- As bicycles become a more popular form of transportation for Georgians, accidents are happening more frequently.
- Georgia’s laws are specific regarding how bicycles must be equipped and driven.
- Bicyclists who fail to follow Georgia’s bicycle laws could be held liable if they are involved in an accident.
- Because of a government’s protection under the law, referred to as “sovereign immunity,” it is difficult to sue a governmental entity for vehicular accidents, including those involving bicycles.
Bicycle Accidents in Georgia Often Happen at Night
Each day, more Georgians turn to bicycles as their primary means of transportation. Because bikes are more environmentally friendly and inexpensive to operate, people are now riding them to and from work and school on a daily basis. As a result, bike accidents have increased dramatically – especially at night.
Once the sun goes down, the lack of light makes it difficult for car and truck drivers to see cyclists also using the roads. When motorists cannot see bicyclists, they are not likely to reduce speed or allow the rider the right-of-way as appropriate with the law. This can mean collisions happen at higher speeds, often resulting in more catastrophic injuries. Additionally, the injured cyclist may be thrown into oncoming traffic, exponentially increasing the rate of severe damage.
Georgia’s Street Light Problem
The streets and roads we travel on were designed primarily for automobile traffic to move safely and efficiently. Cars have their own built-in lighting solutions, so streetlights were not a primary concern when the road systems were planned and constructed. These days, Georgians who use bicycles for transportation are paying the price for this lack of foresight.
Although the popularity of bicycle traffic is on the rise, the state has not kept up with infrastructure needs and safety measures, such as additional streetlights, to ensure protection for bicyclists. This means riders must take extra steps to provide their own safety and lighting when traveling in low-visibility conditions. In fact, Georgia bicycle laws require lighting and other specific equipment to help make bicyclists more visible to other drivers.
The Other Problem: A Lack of Bicycle Lanes
According to a study by the University of Colorado Denver, published in Science Daily, creating safe facilities for cyclists is one of the biggest factors in establishing road safety for everyone. The fact is bicycling infrastructure, including separate, protected bike lanes, leads to fewer fatalities and a safer experience for all road users.
While some Georgia cities have begun to install these safety lanes, adding them to our highways and streets is a lengthy and expensive project.
Unfortunately, as bicyclists wait for their cities to catch up, sharing the crowded roadways with motorized traffic, particularly in low-visibility conditions, can be dangerous. Therefore, bicyclists should ensure their bikes are fitted with appropriate lights, and they wear reflective clothing when riding at night.
Georgia’s Bicycle Light Laws
Georgia’s bicycle laws are outlined in §40-6 of the Georgia Code. As a cyclist, it’s wise to read and understand the regulations thoroughly before riding on Georgia roadways.
- Bicyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic, even if there is a designated bicycle lane.
- Bicyclists must travel as close to the right side of the road as possible, unless avoiding a hazardous road condition.
- Anyone 16 or younger must be wearing a fastened helmet. Parents whose children are under 16 are liable for their children’s helmet use.
- It is illegal for anyone over the age of 12 to ride on the sidewalk.
- Bike riders must not lane share with more than one other side-by-side bicyclist.
- Only one passenger per bicycle is permitted, unless the bike was specifically designed to carry more than one person.
- At least one hand must be on the handlebars at all times. It is illegal to carry or transport any items that prevent proper handlebar positioning.
- All bicycles are required to have proper brakes installed that allow the bike to skid on dry pavement.
- Bicycles must have a white light on the front that allows for visibility up to 300 feet ahead.
- All bicycles must have either a rear red reflector or light to allow for visibility up to 300 feet away.
If bike lanes are available where you ride, by all means use them. Also, ensure you follow Georgia’s bicycle statutes – they will go a long way toward keeping you safe. Bicycle lights and reflective clothing are crucial for keeping you safe if you plan to ride at night.
The Georgia Technical Institute offers a handy pocket guide, which provides quick reference information for using your bicycle on Georgia roadways.
Legal Facts About Nighttime Bicyclist Accidents
Here are a few common questions and answers regarding nighttime bicycle accidents.
Q: If a bicyclist had no lights on and was hit at night, were they negligent?
A: Georgia laws are particular about having and using lights. Therefore, a bike not equipped with and actively using the required lights would likely be issued a ticket and found at least partly at-fault, or negligent, for the accident.
Q: If bicyclists do not have lights on their bikes at night, are they eligible for compensation after an accident?
A: If someone rides a bike that does not adhere to bicycle safety requirements, like maintaining proper lighting, they may be found at fault for the accident. This means the cyclist might not be compensated and could even be held liable for damages to the other party.
Q: Can a local or state government be the negligent party for a nighttime bicycle accident?
A: Yes. However, it is extremely challenging to bring legal action against a government entity as they often have “sovereign immunity” and cannot be sued. An attorney would be the best judge of this on a case-by-case basis.
Q: Can a driver claim they did not see the bicyclist because of the lack of light and be let off the hook?
A: The other party can claim that the bicycle was not visible. A lawyer will consider a number of circumstances that could impact a claim and negotiate with the other party’s representative.
Other circumstances, such as the time of day, weather, amount of traffic, if bike lanes were available, lighting on the bike, and whether the bicyclist wore reflective gear, would all have to be carefully considered before the driver could be deemed not at fault.
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