… or do they?
I often have discussions with people regarding road use, and who has the right of way. Not always in the context of bikes though, as I and many OGRE’s are also runners, walkers, and generally like to get out of the car from time to time. One of the common themes in these conversations is the concept that a pedestrian ALWAYS has the right of way.
What if I told you that in Georgia, this is not only not true, but arguably, based upon the law as written, the pedestrian on Georgia roads almost never has the right of way?
I must be crazy right? Well, let us take a look at Georgia’s Pedestrian Law, 40-6-96.
2020 Georgia Code Title 40 – Motor Vehicles and Traffic Chapter 6 – Uniform Rules of the Road Article 5 – Rights and Duties of Pedestrians
§ 40-6-96. Pedestrians on or Along Roadway
The original version of this law dates back to 1953, and while it has been altered in small ways over the years, it really has not materially changed in that time.
So, with that in mind, let us dive right into the content.
a. As used in this Code section, the term "pedestrian" means any person afoot and shall include, without limitation, persons standing, walking, jogging, running, or otherwise on foot.
So, a pedestrian is someone on foot, and does not include bikes, electric scooters or other ‘personal mobility devices’. Those items find themselves in other categories, and are not covered by this law.
b. Where a sidewalk is provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to stand or stride along and upon an adjacent roadway unless there is no motor vehicle traveling within 1,000 feet of such pedestrian on such roadway or the available sidewalk presents an imminent threat of bodily injury to such pedestrian.
Well, this seems pretty clear and straightforward. If there is a sidewalk, a pedestrian must use it, unless it is in such poor condition that using can be established to have an immediate risk of injury, with the exception that there is no motor vehicle within 1000 feet, you can move off the sidewalk, but must return if a motor vehicle enters that space.
In short, if there is a car nearby and a sidewalk, you have to be on the sidewalk.
c. Where a sidewalk is not provided but a shoulder is available, any pedestrian standing or striding along and upon a highway shall stand or stride only on the shoulder, as far as practicable from the edge of the roadway.
And, if there isn’t a sidewalk, but there is a shoulder, you can use that, but not the roadway, and you have to stay as far from the road as you reasonably can.
Or, in more direct wording: There is no sidewalk, but still stay out of the way of a motor vehicle.
d. Where neither a sidewalk nor a shoulder is available, any pedestrian standing or striding along and upon a highway shall stand or stride as near as practicable to an outside edge of the roadway, and, if on a two-lane roadway, shall stand or stride only on the left side of the roadway.
Also, absent a shoulder, you need to travel facing traffic ( on the left ), as far to the edge as reasonable.
Or, yeah, you have no facilities, but still, stay out of the way.
e. Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, any pedestrian upon a roadway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.
But, no, seriously, you do not have the right of way, and since this passage use the generic vehicles instead of the specific motor vehicles, that means even a bicycle has the right of way over a pedestrian on the roadway.
f. No pedestrian shall enter or remain upon any bridge or approach thereto beyond the bridge signal, gate, or barrier after a bridge operation signal indication has been given.
Well, this seems reasonable right? Wouldn’t want to be walking on a bridge that is closed for a reason..
g. No pedestrian shall pass through, around, over, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad grade crossing or bridge while such gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed
Again, seems reasonable, pedestrians and trains rarely mix well.
So, when DOES a pedestrian have the right of way in Georgia?
Well, 40-6-91 tells us that when in a crosswalk they have the right of way, unless of course they enter the crosswalk at a point when it is “is impractical for the driver to yield.” Which is pretty subjective, and witnessing driver behavior on the roads, the wording impractical is applied in a rather generous manner.
Then of course, there is 40-6-92, which tells us that if a pedestrian is crossing the road without a crosswalk do not have the right of way, and if they are crossing a road where there are crosswalks provided outside the crosswalk, they do not have the right to cross the road at all outside of those crosswalks.
It seems that, NO, Pedestrians do not have the right of way in Georgia
No, they certainly do not, nor are there any real protections for them on Georgia’s roads. However, a couple of cities have taken the first steps in addressing that. Dunwoody being there first to enact a Vulnerable Road User Ordinance. Brookhaven being the second. Hopefully more cities will get these passed soon, and apply pressure upon the state to address its broken pedestrian laws as well as adopt a strong Vulnerable Road User Law itself.
This is not enough though
While these laws being addressed are a great step, they do not address the core problem. They create punishments for those that fail to be safe around other road users, but, the core issue remains the complacency of drivers and the assumption that they have the right to travel at high speeds without due regard for other road users, not just the vulnerable ones.
This is a cultural problem that has to be addressed as well, and no amount of VRU law is going to fix that. That has to be fixed by people like us, every time we see people driving irresponsibly, we have to call it out, point it out and help get it corrected. Only then will our roads begin to be safe for all users.