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Posted: August 8, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Rules of the road: Cell phone, texting laws change and amp up fines for drivers

Brittany Thomas/

Changing the rules: Drivers of all ages are now banned from sending text or reading messages from their cell phones while driving. The new law also prevents all drivers under age 18 from talking on cell phones while driving.

The start of school comes with a new set of rules for drivers, some of them aimed directly at teenagers.

There will be no more second chances in Georgia. Beginning Aug. 1, teens under 18 who are caught talking on cell phones while driving will receive a fine of $150 and that cost goes up to $350 if the use of a cell phone results in an accident.

The same holds true for drivers of any age who are caught texting while driving — that includes while stopped at a traffic light or waiting in a turn lane — offenses will also result in a point on the driver’s license. If there is an accident, a driver’s cell phone records can be subpoenaed.

Drivers do not have to be committing any other traffic offenses to be stopped or ticketed for violating the new "distracted driver" laws.

In Georgia, the new texting law (Senate Bill 360) is called the Caleb Sorohan Act, named after an 18-year-old Morgan County college student who was killed in a head-on collision while texting in 2009. Sorohan’s family had pushed state lawmakers to pass the texting ban since his death in December 2009.

Specifically, the law states: "No person shall operate a motor vehicle on any public road or highway of this state 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, electronic mail or Internet data."

The cell phone law (House Bill 23), specifically states: "…prohibits use of wireless telecommunications device by persons under 18 years of age with an instruction permit or Class D license while operating a motor vehicle."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2008 approximately 6,000 deaths were caused by distracted drivers. Broken down, that’s 16 deaths every day because drivers took their eyes off the roadway.

The Department of Transportation says that cell phones are involved in 1.6 million accidents a year, causing half a million injuries on top of those 6,000 deaths annually.

And when it comes to texting, teens are a high-risk group. Statistics show that the average teenager sends or receives roughly 3,000 text messages a month.

A 2007 study conducted by AAA and Seventeen magazine found, "61 percent of teens admit to risky driving habits"; 46 percent of those said that they were in the practice of texting while driving.

The big question is how can law enforcement enforce these laws? How will an officer know if the person is under 18 and how can the officer tell if a person is texting or merely dialing a number on their cell phone? That decision will largely be at the officer’s discretion.

According to a release from Sgt. Robert Moody with the Georgia State Patrol, texters often weave in and out of lanes and drive more slowly, much like a person under the influence.

A study presented by AAA, showed that the risk of collision increased 400 percent when drivers were talking on cell phones and that nearly 80 percent of accidents involved some form of driver inattention, such as cell phone use.

Another study done with driving simulators, found that drivers of all ages were 9 percent slower in hitting their brakes when needed and that young drivers response time to brake lights ahead of them were as slow as those of elderly drivers.

And statistics from a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study show that teen drivers are four times more likely than adults to get into car crashes or near crash events directly related to talking on a cell phone or texting.

"For every six seconds of drive time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road," according to the study. "This makes texting the most distracting of all cell phone related tasks."

The goal of the new laws was to make the problem of driver’s paying more attention to their cell phones than the road a thing of the past.

"We need to do everything possible to focus young drivers on the road ahead," said Governor Sonny Perdue. "I hope that we will all commit to driving safely, free of distraction."

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