Over the past few years, the issue of distracted driving has received increased attention at both the state and federal levels. The statistics show that distracted drivers are a grave danger to others when on the road. In fact, laws are now advancing that outlaw phone/internet/text usage for commercial truck drivers. Additionally, laws have passed and are likely to continue passing that restrict the ability of all drivers to use handheld devices when driving.
In Georgia specifically, two bills were signed into law in July 2010 that forbid certain phone and text usage, depending on your age and class of license. Most drivers under the age of 18 are forbidden from using wireless devices all together, while drivers 18 and over, with the proper license, are only restricted from writing, sending, or reading any text based communication. Violations of these laws can carry fines and other penalties with them, but, more importantly, can be the basis for a stop that leads to an arrest for DUI, or other traffic crimes.
If you have read my article entitled "Why the Cop's Stop Matters...", found here, you should be aware that a police officer usually needs to either observe or have reliable information that a criminal offense has been committed in order to stop your vehicle. Most would agree that the most common reason for stopping a suspected DUI driver in Georgia is for 'failure to maintain lane', a separate traffic offense under Georgia law. Police officers are also trained that under the NHTSA field sobriety testing guidelines 'failure to maintain lane' and weaving within a lane are very likely to be committed by DUI drivers. Thus, police officers and prosecutors alike will build a case around you failing to maintain your lane and attribute it to alcohol impairment.
Perhaps 10 years ago, observing a car 'all over the road', or crossing the lane markers a few times would almost certainly indicate an impaired driver to most people. However, in today's ever connected world, this is hardly the case. Most commuters would agree that it is very common to encounter cars who are having trouble driving, only to see that they are on their phone or texting as you pass them. Distracted driving is everywhere, especially in a metropolitan area like Atlanta.
So, how can this affect your DUI case? Well, if you were on your phone talking, texting, or sending and checking emails before you were pulled over, this is important information to share with your attorney. I usually get phone records from clients and make an effort to show that you were actually on the phone prior to getting pulled over. If this can be shown, it is a strong and increasingly believable reason for why you might have crossed over your lane marker. Remember, a well trained police officer will usually follow you, with his camera on, for some distance, to show all of your bad driving to the prosecutor and even a jury. They will then want the jury to jump to the conclusion that alcohol impairment is the sole reason that you could not drive safely, in one lane. Distracted driving, while frowned upon, is certainly better than DUI.
If you have been arrested and charged with DUI and would like to speak about your case, call our office 24/7 and we will be happy to discuss this and other possible defenses with you.