While well-intentioned, some police jurisdictions are finding that enforcing the law is problematic.
“Because the law was written in a manner making it nearly impossible to prove, it has not been enforced as the public likely expects. We hope that knowing that the law is out there will discourage people from doing it, but knowing that it is nearly unenforceable will encourage it more,” said Lt. Jason Harper of the Johns Creek Police Department.
The law makes it illegal to “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, email or Internet data.”
That essentially means leaving that Smart phone untouched in a pocket, purse or on the car seat until the vehicle is parked. Even checking email or replying to a text when stopped at a traffic light is forbidden.
“I did know there was a law in place,” said Roswell resident Brian Neal. “I don’t text and drive outright. I do use hands-free and speech-to-text features my phone has to send texts while I am driving on occasion though.”
Since the law went into effect, Johns Creek has had a total of five citations for violation of the law.
“Our legal standard for making this charge is fairly low. However, proving it beyond a reasonable doubt is nearly impossible,” said Harper, who oversees the JCPD’s Traffic Unit. “The law specifically exempts navigation devices, and it does not include using the phone’s address book, dialing the phone, calculator, etcetera. We have no way to prove whether they were texting or dialing the phone when we see them.”
From January 2010 to present, Alpharetta police have issued 60 citations for the offense of wireless communication while driving.
“Catching violators of the particular offense is very hard. Basically there are a couple of ways to do it,” said Alpharetta Public Information Officer George Gordon.
“The first is verbal confession by the driver. The police officer will conduct a traffic stop based upon their articulable suspicion of observing the driver use their handheld device to text with while operating a motor vehicle.
“Secondly, in serious cases such as a traffic crash with injuries, crash investigators could subpoena the cell phone records of the drivers involved if they believe texting could be a contributable factor to the crash.”
Roswell cops have written only five citations for the two year period, according to Lt. James McGee.
Milton Communications Manager Jason Wright said only one citation has been written “and it was ultimately dismissed.” It was written Feb. 18, 2011 on Freemanville Road to a 17-year-old in an accident. “Enforcement of the texting while driving law is difficult. Essentially, it’s almost impossible to prove outside of an accident,” Wright said.
And accidents can result. Alpharetta Public Safety Director Gary George said texting while driving is “extremely dangerous. Statistics show that someone who texts while driving greatly increases their chances of being involved in a serious incident such as a traffic crash or fatality event.”
-Sarah Anne Voyles contributed to this article.