You be the judge: Tickets for Texting

One Gwinnett Police Officer has Given 800 tickets for tickets for texting -mostly to people using their phones at red lights including for checking their phone’s map application so they could find out where they are going.

So here’s a weekend quiz, do you think using a map on a phone falls under this definition?

(a) As used in the Code section, the term “wireless telecommunications device” means a cellular telephone, a text messaging device, a personal digital assistant, a stand alone computer, or any other substantially similar wireless device that is used to initiate or receive a wireless communication with another person. It does not include citizens band radios, citizens band radio hybrids, commercial two-way radio communication devices, subscription based emergency communications, in-vehicle security, navigation devices, and remote diagnostics systems, or amateur or ham radio devices.

(b) No person who is 18 years of age or older or who has a Class C license 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, e-mail, or Internet data.

 That’s O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.2 (2010), if you’re curious. Does your answer hinge on whether or not you think Google Maps is “text-based”?

33 comments

  1. TKrause says:

    A couple of comments. First, I think you have the wrong code. The code you cite is for people UNDER 18 years old. They are not allowed to talk on a cell phone, much less text. I think your point, however, is the same.

    Second, and more to your point, I’ll bet this will be litigated soon. The law is simply not clear about maps. I’ve wondered myself a few time if the map function “counts” under the texting rule. Personally, I think looking at a cell-phone map is safer than the days when someone had a paper map spread out across the windshield.

    In any case, I might have a problem with this officer’s philosophy. A law officer is expected to ensure that people remain safe. His duties include the power to arrest or cite those who infringe upon the safety of others. This is true if he is investigating a crime that has already occurred (i.e. a robbery in progress or a person speeding down the road) or if he sees a situation where danger is likely to occur. According to the news report, this officer says that “…it’s easiest to catch people in the act at traffic lights.” To me, that is getting close to an err in law enforcement philosophy. If the officer sees a safety issue (i.e., the car is not moving, even though the light turned green) I could see why he would ticket someone. However, if he is purposefully looking into every window at every traffic light, just hoping to “catch” someone, I think his duties are probably required elsewhere.

    This is all about officer discretion. If he looks into a closed gas station and sees a man with a mask opening the register, sure, I’m glad he went out of his way to catch him. But if he is going out of his way to find minor civil infractions, just because he knows he can get to that magic 1,000-ticket number he’s looking for, I start getting a little irritated at his zealousness.

    • Stefan says:

      I tend to agree with your reading of the situation, and thank you for the correction. I have edited the piece above. The language is substantially similar – this is what I get for writing posts on my phone.

  2. saltycracker says:

    Reads like that might cover GPS systems in vehicles. Car and GPS businesses should liable for attractive distractive nuisances…….Start with GMs chatty Onstar …

    • Stefan says:

      Which brings up another point, here’s the exception for what I imagine is supposed to be stand-alone navigation devices (part of the definition section in (a) above):
      “It does not include citizens band radios, citizens band radio hybrids, commercial two-way radio communication devices, subscription based emergency communications, in-vehicle security, navigation devices, and remote diagnostics systems, or amateur or ham radio devices.”

      That sentence is a mess.

      But for starters, does “in-vehicle” in the above clause modify “navigation devices”? Assuming it does, is an iPad a “navigation device” or a wireless communicator if it lacks the ability to text or to call people? What’s the goal of this law if it allows iPad use and eliminates iPhone use?

      • GB101 says:

        It is clear, at least to me, that “in-vehicle” modifies only “security” and not “navigation devices.”

  3. Michael Silver says:

    The section where they get you and I is “including but not limited”. The Georgia Supreme Court will find maps and etch-a-sketches are covered by that wording, like they have before.

    That nebulous language has sent many innocent men and women to work camps, into peonage, and now to jail/prison. It was a major component of the Public Gathering law that regulated gun toting and was often used against the poor and minorities.

