For years, motorists throughout the country have complained about bicycles on the road. Drivers assert that bicyclists are unsafe and should assume responsibility for putting themselves at risk if an accident occurs. Nowhere has this philosophy been echoed more clearly than in New York, when a lawmaker recently responded to a teenager’s request for bike lanes in his community by saying that he believes that bicyclists and motorcyclists should not be allowed on the roads at all. The teen wrote a letter after his mother was struck by a car and sustained head and back injuries.
The state of Georgia has laws that set out bicyclists’ rights clearly:
- Bicycles are regarded as vehicles on the roads and have the same rights and responsibilities of other motorists.
- Motorists are required, when feasible, to give cyclists three feet of safe passing distance when overtaking them.
- Where bicycle lanes are provided on the roadway, motorists are required to yield to cyclists in the bicycle lane.
- Harassing a bicyclist, either physically or verbally, is considered a misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature in Georgia.
Bicyclists also have laws they are required to obey:
- They must be visible. Bicycles used at nighttime must be equipped with a forward facing white light on the front of the bike, and a rear-facing red light or red reflector, both of which must be visible from a minimum distance of 300 feet.
- Riding on the sidewalk is prohibited for all cyclists over age 12 in Georgia – cyclists under the age of 12 are only permitted to ride on the sidewalk where authorized by local ordinance, and must yield the right of way to any pedestrians.
- Bikes must travel in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic.
- Cyclists are required to ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when turning left, avoiding hazards, the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle, traveling at the same speed as traffic, passing a standing vehicle or one traveling in the same direction, or there is a right turn only land and the operator is not turning right.
- Cyclists may not ride more than two abreast, which means side by side, except on bicycle paths, bicycle lanes, or parts of the roadway set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
- Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as any other driver. That means they must use signals to indicate their intentions, obey all traffic lights and signs, yield when changing lanes and drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Georgia Bikes! is a statewide nonprofit that emphasizes bicycle safety. Its Law Enforcement Pocket Guide provides important information about laws involving drivers and bicyclists, along with other information. It points out national data showing that 70 percent of accidents involving bikes and vehicles are indeed the riders’ fault. But it also notes that 40 percent of police-reported crashes are caused by driver error.
The most common cyclist errors are:
- Riding against traffic
- Failure to yield; entering the road mid-block
- Cycling at night without appropriate lights and reflectors
- Failure to obey traffic signals and signage
The most frequent motorist mistakes include:
- Failure to yield at stop or yield sign
- Failure to yield coming out of driveway
- Failure to yield, turning left into oncoming cyclist
- Failure to yield at signalized or uncontrolled intersections
- Right turn in front of cyclist
Comparative Negligence in Georgia
Personal injury cases in Georgia allow for the injured party to file a lawsuit against the person or party they believe is responsible for their injuries. A plaintiff who prevails may be awarded a variety of damages that can help cover the costs of medical bills, future medical expenses and pain and suffering, among other things. However, there is an important aspect of Georgia law that can limit a plaintiff’s ability to recover money: a doctrine called comparative negligence.
Whenever multiple parties share fault for a given occurrence or injury, the jury will be called upon to allocate fault between the various parties. Comparative negligence comes into play when the Plaintiff (the person suing) is one of the potentially at-fault parties. In the state of Georgia, a Plaintiff can only recover if he or she is less than 50% responsible for the accident that caused the injury. If a jury should find that a plaintiff and a defendant are equally at fault (50/50) for the underlying accident, then the Plaintiff cannot recover ANY damages. Where a jury finds that a plaintiff’s percentage of fault is greater than zero but less than 50%, the plaintiff can still recover, but his or her recovery will be reduced by his or her percentage of fault from the amount the jury originally awarded. So, for example, if a jury awards $100,000 to a Plaintiff, but finds that the Plaintiff was 30% at fault in causing the accident, the Defendant only has to pay $70,000.
Legal doctrines like comparative negligence are the primary reason why it is so important for people who have been injured to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The insurance companies that will be defending any given claim all have staff attorneys to advise them of their rights, and so should you. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the circumstances of your case to determine whether you have a viable claim, and help to ensure that you recover all of the compensation to which you are legally entitled.
Be Safe and Reach Your Destination
We all have traffic rules we must obey, no matter whether you’re a bicyclist, truck driver, motorist, motorcyclist or pedestrian. Don’t be selfish or rushed while on the road. Set aside your impatience and focus on doing your part to create a safe travel environment, and you will get where you are going safely.