Increasingly, a cause of automobile accidents is a driver's use of a cellphone. While this has been a major problem for many years, the Georgia legislature recently attempted to minimize a driver's use of a cellphone by passing a new law - O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241. This new statute, effective July 1, 2018, defines wireless telecommunication devices and the restrictions on the use of such devices when operating any motor vehicle. Specifically, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(c), states in pertinent part:
(c) While operating a motor vehicle on any highway of this state, no individual shall:
- Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body a:
- Wireless telecommunications device, provided that such exclusion shall not prohibit the use of an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct a voice based communication; or
- Stand-alone electronic device;
- Write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device; provided, however, that such prohibition shall not apply to:
- voice based communication which is automatically converted by such device to be sent as a message in a written form; or
- The use of such device for navigation of such vehicle or for global positioning system purposes;
- Watch a video or movie on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device other than watching data related to the navigation of such vehicle; or
- Record or broadcast a video on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device; provided that such prohibition shall not apply to electronic devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle.
The statute goes even further and adds additional restrictions to drivers of commercial vehicles on any highway in the state by listing the following language:
(d) While operating a commercial motor vehicle on any highway of this state, no individual shall:
- Use more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication; or
- Reach for a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device in such a manner that requires the driver to no longer be:
- In a seated driving position; or
- Properly restrained by a safety belt.
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(d).
The penalties for violating the use of a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle in the State of Georgia range from a fine to all penalties allowed as a violation of a misdemeanor offense in the State of Georgia.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) also contain prohibitions against the use of hand-held telephones and the use thereof while operating a commercial motor vehicle ("CMV"). Below are the specific requirements in the FMCSR:
§ 392.80 Prohibition against texting
- Prohibition. No driver shall engage in texting while driving.
- Motor carriers. No motor carrier shall allow or require its drivers to engage in texting while driving.
§ 392.82 Using a hand-held mobile telephone.
- No driver shall use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a CMV.
- No motor carrier shall allow or require its drivers to use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a CMV.
The penalties for drivers of CMVs operating or holding a cellphone for texting while driving involve more than simply a fine. The second violation of either of the above regulations requires a driver to be disqualified for 60 days if a second violation occurs during any three year period. The third and subsequent violation within a three year period requires a driver to be disqualified for 120 days.
In the discovery phase of lawsuits, focus on a driver's use of a cellphone should be explored. If a driver is found to be watching a movie, texting, or using an application at the time of the accident, a potential claim for punitive damages may be warranted.