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Distracted Driving in Georgia

Also sometimes called Texting While Driving or Using a Wireless Communication Device While Driving

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 criminalizes “distracted driving.” Most frequently, cases under this law deal with holding a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. You may hear this law referred to as the "Hands-Free Georgia Act." It was passed into law in its current form in 2018.

Under the law, a person driving a vehicle may not “physically hold or support” a wireless communication device (i.e. cell phone) with any part of his or her body. A person may not, therefore, rest a cell phone on his or her lap, even if the phone is not in use. Earpieces, headphones, or wrist devices that allow for communications are not specifically prohibited by the law. 

By extension, the law also prohibits writing, sending, or reading any text-based communication, watching a video or movie on a cell phone or other electronic device, or recording or broadcasting a video while operating a vehicle.

Although the law largely deals with using a cell phone while driving, it also requires drivers to "exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle" and forbids them from engaging in "any actions which shall distract such motor driver from the safe operation of the vehicle." O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(b). This basically builds some flexibility into the law and allows prosecutors to charge people for engaging in any behavior likely to distract them while they operate a vehicle.

What is considered a "wireless communication device" under the law?

Under the law, drivers may not use the following devices while operating a motor vehicle:

  • Cell phones,
  • Portable telephones,
  • Text-messaging devices,
  • Personal digital assistants
  • Stand-alone computers,
  • Global positioning system receivers
  • Substantially similar portable wireless devices that are used to initiate or receive communication, information, or data.

What is NOT considered a "wireless communication device" under the law?

Under the law, the following devices are NOT considered to be "wireless communication devices:

  • Radios,
  • Citizens band radios,
  • Citizens band radio hybrids,
  • Commercial two-way radio communication devices (or their functional equivalents),
  • Subscription based emergency communication devices,
  • Prescribed medical devices,
  • Amateur or ham radio devices, or
  • In-vehicle security, navigation, or remote diagnostics systems.

Activities that are prohibited by the law

  • Physically holding or supporting a wireless communication device or stand-alone device,
  • Writing, sending, or reading text-based communications, such as text messages, emails, or the internet,
  • Watching a video or movie on a wireless communication device (so no, you can't watch YouTube and drive),
  • Recording or broadcasting a video on a wireless communication device (your TikTok followers can wait).

Are there exceptions to the law?

Yes. It is a defense to the law if you are using your device in order to report:

  • A traffic accident,
  • A medical emergency,
  • A fire,
  • An actual or potential criminal or delinquent act, or
  • A road condition that causes an immediate and serious traffic or safety hazard.

There are also exceptions for employees or contractors of utility services as well as first responders acting within the scope of their employment.

Furthermore, the prohibition on recording or broadcasting a video does not apply to devices used for the purposes of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside the vehicle. This would include, for example, dashboard cameras and bumper cameras.

Are there defenses to the Distracted Driving Law?

Yes. A person who is charged with "physically holding or supporting" a wireless communications device for the first time who can show proof that he or she has purchased a device that will allow him or her to comply with the law in the future shall not be found guilty of the offense of distracted driving. One example of this could be an earpiece or dashboard mount.

What are the fines for breaking the Distracted Driving law in Georgia?

For a first conviction with no prior convictions or pleas of nolo contendere (no contest) within a 24-month period, a fine of up to $50 may be assessed.

For a second conviction within a 24-month period, a fine of up to $100 may be assessed.

For a third or subsequent conviction within a 24-month period, a fine of $150 may be assessed.

The license penalties for a Distracted Driving conviction in Georgia

  • A first offense is a 1-point offense.
  • A second offense is a 2-point offense.
  • A third offense is a 3-point offense.

For more information on the points system in Georgia, click here. While these points may not seem significant, for individuals with a less-than-perfect driving record, every point matters. Individuals over 21 who accrue more than 15 points in a 24-month period can have their licenses suspended, which can dramatically affect a person's life and livelihood. Additionally, the law is even stricter with drivers under 21.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use your phone at a red light in Georgia?

No, you may not use your phone at a red light in Georgia. To legally use your phone while behind the wheel, your car must be parked in a place where it is legal to park.

Is it legal to use FaceTime while you are driving in Georgia?

No. This would likely be considered "broadcasting a video on your wireless communication device," which is prohibited by the law.

Is it legal for a passenger to be on the phone in a motor vehicle?

Yes, passengers can use the phone without violating the law. The law only applies to individuals "operating" a motor vehicle on the roadways.

Can violations of the Distracted Driving / Hands Free Law affect my insurance?

A conviction under the Distracted Driving / Hands Free law is reported to the Georgia Department of Driver Services and points are assessed, as described above. This means that your insurance rates may be affected. Of course, this ultimately depends on your insurance company.

Do I need a lawyer if I have been given a citation for Distracted Driving?

If you have been cited for Distracted Driving / violation of the Hands Free Georgia law, you deserve to know your options. Regardless of the severity of the offense, I take the time to analyze each of my cases carefully. This allows me to give my clients a clear picture of the strength of their cases and helps them make an informed choice about how to move forward. If you have been charged with violating the Hands Free Georgia law and want to know your options, call me today.

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