Tag Archives: legal

Pedestrians Have The Right of Way

… 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.

House Bill 353 and Changes Effective July 1

While House Bill 353 may not seem like a big deal, it really is for both cyclists and drivers. Unfortunately, it does not include a large education budget, so getting the word out about these changes is going to fall heavily upon the cyclists in the state of Georgia. So, let us discuss what it means, how it affects drivers and cyclists, and how we can get the word out.

What is HB 353

In short, it is a bill that alters the wording of 40-6-56, the “Three Foot Law” as adopted in 2011 for clarity and detail. In order to understand the changes, we need to first look at the original wording.

40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist. as of 2011

(a) As used in this Code section, the term “safe distance” means not less than three feet.

(b) Notwithstanding any provision of this article to the contrary, when feasible, the operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between such vehicle and the bicycle and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.

What this means is really pretty simple. When passing a bike, on a roadway ( note roadway, not lane, so even in a bike lane, the safe passing space is 3 feet ). This seems clear cut and in need of no clarification, and yet, it does.


Because sadly, there remains confusion regarding the legality of crossing a double yellow lane marking in order to accommodate the required 3 feet of safe passing space.

That is where HB 353 matters.

40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist. as of July 1, 2021

(a) The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a bicycle shall approach the bicycle with due caution and shall proceed as follows:

(1) Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the bicycle if possible in the existing road and traffic conditions; or

(2) If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be at least ten miles per hour less than the posted speed limit or 25 miles per hour, whichever is more, and proceed around the bicycle with at least three feet between such vehicle and the bicycle at all times.

(b) Any violation of this Code section shall be a misdemeanor punished by a fine of not more than $250.00.

There are some big changes here, and they will need to be spelled out to drivers, and to a lesser degree, law enforcement. The expansion of (a) for clarity and detail is much needed, instead of just codifying 3 feet, it details exactly HOW to apply the concept of safe passing. Starting with a requirement for a lane change if possible, which includes crossing the double yellow line ( under the existing obstruction laws that already apply for mail carriers, garbage trucks and similar ). It then continues to clarify how to safely pass when a lane change is not possible. Adopting language aligned with the successfully implemented in the Spencer Pass Law ( 40-6-16 ) regarding the passing of emergency vehicles on the roadways from 2017, when changing lanes and giving the required 3 feet of space, it codifies a speed reduction, 25 mph or speed limit – 10 mph, whichever is greater.

Finally, it also codifies, at a state level the maximum penalty for violating the statute, making this a far easier statue to enforce.

Conclusion and What Comes Next

What this means for cyclists is that the burden is now on us to educate, and get the word out to drivers, to law enforcement, to family and friends. As things stand, the 3 foot law is poorly understood, and this new law is going into effect with relatively little awareness of the upcoming change. To actively educate and promote this new law should reside with all road cyclists.

For convenience, linked is a publicly available post regarding the details of the law for sharing to non-cycling communities, one we need to disseminate as widely as possible: