Georgia’s Rules of the Road and Driving Laws
Georgia’s “Rules of the Road” exist for a reason.
Georgia’s driving laws are called the “Rules of the Road,” and as any Georgia accident lawyer can tell you the Rules exist for a reason—to keep drivers and their families safe. When a driver breaks the rules, those actions have consequences.
When a driver is “negligent,” that driver can be held responsible for the consequences of his or her actions. Under Georgia law, a driver is negligent if the driver fails to show “that degree of care which is exercised by ordinarily prudent persons under the same or similar circumstances.” O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2. In normal terms, negligent means careless. Usually, a negligent driver made a careless mistake, but didn’t mean to hurt anyone. For instance, if a driver accidentally fails to stop in time and hits another car, pulls out in front of another vehicle because he or she didn’t see it, or accidentally drifts out of his or her lane, that driver is negligent.
Negligence Per Se
If a driver violates a specific Georgia traffic law, courts usually presume that the driver was negligent. This concept is called “negligence per se.” For example, if a driver follows too closely in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49, fails to yield in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-73, or fails to maintain his or her lane in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-20, the driver is negligent per se.
The concepts of negligence and negligence per se often overlap. When a motorist drives carelessly, and in driving carelessly violates a traffic law, that driver has been both negligent and negligent per se. At Butler Tobin, when we file a car accident case, we normally state that the at-fault driver was both negligent and negligent per se.
When a driver’s behavior was really bad, the jury may be authorized to impose punitive damages. In Georgia, courts may impose punitive damages to make sure that the at-fault driver never does this again—in other words, to “deter” the misconduct. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1. In legal terms, punitive damages are appropriate “in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Id. One trial judge put it in simpler terms: punitive damages are appropriate when the defendant “just did not give a damn.”
The question is whether the defendant knew that someone might get hurt, but did the wrong thing anyway. For instance, when a defendant drinks and drives, punitive damages may be authorized. Other examples of conduct that could authorize punitive damages include texting and driving, hit-and-run collisions, or when an employer knowingly puts a dangerous person behind the wheel.
In this video clip from an Atlanta GA car accident trial, we described the collision to the jury. Our client was sitting still, at a traffic light, with her daughter in the back seat when a drunk driver struck her vehicle in the rear. In those circumstances, the drunk driver was “negligent” for not paying enough attention, and “negligent per se” for driving under the influence and following too closely. The jury found in favor of our client.
In this video clip from the Atlanta GA car accident trial, Butler Tobin asked one of the investigating police officers about how much the defendant had been drinking. When someone drinks and drives, the jury is authorized to impose punitive damages.
Driving Laws in Georgia
Most accidents are avoidable, and most accidents are the result of a driver’s negligence. When a good Georgia accident lawyer files an injury lawsuit because of a car accident, he should consult Georgia’s Rules of the Road and cite the violated rules. Some of the more commonly violated laws that we see are below.
Failure to Stop: O.C.G.A. § 40-6-72, stop signs and yield signs
Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line or, if there is no stop line, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if there is no crosswalk, at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways. Coming to a complete stop should be obvious, but just because it is obvious it doesn’t mean all drivers do it. When a driver refuses to obey the law and causes a wreck, a Georgia traffic lawyer will file suit and make sure the driver doesn’t forget to stop the next time he comes to a stop sign.
Improper Lane Change: O.C.G.A § 40-6-123, turning movements and required signals
A signal of intention to turn right or left or change lanes when required shall be given continuously for a time sufficient to alert the driver of a vehicle proceeding from the rear in the same direction or a driver of a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.
Failure to Yield Right of Way: O.C.G.A § 40-6-71, vehicle turning left
The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard. Defense attorneys sometimes try and shift responsibility away from negligent drivers and to other motorists who they say waved their client through. The law is, and a good Georgia traffic lawyer understands how to effectively win this argument in court, that when you want to turn on to a road you must wait for all traffic to pass. Making excuses that you were told it was safe to drive out by someone else in a different car is irresponsible.
Failure to Follow Traffic Light: O.C.G.A § 40-6-20, obedience to traffic-control devices
The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of an official traffic-control device applicable thereto, placed in accordance with this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter. Remarkably, one of the most common calls our firm receives as a Georgia traffic lawyer are from injured passengers who say that the driver of the car they were a passenger in, tried to speed through a yellow light. You may not know this, but if you are a passenger in a vehicle, you can still recover against the driver of your vehicle.
Failure to Maintain Lane: O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48, driving on roadway laned for traffic
A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety. While veering out of your lane can sometimes happens, we see it happen more frequently in cases of truck drivers who travel long distances. As a top Georgia traffic lawyer, we understand that there are additional rules beyond O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48 that can apply in cases of commercial vehicle drivers who fail to maintain their lane.
Failure to Keep a Safe Distance: O.C.G.A § 40-6-49, following too closely
The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway. This rule is obvious yet remarkably it is so often violated. The simple solution is: keep a safe distance when you drive.
Dangerous Driving: O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390, reckless driving
Any person who drives any vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property commits the offense of reckless driving.
Failure to Yield: O.C.G.A. § 40-6-73, vehicle entering roadway
The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed. As an experienced and knowledgeable Georgia traffic lawyer, we know how to apply the various rules of the road to win your case.
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