Stephen Hasner | Car Accidents | June 20, 2019
When a driver checks their phone’s GPS in Georgia, the 2018 Hands-Free Georgia law defines their behavior as illegal “distracted driving.” The new law lists “a global positioning system receiver” as a forbidden “wireless telecommunications device.” If a driver crashes into your car while using a hand-held GPS, the police report can list distracted driving on the police report and cite them for an O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 violation. Depending on the circumstances, a distracted driver is legally responsible for your damages, but that was true before the law went into effect.
Whether or not an officer cited a driver for a cell phone violation, if their careless or reckless behavior caused an accident, they were already considered at fault and responsible for your damages. The new law simply gives officers labeling and enforcement tools that pinpoint hand-held digital devices as a root accident cause.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has long considered distracted driving a risky driving behavior. As it’s traditionally a self-reported violation, authorities believe the behavior remains largely underreported and undocumented. Georgia’s law gives law enforcement officers new powers to stop distracted drivers and cite them before they cause damages or injuries.
The Georgia Senate passed the Hands-Free Georgia bill in 2018. The language, which is included in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, is pretty straightforward. It defines “stand-alone electronic device,” “wireless telecommunications device” and other relevant terms. For further clarification, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety website provides a no-frills explanation and also reviews the penalties.
As the simplified text explains, “Drivers cannot have a phone in their hand or touching any part of their body while talking on their phone while driving.” The intention is clear. If a police officer detects a driver making any contact with a phone while they’re driving, they will issue a citation. The fines for distracted driving increase with each subsequent conviction. The state also assesses points against a driver’s license.
- First conviction: $50 fine and one point against a driver’s license
- Second conviction: $100 fine and two points
- Three or more convictions: $150 fine and three points
- A person can have their first-time charges dropped if they verify that they’ve purchased a hands-free device.
Distracted Driving Isn’t New
Considering the wave of new and revised legislation across the country, distracted driving comes across as a digital-device-related phenomenon. Cell phones and other digital toys have drawn attention to the issue but distracted driving isn’t new. It was a problem long before people started talking and texting while navigating the roadways.
Drivers have always applied makeup, eaten, and argued while driving. People lost control of their cars while changing CDs (or cassettes or eight-track tapes) or retrieving them after dropping them on the floor. Just like driving with a digital device in-hand, these and other reckless, careless, or distracted behaviors constitute negligent driving. When they cause or contribute to an accident, the driver is usually legally responsible for the damages and the injuries they cause.
Georgia and other states have laws forbidding reckless vehicle operation but there’s no history of specific laws banning driving while eating or driving while arguing. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety explains that no one has ever shown a crash-risk related to common distracted driving behaviors, although, that’s not quite accurate. Of the 3,166 fatalities documented by the NHTSA in 2017, cell phones contributed to only 1 percent. Other distractions caused the rest.
Why Your Phone’s GPS is a Problem
Your phone, including its GPS, is an obstacle to safe driving because it takes your attention away from your primary driving tasks. Based on research contained in the NHTSA law enforcement guide, The Investigation and Prosecution of Distracted Driving Cases, a vehicle driving 55 miles per hour travels 80 feet in a single second. If a driver looks at their phone for the average read or view time of 4.6 seconds, they can travel the length of a football field without seeing what’s right in front of them.
NHTSA’s investigative guide explains that performing other duties while driving causes one or more “external” or “internal” distractions. When a driver adjusts, views, or even considers the information on a phone’s GPS, their actions often cause all three distraction types.
- Visual distraction: Looking at something other than the road
- Manual distraction: Taking hands off the wheel
- Cognitive distraction: Mind not focused on driving
Georgia Officers Enforce the Ban
Georgia’s hand-held phone ban gives law enforcement officers new negligent and distracted driving prevention tools. These laws can prevent accidents, but enforcement of any digital device is challenging as drivers usually cease a banned act once detected. As with DUI enforcement, NHSTA also recommends highly publicized, highly visible enforcement as a deterrent. Their training methods recommend that officers focus on these and other distracted driving behaviors.
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Abrupt or illegal turns
- Device glowing at night
- Looking down while driving
Based on citation numbers, police are meeting the enforcement challenge. Georgia State Highway Patrol statistics show that in 2018, Chatham County (home to Savannah) convicted 745 drivers for violations ranging from “Failure to Exercise Due Care/Careless Driving” to “Reaching for Wireless Device/Using Hand-Held Phone, Driving.” After the new law went into effect in 2018, counties across the state convicted 13,572 distracted drivers. During the first four months of 2019, Georgia police officers have issued 15,841 additional citations.
The Myth of Multitasking
The National Transportation Safety Board tracks and investigates accident causes across all forms of transportation. Distracted driving remains on their annual “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvement“ list for 2019. The agency believes that it’s a continued problem because people believe they can multitask and still drive safely. Judging from the number of accidents, both private passenger and commercial drivers believe they have multi-tasking abilities.
The National Safety Agency calls the concept of multi-tasking “a big fat myth.” Their research shows that both hand-held and hands-free phone conversations can prevent a driver from seeing up to 50 percent of their surroundings. The NHTSA refers to this as “inattentional blindness.” It occurs when a driver can’t see something that’s visible because they’re focusing on something else.
The mythical “supertasker“ may be the exception. Several years ago, a psychologist named David Strayer discovered that approximately 2.5 percent of the people he tested had the rare skill it takes to drive while simultaneously performing math problems and recalling a list of words. Unfortunately, for most people, multi-tasking remains a myth. In Georgia, if a police officer notices that you’re driving while attempting to multi-task with a digital device in your hand, you’ll probably get a ticket.
Distracted Driver Accident Attorneys in Savannah, Georgia
If a distracted driver caused an accident that injured you or your loved one, you need an injury law firm that’s dedicated to protecting your legal rights. At Hasner Law, we represent injured people only. We’ve worked tirelessly to recover damages for our clients, and we offer free consultations to determine if we can help you. Contact an attorney you trust if you have additional questions about automobile accidents on Georgia roadways.