Each week I strive to pick a topic about which I have received questions from friends, family, or clients. With the extreme popularity of mobile devices such as smartphones, I get a lot of questions regarding what is permissible use of them while in the car. Two statutes are useful to read when answering this question. The first is O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241. The second statute that sheds light on using a mobile device while driving a vehicle is 40-6-241.2. In the following paragraphs I will provide a brief discussion of those two laws to hopefully give some guidance on this growing issue

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241, is a fairly broad statute. It states that a driver shall exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle on the highways of Georgia and shall not engage in any actions which would distract said driver from the safe operation of his or her vehicle. The statute goes on to say that except as prohibited in Code Sections 40-6-241.1 and 40-6-241.2, the proper use of a radio and a mobile telephone, along with some other devices, shall not be a violation of this statute. In other words, people are allowed to use a mobile telephone in their vehicle. However, bear in mind that if a police officer observes a driver doing anything that appears to be distracting that driver, then the officer has the authority to issue the driver a citation under this Code Section. Essentially, this statute allows an officer to give someone a ticket for talking on their mobile phone while driving if the action of talking on the phone appears to be affecting that person’s safe operation of the vehicle. Furthermore, an officer could issue someone a citation for eating while driving if it appears to the officer that the eating is affecting that person’s safe operation of the vehicle.

Now let’s look at O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241.2. Subsection (b) of this statute states that no person who is 18 years old or older who has a Class C license shall operate a vehicle on any public road of Georgia while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data. Subsection (c) of the statute provides certain exceptions. These exceptions include: 1) using the device to report an accident or other emergencies; 2) using the device to report a crime; 3) the use of the device by public utility workers or contractors when responding to a public utility emergency; 4) the use by a law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMS personnel, ambulance driver or other public safety personnel during the performance of their official duties; and 5) using the device while a vehicle which is lawfully parked.

So, from the statutes above, we see that it is illegal to text while driving; however, you can use your telephone to make phone calls, if you make such calls in a way that does not affect the safe operation of your vehicle. We also see that anything that distracts you from driving safely may result in a ticket. The bottom line is that when you’re behind the wheel, you have to pay attention to the road first and everything else can wait. Your life and the lives of others depends on it!!

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.