Georgia offers a variety of picturesque sites, such as Savannah and Fort McAllister State Park, to motorcycle riders. Motorcyclists observe the same traffic laws as automobile and truck drivers, but they face more danger on the road than people in cars or trucks. Consequently, the state legislature has laws to protect motorcycle riders, passengers, and pedestrians.
The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) publishes the Georgia Motorcycle Traffic Safety Fact Sheet. In its 2019 data presentation, motorcycles accounted for 11% of traffic fatalities and 21% of driver fatalities. Atlanta had a higher rate of motorcycle accidents than rural counties, accounting for 42% of all motorcycle accidents. Fulton, DeKalb, and Gwinnett counties had the most significant fatalities and serious injuries.
Several things cause motorcycle accidents in Georgia: head-on collisions, defective motorcycle equipment, and lane splitting or sharing. The state has introduced and implemented the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program to increase motorist awareness and rider licensing programs. For its part, the GOHS has developed its yearly Georgia Highway Safety Plan, which creates, executes, and evaluates traffic safety initiatives.
The projects mentioned earlier support the succeeding legislative information presented in this article, which is intended to benefit motorcycle accident victims who may receive damages through personal injury claims and lawsuits.
Georgia’s Motorcycle Helmet Law
According to the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, motorcycle accidents often result in severe injuries or death. Statistics show that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of death by 37% and head injury by 69% in the event of an accident.
Georgia made helmets mandatory in 1969. Section 40-6-315 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) requires operators and passengers to wear helmets. The law excludes agricultural equipment operators or vehicles with enclosed protective barriers. The state defines "motorcycle" as any two- or three-wheeled vehicle with a seat or saddle. Motorcycles do not include ATVs, tractors, or mopeds.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety is responsible for approving helmets. It uses the United States Department of Transportation's (DOT) safety requirements for helmet certification. As a result, all motorcycle helmets must follow Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 218. This defines impact attenuation, penetration resistance, and system effectiveness parameters. There are other guidelines for the language and placement of DOT compliance labels.
Georgia’s helmet law also includes eye protection requirements. Operators and passengers of motorcycles without windshields must wear approved eyewear or a helmet with a visor. According to the state’s Department of Driver Services, a protective gear violation is punishable by three points on a rider’s license. Failing to wear a helmet in Georgia is a misdemeanor resulting in a fine of $1,000, obligatory community service, or a year in prison.
Georgia’s Law on Motorcycle Lane Splitting
Motorcycle lane splitting is illegal in Georgia under OCGA Section 40-6-312. The law prohibits motorcyclists from sharing lanes with other vehicles. It also stipulates that a motorcycle operator must not overtake and pass in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken. Only police officers on official duty can perform lane splitting.
The concepts of lane splitting and lane filtering are the same. The distinction lies in the context and speed at which the practice occurs. Lane splitting is more common at faster speeds, especially during rush hour traffic. Lane filtering happens at intersections and at slower speeds. Meanwhile, motorcyclists can share the same lane. Lane sharing becomes lane splitting when a motorcyclist shares a lane with another vehicle, such as a truck or car.
According to OCGA Section 51-12-33, Georgia operates under contributory negligence laws. This means injured motorcycle riders can pursue damages, depending on their percentage of fault.
Georgia’s Motorcycle Passenger Law
Having a passenger on the back of a motorcycle is dangerous. To reduce such risks, Georgia enacted legislation governing how an operator may ride with a passenger. OCGA Section 40-6-311(a) requires passengers to only ride on the motorcycle's permanent and regular seat. The statute allows sidecars or other seats attached to the bike's side or rear. It also prohibits the operator from carrying another person unless the motorcycle is designed to transport more than one person.
Motorcycle passengers must face forward and place one leg on each side of the bike. Both operators and passengers must wear appropriate footwear. The law does not consider socks to be footwear. There are also two requirements for passengers. Section 40-6-314(a) of the OCGA requires passengers to have footrests, while Section 40-6-314(b) does not require backrests. However, the law prohibits a type of backrest called the sissy bar because it forms a sharp point at the top.
Georgia’s Police Chase Law
High-speed police chases in Georgia have injured or killed many innocent bystanders. Under OCGA Section 40-6-6, law enforcement and authorized emergency vehicles may drive past a red light or stop sign. It also allows operators of such vehicles to exceed the maximum speed limits as long as they do not endanger life or property.
