Nearly all states in the Union have laws that criminalize the use of a cell phone for texting while driving a motor vehicle. However, these laws are difficult to enforce because of the fact that the use of a cell phone for making phone calls is not against the law. Law enforcement, therefore, struggles to charge individuals with texting and driving without clear knowledge or an admission.
Fifteen other states have addressed this by criminalizing the act of holding a phone while driving a motor vehicle, either for all drivers or for drivers in certain situations. This eliminates the ambiguity and uncertainty that many law enforcement officials face when the rule simply outlaws texting and driving. Georgia is moving towards that same rule, following passage of the law in both the House and the Senate.
Texting and driving laws have generally been viewed as a simple deterrence as opposed to something that can be successfully wielded by police on a regular basis. A scenario could be that an individual is typing a phone number into the phone before making a call—something that is not illegal. He or she could be stopped by a police officer and charged with texting while driving. Lawmakers are hoping that the possibility of a fine would be enough to reduce the occurrence of texting. Based on evidence, lawmakers believe it has not been a deterrence.
The bill is not final and will not be final until it is signed by the Governor. However, the law in its current form does the following:
- It reduces the fine for first-time offenders from $300 to $75.
- It does not criminalize the use of hands-free devices.
- It allows drivers to avoid a conviction if the driver can prove that, since having been ticketed for holding a cell phone while driving, he or she has obtained a hands-free device, and can certify to the court that he or she has not previously used this provision to avoid conviction.
Lawmakers clearly believe that mobile phone use in vehicles continues to be a primary driver of distracted driving accidents, and it is expected that the Governor agrees and will sign this bill into law. What impact this will have on distracted driving remains to be seen.
Cory Yager of Kohn & Yager is a highly regarded DUI defense attorney in the Atlanta area. Rated as a Super Lawyers Rising Star for the last six years, he has become known as being one of Georgia’s most successful criminal lawyers. Follow him on Facebook and YouTube.