Distracted Driving: Criminal Liability and Punitive Damages Are They Warranted in Georgia


June 20, 2011

Drivers who talk on their cell phones while navigating our nation's roadways are four times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than drivers who are not distracted according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The term multi-tasking comes to mind when we talk about drivers trying to talk and drive at the same time. Psychologists have since determined that this type of multi-tasking can not only be dangerous but life threatening.d

Studies conducted at the University of Kansas reveal that when someone is talking on the phone, the part of the brain that controls vision is not fully engaged. The brain does not perform fully while trying to do these two tasks at once. Another conclusion from the results of the study is that even with the use of hands-free devices, such as bluetooth devices, vision is still hindered while someone is talking on a cell phone so these devices do not make talking and driving any safer. The study provides insight into the ineffectiveness of laws in a number of states that restrict cell phone use during driving to hands-free calls.

Given the serious accident risk associated with cell phone use while driving, stricter restrictions on cell phone usage in vehicles is probably appropriate. Many people argue that hands-free conversations on cell phones are no different than carrying on a conversation with a passenger inside the vehicle. While this may be accurate, the conclusion may say more about the dangers of distracting conversations with passengers, than about the comparable safety of hands-free cell phone use.

The seriousness of the problem associated with driving distractions caused by cell phones is reflected by prosecutor efforts in a number of states to pursue vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter charges against drivers who cause wrongful death in cell phone related fatal car accident. In Georgia, vehicular manslaughter is called homicide by vehicle. It is defined as the unlawful killing of another person using a vehicle. A perpetrator does not have to have an intent to kill, malicious intent, or premeditation.

Vehicular Homicide for Fatal Car Accidents:

  • First degree homicide by vehicle: This is treated as a felony so if someone is convicted they may face between 3-15 years in prison, with no parole for at least a year.
  • Second degree homicide by vehicle: This is treated as a misdemeanor and a conviction may result in up to 1 year in prison or a fine of up to $1000 (or both).

When a person is issued a driver's license in the state of Georgia, he or she is being entrusted with a responsibility to drive safely. This is a basic Rule of the Road. If a driver is distracted by a cell phone while operating one’s vehicle and causes a fatal car accident in Georgia, the at-fault driver is responsible for all of the harm suffered including lost income, permanent disability, reduced quality of life, heath care costs, pain and suffering and other damages.

A distracted driver in Georgia who causes an accident because of cell phone use who is charged with homicide by vehicle may also be liable for punitive damages for their criminal conduct. An attorney who represents a victim can show that the unlawful behavior showed a "conscious disregard" or a "conscious indifference" to the welfare of others. It will be interesting to see how broad Georgia courts are prepared to go in extending criminal liability and awarding punitive damages in distracted driving cases.

Driving is a privilege so those that abuse this privilege and injure innocent victims should have to accept the full consequences of their actions. There is no reason why an innocent person should lose his or her life because a driver demonstrates callous disregard for the dangers associated with operating a car, truck of SUV, which is effectively a deadly weapon in the hands of a negligent driver.

If you are seriously injured or a loved one suffers wrongful death in a collision with a distracted driver in Atlanta or elsewhere throughout Georgia or the Southeast, our Atlanta accident lawyers will work in your best interest to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Our experienced Georgia auto accident lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Personal Injury

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.