I find myself in what some people might describe as an odd position. As a lawyer, I represent people who have suffered injuries while riding bicycles due to the negligent actions of others, mainly car drivers. However, as an advocate for safe cycling, I spend a lot of time trying to make the roads in Georgia a safer place for people to ride bikes. Personally, I don’t see the conflict. I ride bikes, as do a lot of my friends, and I want to do what I can to help create as safe a riding environment as possible. As a Trial Lawyer, however, I want to be able to use my 30+ years of experience to hold negligent drivers accountable for the harm that they cause when their careless (or worse) actions cause injuries to people on bikes. Holding wrongdoers and their insurance companies responsible for the harm that they cause is, I believe, another way to advocate for safe cycling.
To that end, I’ve assembled the following short summary of laws that affect people on bikes in Georgia. Take a few minutes to make yourself aware of the law, so you have a better understanding of both your rights and responsibilities as you enjoy riding a bike around Atlanta, Decatur, Macon, Roswell, Columbus, Savannah, or wherever in Georgia you may be.
Source of Law
Most of the laws relating to the rights and responsibilities of bike riders come from Chapter 6, Title 40 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which is abbreviated as “O.C.G.A.” Local Ordinances can create variances or exceptions to specific laws in some circumstances, so be mindful that you may need to do some additional research on a specific issue in order to get a definitive answer to some legal questions.
Some General Rules
A bicycle is considered a “vehicle” and the person riding the bicycle is considered a “driver”for purposes laws that apply to the operation and use of vehicles. (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-1-1(14)(75). As a result, the Uniform Rules of the Road apply to people who are riding bicycles.
Helmets, Lights, and Sidewalks
If you are 16 years old or older, you are not required to wear a helmet when you ride a bike. Helmets are required for people under the age of 16. (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-296(d)
When using a bicycle “at nighttime,” you must have a white headlight that’s bright enough to be observed from at least 300 feet away and, at minimum, a red reflector on the rear. A red light is not required for the rear of the bike, although it’s certainly recommended. (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-296(a)
It is unlawful to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk for anyone who is over the age of 12. (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-144). The code section does not specify any exceptions, although it should make exceptions and would be better written to allow the bike rider the discretion to use a sidewalk if they believe it’s safer than all other available options, as well as to supervise riders who are under the age of 13.
Where to Ride and Taking the Lane
Georgia law does a good job of leaving lane position to the discretion of the bicycle rider. The gist of the section is that the rider should stay as far to the right as practicable, but may take the lane when it’s safer to do so, in the bike rider’s opinion. Bike riders in Georgia:
…shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when
1) turning left;
2) avoiding hazards to safe cycling (defined as including, but not limited to, surface debris, rough pavement, drain grates which are parallel to the side of the roadway, parked or stopped vehicles, potentially opening car doors, or any other objects which threaten the safety of a person operating a bicycle);
3) the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle:
4) traveling at the same speed as traffic;
5) exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction;
6) There is a right turn only lane and the person operating the bicycle is not turning right;
provided, however, that every person operating a bicycle away from the right side of the roadway shall exercise reasonable care and shall give due consideration to the other applicable rules of the road. (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-294).
Safe Passing – 3 Foot Rule
Georgia law requires a driver to leave a “Safe Distance” when overtaking and passing a bicycle, with the term “Safe Distance” defined as meaning not less than three feet. (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-56). The statute setting out the 3 Foot Rule, however, could stand to be improved to make it more of an absolute and to clarify that driver’s may cross Solid White and Yellow lines, single or double, in order to leave at least 3 feet, but that drivers should wait until it’s safe to cross the lines. The statute also includes the words”when feasible” which significantly waters down the protection to cyclists.
Passing a Vehicle on the Right
Under certain circumstances, a person on a bike can pass a slower moving or stopped vehicle. In the most common situation, where a bike rider wants to pass on the right side of a line of cars that are stopped for traffic or a light, the key issue is the width of the space on the roadway to the right of the cars.
O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-43:
(a) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only under the following circumstances:
1) When the vehicle being overtaken is making or about to make a left turn; or
2) Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lanes of moving vehicles in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.
(b) If otherwise authorized, the driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. Such movement shall not be made by driving off the roadway.
(O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-43, emphasis added)
Reading the above code section in the context of bicycles, as long as there’s enough space to the right of the car to fit a Bike Lane (which is sufficient width for a bicycle) and the bike rider doesn’t have to leave the roadway, then passing on the right is allowed, with the caveat that it’s up to the bicycle rider to make sure to watch out for turning vehicles since you can only pass when it’s safe to do so.
Riding 2 Abreast in the Lane
People riding on bicycles upon a roadway may ride two abreast (meaning side by side) but they may not ride more than two abreast except on bicycle paths, bicycle lanes, or parts of the roadway that are set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-294(c).
*** CURRENT AS OF 3/14/2018 ***