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.

Avoid Child Injury at Christmas with Safe Toys

This blog post by Georgia personal injury and wrongful death attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, focuses on the risk of child injury from dangerous toys—specifically, it is a reminder about some of the toys this holiday season which may be unsafe and be a source of products liability for the manufacturers and sellers. The Armond Firm, LLC, is located in Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia. Call 678-661-9585 for a free case consultation. Please stay safe and make sure your children have age appropriate and safe toys this holiday season.

Each year the United States Public Interest Research Group releases its Toy Safety Report letting consumers know of toys which may be unsafe and pose a danger to children.

Of particular note in the report this year are the following:

  • Toys that are too loud and pose a risk of hearing damage

  • Slime. Several brands of slime contain toxic boron. Small kids love to put stuff like slime in their mouths so this is an obvious danger.

  • Toys marketed to adults. The U.S. PIRG mentions lead in makeup (again, we all know small children put stuff like this in their mouths) and fidget spinners. Later, the report also mentions makeups found with asbestos and to avoid any makeups with talc, which can be a source of asbestos.

  • Toys with small parts. We all know small parts pose a choking hazard to smaller children. One thing of note according to the U.S. PIRG: check all toys to see if any parts can fit through a toilet paper roll—if so, then the choking risk is there. The report also mentions balloons as a choking danger.

  • Hatching toys—again, when they break apart their can be small parts that are then a choking hazard.

  • Toys with magnets—swallowed magnets can bunch together in a child’s digestive system and cause serious injury.

  • Smart toys—these toys may be collecting personal data which can be hacked.

The report also warns to check older and used toys to make sure they were not recalled in the past. It also give really good advice to check the actual label of toys purchased online because the information on the website such as the appropriate age range for the toys may be incorrect when compared to the physical label.

Please review the full U.S. PIRG report (.pdf) to see further information including specific brands of toys that they believe are dangerous. Please keep your children safe and happy this holiday season!

If your child has been killed or injured because of a dangerous product or any person or company’s negligence, 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.

How to Settle a Personal Injury Claim for a Minor Child in Georgia

No parent ever wants to experience his or her child being seriously injured because of someone’s negligence. Should you have to pursue an insurance claim or a lawsuit on behalf of your child, Georgia has some special rules governing how personal injury cases involving minor victims (children under the age of 18) are settled.

When a minor child is injured and someone is at fault, a personal injury attorney will typically send the at-fault party and/or his insurance company a demand letter in an attempt to settle the claim. If a fair settlement is not reached through a demand letter and negotiations, or when circumstances such as time considerations dictate, a personal injury lawyer will file a lawsuit (see the prior post “Filing a Lawsuit on Behalf of a Minor Child in Georgia” for more info on who can file a lawsuit on behalf of a minor in Georgia). What happens in Georgia cases involving injured minors when a settlement is reached either before or after the filing of a lawsuit?

This blog post answers the question of what happens in the event a personal injury settlement is reached on behalf of a minor child in Georgia.

In a typical case when a settlement is agreed upon the insurance company and/or the defendant will send a release to the plaintiff. By signing the release the plaintiff agrees to settle the case in accordance with the financial payment terms and to release the defendant from further liability. When a minor is the plaintiff, however, the law does not always allow for such a simple process. The law differs when minors are involved based on the amount of the settlement.

It is important in reading below to understand that the law in Georgia defines “gross settlement” as “the present value of all amounts paid or to be paid in settlement of the claim, including cash, medical expenses, expenses of litigation, attorney's fees, and any amounts paid to purchase an annuity or other similar financial arrangement.” O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (a). When speaking of the value of settlements below I am speaking in terms of “gross settlement” as defined by Georgia law and which includes all of the items listed above.

