Drivers on Georgia roads will want to take note of changes in laws that make getting certain traffic citations become a felony charge after July 1.
According to Dublin Police Sgt. James Champion, the laws put more “teeth” into the consequences of some traffic violations.
“This is a major change to the DUI law,” said Champion. “The first and second DUIs are misdemeanors but on the third DUI it becomes a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature and on the fourth DUI it is a felony with a fine of up to $2,000 and jail time.”
House Bill 336 also has another clause that will make driving records for DUIs count as far back as 10 years instead of five. This means those who have DUIs older than five years that under the current law would not have been counted, will find themselves with a driving record again.
Champion said the seriousness of DUI becomes more severe if the driver has a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle.
“That’s a separate DUI charge,” he said, explaining that there’s a separate charge for every child in the car under the age of 14 and the law will not allow the tickets to count as one. For example, a driver with three children under the age of 14 in the vehicle could face a felony DUI charge punishable by fines and jail time as well as a permanent record.
Senate Bill 55 leaves no room for a person to drive with an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. The only exception to this law is wine. Champion said if a bottle of wine was opened at a restaurant it must be resealed by the restaurant and the dated receipt attached to it in order to transport it home. This does not apply to beer or liquor.
“If you do not meet those requirements then you will be charged with open container,” he said.
Driving without a license will be costly under any circumstances.
“If you get caught driving without a license normally the fine was $115. Now it’s over $600,” he said.
A citation for driving without a license under the new law requires the person to be fingerprinted and that information kept by the National Criminal Information Center. He said the only exception is if a person is driving on an expired license. In that case the driver will be cited and required to get the license renewed.
Leaving the scene of an accident is never a good idea, especially since the new laws will add stiffer charges to those who do.
“They must do everything possible to get aid if somebody is hurt,” said Champion of those who are involved in an accident. “If they leave the scene and a person dies they can be charged with vehicular homicide which has a prison sentence of no less than three years and no more than 15 years.”
He said even if a driver may think a person is not injured he is obligated to stop and make sure.
“How do you know if somebody is hurt unless you get out and check,” he said.
Don’t even think of telling a judge an appearance wasn’t made in court because there was no notice of a court date.
“When you get that traffic citation that is your service notice,” said Champion, adding all City of Dublin tickets have a date the ticket has to be paid or the person has to appear in court.
“If you fail to take care of that ticket on or before the court date your license will be suspended, and when you get caught driving on a suspended license you’ll be cited for driving with a suspended license,” he said.
Champion said the new laws leave no room for drivers to play around when it comes to not showing up in court.
“You don’t need any note. You know your license could be suspended,” he said, adding the laws are “putting some teeth back into” the consequences for violators.
Story by Stephanie Miller
Dublin Courier Herald Online