  4. TKrause says:

    I think you are mistaking text communication with listening communication. The first law you posted — about under 18 drivers — said they could not listen. The over 18 law says you cannot read. I assume a GPS that is telling you “TURN LEFT NOW YOU IDIOT!” is legal.

    Also, looking at the code now, I think it would be hard to argue that reading info from Google Maps (especially if you are entering your location/destination into your phone) is not using your device for “Internet Data,” per the law. I think the law says no maps. That said, I still think this is a matter of officer discretion and zealousness.

    • Stefan says:

      Yeah, but “internet data” is modifying “text-based communication”. Is a map “text-based”? Do they mean the programming? If they mean the interface, I’d say a map app is not “text based”.

  5. Andre says:

    I remember when the texting ban was passed. The bill originally started as a ban on texting for drivers under the age of eighteen. Then, on Sine Die, language was inserted to extend the ban to all drivers.

    The way that law was enacted left a bad taste in my mouth, and I doubt any of the legislators who voted for final passage of that bill read the legislation before they voted on it near the stroke of midnight.

  6. saltycracker says:

    It is very difficult/questionable to micromanage human behavior but we do have the potential to write programs that manage what goes on with the electronic devices in/around vehicles. Might take time….

  7. Noway says:

    From a former federal law enforcement office to this Barney Fife, Mr. Fife, you are abusing your authority. Oh, goody!!!! “I can ticket, I can ticket!!!” By this post’s on admission, the citations were written at red lights, presumably when the person was stopped and of no danger to anyone. 800 tickets? I am sooooooooooooooooo impressed! What a revenue generating prick!

    • saltycracker says:

      A judge has to agree with his discretionary enforcement. The law is the problem. Or maybe the pressure to pay his way !

      • Noway says:

        Perhaps, but I’ll bet very few of those cited end up in front of a judge, Salty. They just pay/mail in the nuisance fine and get on with it.

        • saltycracker says:

          That’s true too as in most traffic courts you either plead guilty or not guilty and they set a trial date……like everything, a few dedicated souls have to play it out….
          Sitting here in a cove surrounded by manatees and porpoises it is easy to resolve traffic issues….but they are running off the fish….so it’s break time …

  8. Matt Stout says:

    It would be nice to know the locations that Barney Fife is camping out around. Siri needs to know this kinda stuff.

  9. DP714 says:

    I think the law does include using maps on one’s phone. It doesn’t change the fact that it is a lousy law and should be scrapped. If the point of it is to make the roads more safe, then it doesn’t seem to go far enough because there are already way too many distractions besides phones (radio, navi, checking one’s make up, reaching back playing with the toddlers in the backseat, etc). Policing for Profit seems like an appropriate description (it often is). But it’s okay, it might still make us safer because the money raised from this might pay for better Radars to use on the highway to catch more speeders…

    • Noway says:

      That’s also what the NSA says when they violate our 4th Amendment Rights, too, “You’ll be safer…” if we can listen in on everything.
      No snark to your comment DP, just sayin’…
      Same with red light cameras, property seizure laws for folks not yet convicted of any-damn-thing, speed traps, etc, etc, etc, each and every damn one pure harassment of the citizenry by authorities.

      • DP714 says:

        Haha you’re preaching to the choir… I was being sarcastic and also hinting at another thing done under the guise of safety (speeding tickets).

  10. Will Durant says:

    Does this law include police officers using their computers while sitting at red lights as well? I assume it at least applies to their use of them while turning against the light through an intersection with the blues on which I have witnessed. What the hell does “stand alone computer” mean in this instance anyway? I know what it means to network security types but how is that defined legally?

  11. Napoleon says:

    For most people, you have to type in the destination on the map, so I would argue it is text-based communication. The irony is I can read a book at a traffic light, but not my email. Note to self…hollow out an old book to fit my iPhone for use in Gwinnett County.

  12. The Comma Guy says:

    How about GPS devices that get real time traffic information? Or the ones that are bluetooth enabled that allow you to use it as a speaker for your phone?

    and how can Officer “You Will Respect My Authoritah!” prove I’m texting and not typing in a note to myself for later, updating my calendar, or playing Candy Crush?

