Distraction behind the wheel remains a top cause of car accidents in Georgia, with AAA reporting those who text-and-drive are more likely to be involved in a serious crash. With texting and driving accidents on the rise nationally, there was at least a sliver of a silver lining in Georgia: Last year’s stringent update to the state’s distracted driving law appears to be making a notable dent.
Now, based on surveys, traffic ticket tallies, and crash statistics from mid-2018 (when the law went into effect) to the middle of this year, the Georgia Governor’s Highway Safety Office told the Atlanta Journal Constitution it appears drivers are increasingly aware of the law and are beginning to take it more seriously.
Early Indicators of Georgia’s Texting-and-Driving Law
The state’s sweeping “Hands-Free Law” requires one to keep their entire person physically clear of a cell phone, with the exception of a hands-free device used for voice communication/phone calls.
An insurance industry analyst tracked cell phone user behaviors of more than 21,000 drivers in Georgia over the course of seven months and 37 million miles – three months prior to the law going into effect and four months after. Prior to the law’s enforcement, motorists were using apps and texting for 19.5 percent of their drivetime (12 minutes of each hour behind the wheel).
When the law took effect, that percentage dropped to 15.4 percent – a 20 percent dip.
A complete picture of the measure’s impact probably won’t be known for a few more months, but Atlanta car accident attorneys expect no law to eradicate the texting-and-driving problem anytime soon – not when more than 80 percent of Americans have a smartphone and device addiction is known to be a pervasive behavioral health issue.
Prior to the law’s enactment, Georgia traffic deaths had jumped by a third just from 2014 to 2016, before dropping slightly the following year to 1,549. So far this year, early statistics show Georgia traffic deaths are down seven percent.
How Georgia’s Texting Law May Impact Civil Car Accident Claims
The National Safety Council estimates driver distraction has killed tens of thousands of people just in the last few years, the truth of exactly how many is unknown, and that’s because these incidents are vastly undercounted. Primary reasons for this are:
- Distraction is difficult to observe and measure;
- It involves fast-emerging entertainment technologies and advanced driver assistance systems.
These are the same factors that can make it tough for an injury lawyer to establish crash liability based on defendant driver’s distraction, though that may not always be necessary. For example, an at-fault driver runs a red light because they were texting-and-driving. Even if we can’t prove they were texting, running a red light itself is a violation of law and evidence of failure to exercise appropriate caution when driving – so the case could be made without that element.
Still, proving that a driver was texting at the time of a crash might be more important in other scenarios. Because even touching a phone is now an express violation of Georgia Code Section 40-6-241’s duty of care directive to all vehicle operators, that could mean we’ll have an increasing number of Georgia car accident claims concluding with a finding of negligence pro se, which is negligence on the basis of a broken law.
Proof of defendant’s texting-and-driving could also diminish the effectiveness of comparative fault defenses (in which it’s alleged the plaintiff/ injured person was at least partially responsible for the crash/severity of injuries). Comparative fault will proportionately reduce the monetary damages to which a plaintiff is entitled – unless he or she is more than half at-fault, in which case, they will be barred from collecting anything.
It’s also likely we’ll be seeing an increasing number of criminal distracted driving cases in Georgia courts, and evidence gleaned and conclusions made in a criminal matter may help boost a plaintiff’s civil lawsuit.
Atlanta car accident lawyers know this could make auto insurers more likely to reach a fair settlement sooner rather than fight the case or press it to trial.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.