With increasing gas prices and unrelenting traffic congestion plaguing the state, many Georgians are finding it’s more economically savvy (and healthy, besides) to travel by bicycle or motorcycle in lieu of automobile. Unfortunately, this trend towards cycling is also resulting in an increased number of accidents involving cyclists and their impatient motorist counterparts. In fact, according to the Georgia Office of Highway Safety, in 2008, 12 percent of the people killed in motor vehicle crashes in Georgia were motorcycle drivers — the highest motorcycle fatality count within 15 years. As an Atlanta injury lawyer, I know that this number is only the tip of the iceberg since a significant number of serious injuries result from motorcycle accidents every year.
This is a growing problem in Georgia, where in 2008 motorcycle driver deaths has increased by 59 percent since 2004. As a remedy, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law last week a bill aimed to protect them, while simultaneously granting respite to sympathetic drivers who nevertheless feel a modicum of nervousness when inching by a motorcycle or bicycle.
House Bill 101 requires drivers to give cyclists at least 3 feet of space. Before last week, motorists had only to maintain an arguably ambiguous “safe distance” when passing. Now, those same motorists will have to actually cross the yellow line to comply with the law.
The 3-foot requirement was actually an afterthought of sorts, tacked on at the last minute by Senator John Albers. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he was inspired to do so by Kathy Serrano, widow of cyclist Tony Serrano who was killed in 2004 by a car in Gwinnett County, and by concerns for his own children, who are avid bike riders. He also aimed to encourage the exercise of generally safer driving practices: violation will result in heavy fines or jail time.
Beginning July 1, Atlanta bicycle accident attorneys will be more cognizant of this legislation as well, especially when pursuing lawsuits involving bicycle/vehicle collisions. Whereas the "safe distance" requirement was vague, this new law, which serves as a deterrent, also suggests more specificity in terms of liability.