Distracted Driving Explained

Unlike general articles that tell you what the new distracted driving law is, I’m going to actually quote the law (OCGA 40-6-21 mostly). I won’t bore you with the details of what a “device” is, it’s what you think it is. I tend to make fun of the Legislature, but this is an important issue that is killing and maiming many people.

We start with common sense: “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…” but since the use of due care is subject to so many distractions these days, we then have some rules.

“(c) While operating a motor vehicle on any highway of this state, no individual shall: (1) Physically hold or support, with any part of his or her body a “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…”

Clear enough? Can’t have your phone in your hand or lap. Now the phone can be in your car’s console, pocket, or affixed to your car in some way, but you can’t be holding your phone while driving the car anymore. However, while they did permit earphone and wrist devices, my Star Trek communicator device on my chest is not permitted. Sheeze, talk about antiquated thinking.

[It is prohibited to] “(2) Write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data …; provided, however, that such prohibition shall not apply to: (A) A voice based communication which is automatically converted by such device to be sent as a message in a written form; or (B) The use of such device for navigation of such vehicle or for global positioning system purposes;”

You can get your text messages via voice. There are “bluetooth” radios in modern cars and $20 transmitters are available for those of us who drive ancient cars. You will have to set up your phone to accomplish the voice communication thing, but you can do it! Interestingly, they did not address “heads up” display on high end cars that display text messages on the windshield.

There is, however, a blanket exception for using your phone as a navigation assistant. That will come in handy if you are a navigationally impaired State Court judge.

[It is prohibited to] “(3) Watch a video or movie on a device other than watching data related to the navigation of such vehicle.” No more watching movies as you drive down the road. Really? We had to have a law about that? Yep.

[It is prohibited to] “(4) Record or broadcast a video on a device; provided that such prohibition shall not apply to devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle.” Let me explain. You can use a video camera for recording your driving (I now use one, it was only $50) but you can’t be “live streaming” on Facebook as you drive. This prohibition does not apply to the passengers however.

First offense is a $50 fine and 1 point on your driving record. Second offense is $100 fine and 2 points. Third and subsequent offenses are $150 fine and 3 points. If you come to court with proof of purchase of a Bluetooth compliance device, your first offense will be dismissed. If your car is “lawfully parked”, the law doesn’t apply to the driver. One cannot however park in the middle of the street, at a stop sign or traffic light. That would likewise be illegal.

There are some exceptions: Reporting traffic accidents, medical or fire emergencies, crimes or bad road conditions are exceptions to the law. Utility company employees are exempt within their work duties. And of course cops, EMTs, or public safety officials need not follow the law because they are special people.

Got it? Print a copy of this and put it in your teenager’s hands, or your spouse, friend, or significant other if they are a violator.

Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock’n’roll and politics or anything that strikes him. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at kelly@burkelasseterllc.com to comment on this article or suggest articles that you’d like to see and visit his website  www.kellyrburke.com to view prior columns.


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