All over Georgia, more people are taking to the streets on their bicycles. Some ride for exercise while others enjoy getting out in the beautiful fall weather. And as Atlanta traffic congestion continues to grow, many choose to commute to work by bike to save money and reduce emissions. Whatever the reason, bicycling is fun and good for your health. However, recent data shows that, as more bicyclists take to the pavement, the occurrence of bike-related traffic incidents has also increased.
A low-speed impact such as a fender bender isn’t a big deal when you are in a car. It is a hassle and certainly an annoyance, but rarely is someone severely injured in a low-speed car crash. But this all changes when someone is on a bicycle. Without the “metal shell” protection of a larger vehicle, bicycle rider involved in a traffic accident with a car or truck can suffer catastrophic injuries.
In response to and recognition of this growing bicycling trend, and in an attempt to protect Georgia’s bicyclers, the 2009 Georgia legislature passed Senate Bill 196. This bill made two substantial amendments to the existing motor vehicle and traffic laws. These primary changes were:
- No one over the age of 12 is allowed to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk. Anyone older than 12 must ride their bicycle on the side of the street. Not allowing adults to ride bikes on the sidewalk protects pedestrians. More importantly, it makes it easier for cars to identify bicycles on the road. The vast majority of bicycle accidents occur at intersections, and when a bicycle is on the sidewalk, it can impede the visibility of a vehicle attempting to turn. When bicycles are on the road as opposed to the sidewalk, they are actually easier for cars to see. Being easier to see means a bicyclist is less likely to be hit.
- The bill also dramatically increased the fines and penalties for drivers who injure a bicyclist or pedestrian while behind the wheel. Georgia legislatures took away the right for bicyclists over 12 to use a sidewalk, but by punishing at-fault drivers more severely, it hopes to inspire Georgian drivers to be more aware.
Of course, Georgia’s bicyclists are still subject to and must respect all other relevant Georgia traffic laws. As when driving a car, bicyclists must stop and wait at red lights, obey stop signs, yield signs, and railroad crossing signs and they must cross at intersections. Speed limits must be followed (for those who like to go fast), and it is even possible to get a DUI while riding a bicycle.
A DUI on a bicycle might seem strange, but consider that the ultimate goal is to create an environment that is safer for everybody: drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike. These new laws protect bicyclists the same way they protect motor vehicles, but in return, the law expects bicyclists to respect and follow the same laws as cars and trucks. Viewed as a partnership between drivers and bicyclists, it makes sense that it requires both sides to work together.
Whether you are a bicyclist or a motor vehicle driver, knowing the new laws in Georgia and how they affect all of us helps to keep our streets safer for everyone.
Click here for an article that does a great job of going into further specific detail regarding these important law changes and how they affect Georgian bicyclists as well as those behind the wheel.
If you have any questions or want to learn more, the Georgia Department of Transportation also has a great pamphlet available that has a wealth of riding and safety tips, as well as other pertinent information regarding bicycling in Georgia.