  13. Rick Day says:

    I consider it “internet data” because that is what it is. One’s perspective on this suppressive (passed by a GOP majority, I must add, those ‘limited gummit’ types) statute would change if one rode two or three wheels in Midtown or Downtown Atlanta. You would not believe how many times I’ve almost collided with people staring at their phones, or talking, oblivious of lane drifting tendencies. At least a dozen.

    I can tell when someone in front of me is “on the phone”. They get into a ‘phone zone’ that is easy to recognize.

    I use my integrated hands free feature in the Countryman, or *gasp* just wait until later to check that text, tweet or email.

    This statute is as valid as seat belts. *which is not saying much*

    It would be best if people just drove responsibly, but we all know what a pipe dream that is.

  14. bkeahl says:

    Technically, the map you are looking at is “internet data”. I don’t believe the law intended to disallow looking at map on your phone, but a very literal interpretation of the law would place you in violation.

    Just more unintended consequences. That law is nanny-government gone wrong.

  15. GB101 says:

    Isn’t this the critical language?

    It does not include citizens band radios, citizens band radio hybrids, commercial two-way radio communication devices, subscription based emergency communications, in-vehicle security, navigation devices, and remote diagnostics systems, or amateur or ham radio devices.

    Navigation devices are excluded from the definition of what is prohibited.

    • Will Durant says:

      If you watch the video it is Barney’s opinion that if you enter more than 10 characters into your phone while waiting at a light then you can’t possibly be dialing a voice call (guess he’s never heard of conference calls, international, …) so you are deemed by him to be in violation of the law. Of course it does not matter to him if you are entering those characters into a GPS app on the phone, searching Google for the nearest hospital, or actually texting, more than 10 characters into a “phone” is verboten. You may enter all of the characters you wish into a dedicated GPS device however.

      And yes Barney’s opinion matters because pleading not guilty will cost you the bulk of two business days in Gwinnett traffic court.

    • bkeahl says:

      Is a phone a navigation device? Its multi-purpose. Does it become a navigation device because a navigation application is loaded on it? Isn’t it still a phone though? Isn’t it still passing internet information?

      I don’t believe for a minute the intention was to stop people from using electronic mapping devices (or apps). I think it’s just non-tech-savvy people writing laws. Common sense in executing them is required. Of course, if common-sense were the rule then the stupid law wouldn’t be on the books.

  16. boredtoo says:

    Contrary to what this officer believes, using your phone as a GPS device in Georgia is not illegal. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241.2 states that no one may use “a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data.” The key phrase is “text based communication,” and the remainder of the sentence attempts to expound on the types of text based communication that are prohibited. A GPS app on a smartphone allows a person to see graphical based information, not text based information. That is why no other county issues tickets at the rate of this officer. Of course, he will continue to do so until someone fights back.

    • bkeahl says:

      My phone-map (and all others, I would think) has plenty of text, including turn-by-turn directions. Trying to read that text is just as dangerous as reading a text message if I use poor judgement (as with text messaging). That’s why the law is just foolish. Intent meets interpretation.

  17. Thadius says:

    Two Things:
    First, The intent of the law was not to outlaw the use of dedicated gps devices or the use of gps enabled phones for mapping purposes. This was specificaly stated during the floor debate for the bill, and language to this effect is included somewhere in the bill (I’m too busy right now to hunt it down).
    Second, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study in 2010 which showed that texting bans actually do not reduce traffic accidents, and in some cases the data show an increase in texting related incidents (link to study below). Why is this? Simple, before T&D was banned folks held their phones up and texted while watching the road… after T&D was banned the temptation is to text with the phone down and out of view, creating a more dangerous driving state in which the drivers attention is fully removed from the road.

    Conclusion: It’s very difficult to create a law which compells individuals to pay attention while driving. The solution is already in place: The driver is responsible for any material damage or physical injury he causes on the roadway…

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