Bicyclists face serious risks on Atlanta roads. An average of 24 cyclists are killed each year in Georgia, and traffic crashes involving bikes are heavily concentrated in more urban areas. In the most recent year for which full data is available, Fulton County had more accidents involving death or serious injury to a bicyclist than any other county in Georgia, with 85 serious crashes involving bicycles. Together, the counties making up the Atlanta region accounted for 324 of 805 crashes. In contrast, there were just 101 serious crashes involving bikes in the state’s 118 rural counties.
The “who” and “where” of serious bicycle accidents may not be exactly what you expect. For example, nearly ¾ of bike riders who are seriously injured or killed are adults aged 25 or older. Even more surprising to many, more than ⅓ are 55 or older.
Similarly, while intersections may seem like high-risk areas for bicyclists, fewer than 17% of bike fatalities occur at intersections. That makes sense when you consider the logistics of a bike rider sharing the road with much larger, faster vehicles. And, it’s the reason that a new law requires motorists in Georgia to give bicycle riders a wide berth.
The “3 Feet Law” Took Effect July 1
As of July 1, 2021, Georgia law requires a driver approaching a vehicle to take certain safety measures, including:
- Switching into a lane not adjacent to the bicyclist if conditions allow, or
- If changing lanes is not possible, illegal, or dangerous, to
- Reduce speed to an appropriate level (at least 10 mph below the speed limit or 25 mph, whichever is greater), and
- Pass the bicycle leaving at least three feet between the vehicle and the bike at all times
Increased distance between the bicycle and the vehicle can improve safety in several ways. First, it reduces the likelihood that the driver will misjudge distance to a degree that brings the car dangerously close to or into contact with the bicyclist. The greater distance also provides a buffer in the event that the cyclist has to swerve to avoid a pothole or object in the road, or hits something and skids or falls. And, giving the bike rider more space means there’s less chance that the cyclist will be pushed into the curb, gravel or grass, which could result in injury even if the car didn’t make contact.
A wider buffer zone and slower speeds also reduce the impact of air pressure generated by the passing vehicle on the bicyclist. And, reducing speed reduces the risk of serious injury or death if the vehicle does make contact with the cyclist.
Some studies have shown that three feet laws don’t have a significant impact on driver behavior, particularly not compared with laws that require motorists to put five feet between them and cyclists. But Georgia hopes to ensure compliance with aggressive enforcement, and a hefty $250 fine. The threat of a ticket and the publicity surrounding the new law should also serve to make drivers more conscious of cyclists on the road and the need to allow them sufficient space.
Optimally, bicyclists will do their part and travel the recommended 18-24” from the curb rather than further out into the lane of traffic. But, a bicyclist riding closer to the center doesn’t let a driver off the hook. The motorist is still responsible for creating the three-foot buffer.
Help for Injured Cyclists
Then a bicyclist is injured through driver negligence, the rider is typically entitled to compensation for their injuries. Depending on the circumstances, damages may include reimbursement for medical expenses, replacement of lost wages, compensation for pain and suffering, replacement of the bicycle, costs of rehabilitation and more.
Violation of a traffic safety law like the three feet law can be presented as evidence that the driver was negligent. But, it’s not necessary that a motorist break the law to be found negligent. Drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road, and that means staying alert and making the adaptations necessary to avoid injuring someone, even if there isn’t a specific statute to follow.
If the bicyclist was also negligent, that may reduce the amount of compensation available. But, some damages may still be awarded. The best source of information about the potential strength and value of your bicycle accident claim is a free consultation with an Atlanta bicycle injury attorney.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence, including victims of bicycle, pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, medical malpractice and more. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.