When the gross settlement is more than $15,000.00:

All personal injury settlements on behalf of a minor in Georgia in which the gross settlement amount is more than $15,000.00 require court approval to finalize the agreement regardless of whether a lawsuit has been filed. O.C.G.A. §§ 29-3-3 (d) and (e). Typically, court approval will be petitioned for in probate court in cases in which no lawsuit has been filed, and, in cases in which a lawsuit has been filed, it must be done in the court where the lawsuit is pending. Id.

In many cases involving settlements on behalf of minors in which the amount is $15,000.00 or more, there must be a conservator in place before any court will approve the settlement.

  • When a conservator is required: When the gross settlement is for $15,000.00 or more and when subtracting out attorney's fees, expenses of litigation, and medical expenses which shall be paid from the settlement proceeds, the present value of amounts to be received by the minor after reaching the age of majority (18) is still $15,000.00 or more, then a conservator must be in place before any court will approve the settlement. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (g). The guardian of the minor must file a petition in probate court to become conservator and then once appointed as conservator he or she asks the appropriate court (probate if no lawsuit was filed, the court where the lawsuit is pending if a lawsuit was filed) to approve the terms of the settlement.

  • When a conservator is not required: In cases in which the gross settlement is for $15,000.00 or more and when subtracting out attorney's fees, expenses of litigation, and medical expenses which shall be paid from the settlement proceeds, the present value of amounts to be received by the minor after reaching the age of majority (18) comes out to less than $15,000.00, then no conservator is required. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (f). In this scenario the guardian may petition the appropriate court (probate if no lawsuit was filed, the court where the lawsuit is pending if a lawsuit was filed) to approve the terms of the settlement without first becoming a conservator.

When the gross settlement is $15,000.00 or less:

When a gross settlement has been reached for personal injuries to a minor and the amount is $15,000.00 or less, Georgia law allows the guardian of a minor to settle the claim withoutfirst becoming a conservator and without the approval of any court. O.C.G.A. § 29-3-3 (c).

Personal injury cases involving injured minors in Georgia can be complex and an attorney experienced in navigating through both the traditional litigation process as well as the probate court process is a necessity. Attorney Richard Armond is experienced in handling personal injury cases on behalf of minors in Georgia.

If you are the parent or guardian of a minor who was injured or killed as a result of someone’s negligence, 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.

High Volume Predicated for 2018 Georgia Thanksgiving Travel

The Georgia Department of Public Safety has issued a press release regarding the Thanksgiving 2018 holiday weekend and the expected traffic accidents and fatalities during the travel period.

The report cites AAA with the prediction that this year will be the highest travel volume since 2005 with the vast majority of travelers in automobiles.

Last year the Georgia State Patrol alone investigated 665 crashes that resulted in 373 injuries and 11 fatalities. Certainly, the statewide numbers were higher if one were to take into account county and city police department investigations.

Please be safe on the roads this year and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Georgia Pedestrian Fatalities on the Rise This Year

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, fatal traffic accidents involving pedestrians are up 16% in Georgia this year. Georgia's new hands-free law goes into effect on July 1, 2018, but experts are looking for additional ways to prevent this increase in pedestrian fatality accidents. The AJC story notes that increased horsepower and larger vehicles may be a factor in the increase. This blog post by Richard Armond, a serious injury and wrongful death lawyer in Lawrenceville, Georgia, briefly highlights some of the sobering statistics involving pedestrian deaths in Georgia.

The AJC story linked above includes statistics which demonstrate the dangers to pedestrians in Georgia. Pedestrian fatalities appear to have been, in general, increasing over the last decade. Last year there were 260 pedestrian fatalities and there have been 111 so far this year. Further, Georgia had the fourth most fatal hit and run crashes in the United States in 2016, with 72 fatalities. Those numbers also appear, in general, to have been on the rise over the last decade. 

Please keep these statistics in mind when utilizing roadways and sidewalks as both a pedestrian and a driver to keep everyone safe and healthy. 

If you have lost a loved one in a pedestrian accident or you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a pedestrian 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.

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