The legislature enacted OCGA Section 40-6-6(d)(2) to protect the rights of innocent motorists during a high-speed police pursuit. The statute holds law enforcement agencies accountable for violations of proper police procedures. The law particularly applies to cases involving police pursuing nonviolent offenders at high speeds.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields announced a new zero-chase policy in January 2020. She justified the move by claiming that the risk to public safety was not worth the reward or capture if the courts released the suspect who fled. Each Georgia police department is free to develop its own police chase policy. The Atlanta Police Department’s policy does not apply throughout Fulton County or the state of Georgia.
The police department reinstated the policy in 2021 because of increased violent crimes in Atlanta. The new protocols allow officers to pursue suspects who present an imminent threat of death or severe injury. The policy also covers people who have committed felonies, such as murder and involuntary manslaughter. A supervisor must approve a chase in which three police cruisers may participate.
Georgia’s Motorcycle Insurance Requirements
In Georgia, motorcycle operators must carry a specified amount of liability insurance in the event of an accident. Motorcycle insurance helps pay for legal defense, property damage, and bike repair or replacement. This requirement applies whether a motorist rides a motorcycle or drives a car.
OCGA Section 40-6-11 governs insurance requirements for the operation of motorcycles. Operators must carry at least $25,000 in coverage for property damage in a single accident. They must also purchase $50,000 of minimum coverage for the injury or death of a person.
Unfortunately, the minimum liability insurance requirements do not adequately protect motorcycle riders and passengers. Even in a minor accident, an injured victim's medical expenses could exceed $25,000. A rider may also be held liable for a victim’s lost wages and pain and suffering. Motorcycle prices can range between $5,000 and $10,000; some high-end motorcycles cost more than $20,000.
Motorcycle riders in Georgia can choose from a variety of supplemental insurance coverages. Collision coverage reimburses operators for repairing their bikes after they pay their deductibles. Comprehensive insurance, which covers damage caused by fire, theft, or vandalism, is another option. Meanwhile, uninsured or underinsured policies protect riders involved in hit-and-run incidents. These policies cover accidents caused by uninsured parties.
There are penalties for not having motorcycle insurance in the state of Georgia. They differ depending on whether it is the first, second, or third time a rider has gone without insurance coverage. The penalties include up to a six-month suspension of motorcycle registration. Operators without insurance may also face a $25 lapse fee and as much as a $160 registration reinstatement fee. If they ride unregistered motorcycles, they may face misdemeanor charges.
Is Georgia an At-fault State for Insurance Claims?
Georgia is an at-fault state for motorcycle insurance claims. The at-fault doctrine requires the responding officer to assign fault to one or both parties involved by issuing a citation. This also means injured motorcyclists can seek compensation from the responsible party’s insurer. The liable party's type and amount of coverage determine the settlement amount.
Riders who only purchase enough coverage to meet the minimum limits under Georgia laws could incur excess damages. They can file a civil lawsuit against the liable party to recover full compensation. A physical and financial loss lawsuit may include loss of eyesight, internal organ damage, and vehicle or property damage.
At-fault motorcyclists are responsible for paying for damages. Those with minimum liability insurance coverage can pay the remaining balances from their bank accounts and assets. This is because Georgia motorcycle accident cases are subject to contributory negligence laws. According to OCGA Section 51-12-33, riders’ fault percentage impacts the amount of money they can get.
Operators need to prove financial responsibility for their motorcycles. They can do this by purchasing motorcycle liability insurance. Motorcyclists can also use a self-insured scheme and purchase traditional liability coverage from their insurance providers.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Motorcycle Accident in Georgia?
There is no cap on economic damages for a motorcycle accident in Georgia. The same is true for other personal injury claims. In wrongful death claims, close family members of parties who have died in negligence-related incidents may seek compensation for the total value of the decedent’s life. This may include medical expenses, funeral costs, and pain and suffering. Some juries have awarded up to $30 million in settlements for wrongful death claims.
Georgia has a cap of $250,000 on punitive damages for motorcycle accidents. 75% of this award goes into the state treasury system. But under OCGA Section 51-12-5.1, there is no cap in cases where the at-fault driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This statute also covers drivers who display an intention to injure another person.
There are still some limits on what personal injury plaintiffs can recover. A motorcycle rider’s degree of fault may lower their compensation. The modified comparative negligence theory can still affect any award an injured plaintiff may receive.
Is Georgia a Modified Comparative Fault State for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits?
