in O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2. HB 673 completely repeals O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2, effective July 1, 2018, and amends or puts in place a new hands-free distracted driving law at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, also effective July 1, 2018.

HB 673 also amends O.C.G.A. § 40-5-57, which sets the points assessed against driver's licenses for various traffic offenses. Effective July 1, 2018, a first violation of the new hands-free distracted driving law at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 will be a one point violation, a second violation will assess two points, and a third or subsequent violation will assess three points to a person's driver's license. This appears to be for lifetime violations such that the points will increase up to a third lifetime violation of the hands-free distracted driving law regardless of how far in the past other violations occurred.

Additionally, HB 673 amends O.C.G.A. § 40-6-165, relating to the use of "wireless communication devices" while operating school buses. Essentially, school bus drivers cannot use a "wireless communication device" for any reason while loading or unloading passengers, and they cannot use them while a bus is in motion unless the use is similar to a two-way radio for the purpose of communicating with school officials or public safety officials.

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Georgia's New Hands-Free Distracted Driving Law Explained

To begin understanding Georgia's new hands-free distracted driving law (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241), we must understand the definitions of various devices used in the statute.

Definitions:

Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(3):

"'Wireless telecommunications device' means 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, citizens 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 diagnostics system."

Essentially, any type of cell phone, smart phone, flip phone, etc., is included in the definition. Further, laptop computers, tablet computers/iPads, and GPS systems which are not "in-vehicle" (presumably meaning permanently installed, but this may be a source of litigation regarding vagueness) 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. 

Further, under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(1):

"'Stand-alone electronic device' means a device other than a wireless telecommunications device which stores audio or video data files to be retrieved on demand by a user."

A "stand-alone electronic device" means anything which stores audio or video that can be viewed immediately, such as an iPod or MP3 player, a GoPro, or for those older readers it would include Walkmans, Discmans, camcorders, etc.

These pertinent definitions are important to understand exactly what is prohibited in the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law.

What is now illegal under Georgia law (effective July 1, 2018)?

  1. Anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle. The new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b) requires, "[a] driver shall exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state and shall not engage in any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle." In other words, regardless of whether a cell phone or other device is used at all it is a violation of Georgia law for a driver to take part in any action which distracts her from driving safely. This would include anything such as turning around to discipline children, doing makeup, eating a cheeseburger, etc., IF the action distracts her from driving safely (a case in Georgia was dismissed several years ago when a driving was cited for eating a cheeseburger while driving--the issue was proof that that driver was driving unsafely--these types of actions are not per se unlawful, but only unlawful if a driver is being unsafe because of doing them). However, if a person can do those things while safely driving, they would arguably not be violating the law (which will be a subject of litigation)--this would especially be true if those types of actions are done while at a red light or when the car is technically being operated but stationary. 

  2. The mere act of holding within a person's hand a cell phone (or any "wireless telecommunications device" as defined above) or any other device to store audio or video which can be accessed on demand (so long as defined as a "stand-alone electronic device" above). This where the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law has its teeth and differs from the old law. As of July 1, 2018, a driver cannot even hold his cell phone in his hand at all while his vehicle is in operation, nor support the prohibited devices with any part of his body, such as holding a phone between ear and shoulder. Operation, under already existing law, will include any time a motor vehicle's engine is on and on a roadway, regardless of whether stopped at a red light, stuck in stand-still traffic, or driving down the road. This hands-free provision will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(1). The statute does, however, allow for the use of an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct only voice-based communication. Though not explicitly stated in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 it does not appear to prohibit receiving or placing calls from systems installed in a vehicle (as they do not appear to fit the definition of "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device") or the use of a cell phone to place or receive a call so long as the phone is not supported by the body in any way *(see below "What appears to be legal under the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law which may not have been intended?"). 

  3. Writing, sending, or reading a text (or any other written communication) on a cell phone (or any device defined above as a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device"). This provision will be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(2) and makes it illegal while operating a vehicle (which, again, includes being a driver at a red light) to read a text, instant message, email, a website, or any other internet data. However, it specifically allows both sending a text by voice when a person's voice is automatically converted to text and using those devices for navigating by GPS *(see below "What appears to be legal under the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law which may not have been intended?"). Keep in mind that these devices cannot be held in a driver's hand or supported by her body in anyway while sending text by automatic voice conversion or while using GPS.

  4. Watching a video or movie while operating a vehicle while using a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device." This prohibition is found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(3). This subsection specifically allows, however, watching data related to the navigation of a vehicle.

  5. Recording or broadcasting a video on a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device." O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c)(4). However, this subsection specifically allows electronic devices used solely for continuously recording or broadcasting video, i.e., you can use dash cams to record your trip, and onboard computers which record your every movement (most new cars have this built in) are also lawful. 

Special Provisions for Drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles

The definition of a "commercial motor vehicle" can be found at O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(8.3) and, generally, involves vehicles used in commerce over a certain weight, passenger capacity, or which transport hazardous materials. When driving a "commercial motor vehicle" the new law, in addition to the prohibitions applicable to all drivers, also makes unlawful at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(d):

  1. Using more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication.

  2. Reaching 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.

What appears to be legal under the new Georgia hands-free distracted driving law which may not have been intended?

