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A few weeks ago, the American Automobile Association (“AAA”)
released a study that looked at the driving behaviors of newly-licensed,
teenage drivers. As part of the study, entitled
Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers, AAA mounted cameras to the windshields of the kids’ cars, and filmed
the view going forward and going backward into the car itself. The cameras
were set to trigger when the car made an abrupt movement.

AAA put video clips on its website, showing some of the risky behaviors
by the teen drivers. During the course of AAA’s study, three of
the newly-licensed drivers did have car wrecks, but the clips show behaviors
that were not connected to car accidents. And thank goodness. As an
Atlanta personal injury lawyer, some of the saddest cases I face are ones where a young person comes
in seriously injured, or the parents come in because a beloved child was
killed in a wreck.

I am analyzing these cases from my standpoint as an personal injury lawyer
who handles car wreck cases in Rome, Georgia, and all over the State of
Georgia, asking: What Georgia code sections apply to the scenarios we
see in the video?

Under Georgia law, was the driver required to have a seat belt on?

One of the first things I noticed about the video was that the young driver
is not wearing a seat belt. Probably I noticed that because I must have
said the phrase, “Put on your seat belts,” at least 1,000,000
times since I first had children, and still I have to remind my preteens
to put their seat belts on. I don’t understand why kids seem to
hate wearing belts, but they do. (Actually I do understand that –
the belts are made to fit 50th percentile adult males. As a result, the
belts are a poor fit for children, and even for smaller adults, and so
they are uncomfortable. A number of product liability cases have addressed
the issue, but of course those cases come after-the-fact,
after someone has been killed or suffered terrible personal injuries. I’ll
have to write a blog entry on that seat belt fit issue someday soon. In
the meantime, you can read more about product liability cases by going
to the Firm Library on my web page, and downloading my article, “How
to Recognize and Develop a Product Liability Case.”)

But back to our young man in the video, who is not wearing a safety belt,
and who is clearly large enough to wear a safety belt comfortably. If
he had been driving in Georgia (and we have no idea where he was at the
time the video was made), would he have been required to wear a seat belt
under Georgia law?

Maybe not, is the surprising answer. Georgia law says:

“Each occupant of the front seat of a passenger vehicle shall, while
such passenger vehicle is being operated on a public road, street, or
highway of this state, be restrained by a seat safety belt approved under
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208.”

O.C.G.A. 40-8-76.1. Whether that statute applies here is ambiguous. The young man is driving
on a dirt road. It is more than likely, then, that the statute would not
apply to this young teenage driver, because it only applies to vehicles
being driven on a “public road, street, or highway” in Georgia,
and this road probably is not a public road. On the other hand, if the
road is considered a “public” road, then under Georgia law
the driver was required to have his seat belt buckled on.

For more on the seat belt laws, see the website for the
Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.


Lee’s peers have named her a Georgia SuperLawyer every year for two decades.