Georgia uses a modified comparative fault system to ensure fairness in negligence cases. Under this rule, an injured motorcyclist can recover compensatory damages if he is less than 50% at fault. Under OCGA Sections 51-11-7 and 51-12-33, a judge or jury can reduce damages in proportion to a plaintiff’s share of the fault for his injuries. For example, if the court determines that the plaintiff is 35% to blame for his injuries, the court can only pay 65% of his damages. The plaintiff loses his right to recover compensatory damages if he is found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident.
This example highlights the importance of building a strong case against the opposing party. The legal team must prove that the other party is more than half responsible for the accident. The other party may argue that the injured victim contributed to the accident by failing to use a turn signal or maintain his motorcycle. The insurer may also look for small details to increase the victim’s percentage of fault.
The law governing comparative negligence in Georgia is complex. Insurers and judges consider many factors when determining which party is negligent, examining the percentage of fault the parties bear for the accident. The personal injury attorney's main task is establishing the other party’s fault by making strong arguments about negligence and causation.
Personal injury attorneys gather evidence to establish the other party’s fault in motorcycle accidents. These include the police report, security camera recordings, and witness testimony. Other vital pieces of evidence are medical records, skid marks, and debris on the roadway. The fault could rest with a negligent road user, like a motorist or pedestrian; liability could fall on the at-fault party’s insurer.
Georgia’s Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents
According to OCGA Section 9-3-33, motorcycle accident victims in Georgia have two years from the accident date to file claims or lawsuits. Families of victims who died in a motorcycle accident have the same time limit to file wrongful death claims against at-fault parties.
Georgia imposes a statute of limitations on personal injury cases for several reasons. First, it compels plaintiffs to move fast and preserve vital evidence following an accident. Second, the statute of limitations limits the number of civil court cases. Long waits make it impossible for plaintiffs and defendants to resolve matters on time. Third, the deadline protects defendants from plaintiffs who file frivolous lawsuits. Weak cases include allegations related to events in the distant past.
The state of Georgia recognizes that some motorcycle accidents include certain circumstances that make filing within the two-year deadline problematic. As a result, the state's statute of limitations has exceptions. If the injured person was a minor during the accident, the deadline applies to him starting on his 18th birthday. The statute of limitations is also extended if the victim has a mental illness or cognitive disability.
Generally speaking, failure to file a claim or lawsuit within the required period may result in losing the right to seek financial recovery.
Legal Resources for Georgia Motorcycle Accident Victims
The department was created in 1937. It oversees the operations of the Georgia State Patrol, Capitol Police, and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division. The department also oversees the for-hire intrastate transportation of passengers and household goods, as well as the nonconsensual towing program. It is headquartered at 959 United Avenue, S.E. Atlanta, GA 30316. It can be contacted at (404) 624-7700.
The office’s mission is to educate the public on safe driving behaviors. It also implements highway safety campaigns and programs that reduce crashes and lower the number of fatalities on Georgia roadways. It is located at 7 M.L.K. Jr. Dr., SE, 643, Atlanta, GA 30334. It can be contacted at (404) 656-6996.
FARS is a nationwide census that provides the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Congress, and the public with yearly data on fatal injuries in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Georgia uses raw data sets to identify geographic regions where fatal crashes occur. FARS also shows specific population groups that are disproportionately affected and risk factors associated with particular crashes. These risk factors include speeding, distracted driving, and drunk driving.
Georgia Electronic Accident Reporting System (GEARS) and Crash Data Dashboard
LexisNexis® Risk Solutions is the developer and maintenance provider of GEARS on behalf of the DOT. GEARS acts as a portal into the state’s repository for traffic crash reports completed by Georgia law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, the Crash Data Dashboard via Numetric provides crash and vehicle data from crashes on the state’s public roads over the last five years. It can be accessed at http://www.dot.ga.gov/DS/Crash.
The Atlanta Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service
The service was designed to help clients find an attorney qualified to meet their legal needs. Its referral experts match clients with the appropriate attorney in a time-efficient and friendly manner. People needing legal representation can submit an online request at https://atlantabar.org/?pg=clientreferrals or call (404) 521-0777.
Step into the world of Expertise.com, your go-to hub for credible insights. We don't take accuracy lightly around here. Our squad of expert reviewers, each a maestro in their field, has given the green light to every single article you'll find. From rigorous fact-checking to meticulous evaluations of service providers, we've got it all covered. So feel free to dive in and explore. The information you'll uncover has been stamped with the seal of approval by our top-notch experts.