  • Placing and receiving calls when not holding or supporting a defined device with a person's body in any way. The new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 appears to intend to allow for use of on-board phone systems installed in vehicles. However, it also appears that at least as to non-commercial drivers, if a cell phone is on the seat next to a driver, he may place and answer calls so long as he does not support the phone in any way, AND so long as he does not violate the "catch-all provision" of anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle found at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b). This will potentially be a source of litigation in criminal/traffic cases, but it appears that if a driver is, for example, at a red light and stopped he would be able to place or answer a phone call from his cell phone so long as he does not hold or support the phone with his body by using the phone while it is laying next to him.
  • Use of GPS on cell phones and other like devices. The Georgia General Assembly specifically included in the definition of "wireless telecommunications device" cell phones and GPS receivers (presumed example:  Garmins and Tom-Toms) which are not "in-vehicle" and made them subject to the hands-free requirement. The General Assembly specifically excluded in-vehicle navigation from the definition, which presumably means the GPS systems permanently installed in vehicles, attempting to make some distinction between portable and "in-vehicle" GPS. While the intent of the new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 is to save lives and prevent dangerous traffic collisions, subsection (c)(2) specifically allows a driver to enter as much text as the driver wants so long as it for GPS navigation (so long as the driver is not holding or supporting the defined device), with no distinction as to the device being portable or in-vehicle under the allowed acts (so why the distinction?).

This appears to be the biggest weakness of the new law. Anyone who has used a GPS knows it can take quite a while to enter this information and can be just as much of a danger to others as texting and driving. OF VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:  it is definitely clearly still illegal to support in one's hand or body a cell phone or any other portable GPS receiver while operating a vehicle, but subsection (c)(2) would allow for using a cell phone or portable GPS while operating a vehicle so long as, for example, the device is laying on the seat or mounted to the dashboard. ALSO OF IMPORTANT NOTE:  Even when using a cell phone or portable GPS and not holding or supporting the device, it will still be illegal to violate the catch-all of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b) to do "anything which distracts from the safe operation of a vehicle."

In criminal/traffic prosecutions, the State will likely not have to prove that a driver was not otherwise lawfully using his GPS on his cell phone--this appears to be akin to an affirmative defense which a person charged could assert, and, if asserted, the State would then have to disprove it. See May v. State, 179 Ga. App. 736 (1986). However, in most traffic citation cases the police are not going to have access to see what was actually happening on a cell phone at the time they observed a potential violation unless a driver gives consent or the police obtain a search warrant to look into the phone. The State may not have evidence to disprove such an affirmative defense if one is truthfully asserted. This may slightly take away some of the teeth of the new statute in prosecutions, but definitely weakens the prevention aspect as drivers can enter info into a GPS so long as not violating the hands-free/support subsection or the catch-all due care/distraction provision.

What additional actions are specifically legal under the new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241?

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(g) specifically allows the following four uses of a "wireless telecommunications device" or "stand-alone electronic device" with one major exception to these allowances:

"(1) While reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, an actual or potential criminal or delinquent act, or road condition which causes an immediate and serious traffic or safety hazard;

(2) By an employee or contractor of a utility services (defined at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(a)(2) to basically include what we commonly know as utilities) provider acting within the scope of his or her employment while responding to a utility emergency;

(3) By a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, ambulance driver, or other similarly employed public safety first responder during the performance of his or her official duties; or

(4) While in a motor vehicle which is lawfully parked (again, being stopped at a red light is included in the operation of a vehicle and is not considered being parked)."

However, the major exception is that these acts are not exempt from the catch-all provision of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b) which basically prohibits anything which distracts from the safe operation of a motor vehicle. In other words, it is still against Georgia law to, for example, call 911 while driving to report a crime in progress if it distracts from the safe operation of the car.

Punishments:

In addition to the points on a driver's license explained above, violating any part of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 is a misdemeanor. 

  • a first offense in a 24 month period (from offense date to offense date) involves a maximum $50.00 fine
  • a second offense in a 24 month period (from offense date to offense date) involves a maximum $100.00 fine
  • a third or subsequent offense in a 24 month period (from offense date to offense date) involves a maximum $150.00 fine

However, the law allows for first time a person is charged with violating O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 for the person to be found not guilty if she produces in court a device or proof of purchase of a device which allows for compliance with the statute in the future (example:  earpiece for hands-free calling). It is extremely important to note that anyone taking advantage if this provision must affirm she has not previously used the provision. Along with that, one should know that making a false statement in an official governmental matter or perjuring oneself are both felony crimes which a person might face if caught making this affirmation more than once.

Conclusion

The new O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 appears to be a significant improvement in terms of making Georgia's roads safer by making our state a "hands-free" state to combat distracted driving. According to the CDC, approximately nine people are killed and over 1,000 are injured each day in the United States because of car crashes involving a distracted driver. In 2015 alone 3,477 lives were lost and 391,000 people were injured in United States automobile crashes involving a distracted driver. Let's hope this new law will make our roads safer and protect the lives of everyone on Georgia's roadways.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or a loved one was lost in a traffic collision, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation or fill in your contact info here

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.

Photo by Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash