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With Fulton and DeKalb County schools beginning classes August 7, 2023, all major Atlanta Metro school districts are back in session for the 2023-24 school year. While we are glad that our students are back in the classroom learning, none of us are looking forward to the added congestion on the roads and the inevitable increase of automobile accidents that result from more cars on the road.
Unfortunately, there is substantial evidence that the beginning of the school year results in an increase in motor vehicle accidents. Some of the explanation for this increase is the simple fact that more teenagers are driving to school than ever before, and according to the CDC, young people 15-24 are the most accident-prone demographic. The CDC has noted that “young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population. However, they account for 30% ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28% ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females. [T]he risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group.” (https://www.colorado.edu/cedar/sites/default/files/attached-files/Teen_Drivers_Fact_Sheet.pdf)
With this in mind, we all can play a part in making this school year safer for all motorists by remembering some important rules of the road.
Remember Georgia’s Hands-Free Law (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241), which provides that drivers cannot have a phone in their hand or touching any part of their body while while driving. Even with hands-free technology, drivers cannot write, read or send text messages, e-mails, social media content and other internet data while on the road. However, voice-to-text is allowed. In addition, drivers cannot watch videos when they are on the road, but navigational/GPS videos are allowed. Finally, Georgia drivers cannot use their phones or electronic devices to record video.
Remember, with school starting up, there are more pedestrians in crosswalks and sidewalks. Sadly, NHTSA estimates more than 7,300 pedestrians were killed in 2021. (https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813458). Georgia drivers must stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk. (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-91). All other vehicles are required to stop behind a stopped vehicle and “shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.” (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-91). All drivers in Georgia must yield the right of way to any blind pedestrian who is using a white walking stick or who is accompanied by a guide dog. (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-94).
With the beginning of the school year, it is important to remember the rules of the road regarding passing school buses. As the below diagram shows, if a bus is stopped with lights flashing and the stop signs activated, it is against the law for any vehicle, proceeding in either direction, to pass the bus. The sole exception is with a divided highway, where the drivers proceeding in the opposite direction are required to use caution. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163.
Please don’t forget students and others riding bikes along Georgia’s roadways. According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-56, the operator of a motor vehicle approaching a bicycle shall approach the bicycle with due caution and shall make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the bicycle if possible. If a lane change is impossible, the motorist is required to reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to 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.
As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently said, “everyone has a role to play” in making our streets safer. With this time of year bringing more chances for accidents, it is a good idea to brush up on Georgia’s rules of the road.