According to Georgia Department of Transportation statistics, 17,976 pedestrians were injured by cars and trucks in our state from 1996 through 2003. 1,300 of those incidents involved a pedestrian fatality. The figures for more recent years are likely to be higher due to ever-increasing traffic congestion, especially in the greater Atlanta area. The more we are forced to suffer through seemingly endless traffic jams, even when driving very short distances, the more tempting it becomes to simply walk. While this is a great solution for combating traffic, saving time, helping the environment, and staying physically fit, walking does come with a cost. We are far more vulnerable to serious injury when crossing roadways on foot rather than when strapped inside of our heavy vehicles. Because of this increased hazard, motor vehicle drivers need to be keenly aware of the laws designed to protect Georgia pedestrians from death or serious injury.
Georgia’s laws concerning the rights and responsibilities of drivers and pedestrians are essentially divided into two scenarios; pedestrians crossing roadways in crosswalks and pedestrians crossing roadways anywhere except in a crosswalk. The rules governing drivers’ responsibilities to pedestrians crossing a roadway in a crosswalk are set forth in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-91. That law requires drivers to completely stop their cars when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk on the same half of the street as the approaching driver or is within one lane of the side of the street of the approaching driver. Once a vehicle has stopped for a person crossing in a crosswalk, no other cars are allowed to pass the stopped vehicle. These very strict rules provide the maximum protection for people crossing streets in Georgia. A person who is struck by a car or truck while walking in a crosswalk should be able to recover money damages for her injuries from the offending driver as long as the pedestrian did not “dart out” from the side of the road directly into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
The rules for pedestrians crossing Georgia roads in areas other than crosswalks are a bit more confusing. These rules are found in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-92. That law describes several different scenarios in which people cross roadways, and specifies which ones are allowed and which ones are not. The first rule applies in all non-crosswalk situations: a pedestrian not crossing in an intersection must yield the right of way to all vehicles unless she has already safely entered the roadway. This implies a greater responsibility for pedestrians than merely not “darting out.” However, once a pedestrian has safely entered the roadway and is in the process of crossing, approaching vehicles must use caution to avoid a collision.
The second rule in this law provides that, if there is a pedestrian tunnel or pedestrian bridge at the point where a person is crossing a street, the pedestrian must yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway. This makes perfect sense. The law encourages walkers to use tunnels and bridges designed to protect them and offers the least amount of legal protection when people fail to take advantage of the safest route across the roadway.
The third rule in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-92 establishes when it is permissible to cross a roadway between adjacent intersections. When the intersections on both sides of the crossing area have operating traffic control signals (traffic lights), pedestrians are not allowed to cross the roadway between the two intersections. However, if only one of the adjacent intersections has an operating traffic control device and the other does not, pedestrians are permitted to cross the street at a point between the two intersections. The application of this rule is simple. If a person is crossing a street between two adjacent intersections, she cannot do so if there are working traffic lights at both intersections. Instead, she must walk down the street to one of the intersections and cross with the traffic light. However, if one of the adjacent intersections has a traffic light and the other merely has a stop sign (or nothing at all), crossing between the intersections is allowed.
The final rule set forth in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-92 is so obvious that it should be called the “Don’t Drunkenly Stagger Slantways Across a Roadway Rule.” This law merely states that pedestrians cannot cross an intersection diagonally unless a traffic control device allows a diagonal crossing. In other words, just walk directly from one side of the street to the other. Do not pick a creative path that slants sideways down the road. This is not safe and (as we now know) is also not legal.
Pedestrians injured while crossing roadways in Georgia (or their loved ones) often believe that they cannot recover money damages from the driver that hit them if the collision did not occur in a crosswalk. As we now know, this is far from the truth. Drivers have a duty to watch for and to avoid pedestrians in many situations, not just at crosswalks. A careful analysis of the roadway and adjacent intersections, including measurements of site distance, speed, weather conditions, and lighting are essential in determining whether the offending driver can be made to pay for his actions. However, the analysis always begins with the simple rules set forth in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-91 and O.C.G.A. § 40-6-92.