Failure to Stay in Your Lane May Result in Civil Liability – OCGA 40-6-40, 40-6-46, 40-6-48
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The Rules on Maintaining Your Lane in Georgia
Welcome back to our blog series on negligence per se, and how the rules of the road can help determine liability after a car accident.
Negligence per se is the idea that any action that breaks a rule intended to protect public safety is, by definition, negligent. Because the rules of the road are intended to protect public safety, this means there are as many ways to commit negligence per se on the road as there are statutes to break.
Last week, we talked about statute 40-6-22, which deals with pedestrians crossing the road. This week, we’ll discuss statutes 40-6-40, 40-6-45, and 40-6-48, which all have to do with keeping to your lane and driving on the correct side of the road.
When Is It Okay to Cross the Center Line?
Generally, in the U.S, drivers are expected to keep to the right-hand side of the road. Like many traffic regulations, however, this one is more complicated than it sounds and subject to some exceptions. Those exceptions are what statute 40-6-40 is all about.
40-6-40. Driving on right side of roadway–exceptions
(a) Upon all roadways of sufficient width, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows:
(1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement;
(2) When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway, provided that any person so doing shall yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the highway within such a distance as to constitute an immediate hazard;
(3) Upon a roadway divided into three marked lanes for traffic under the rules applicable thereon; or
(4) Upon a roadway restricted to one-way traffic.
Basically, on a two-way road with two or three lanes, it’s okay to drive briefly on the left or in the middle in order to pass another vehicle, as long as this doesn’t get in the way of oncoming traffic, and as long as there’s no solid yellow or double yellow line to indicate a no-passing zone. Drivers are only allowed to cross solid yellow or double yellow lines while turning left, or if doing so is the only way to get around an obstruction.
Of course, on one-way streets, these rules intended to prevent head-on collisions don’t apply, and drivers can use lanes all the way from right to left, unless a sign or signal says otherwise.
If a road has two or more lanes going in each direction, the rules are a little different. In this case, crossing the center for the sake of passing is not allowed, and drivers are expected to use the leftmost lane on the right half of the street for this purpose.
(c) Upon any roadway having four or more lanes for moving traffic and providing for two-way movement of traffic, no vehicle shall be driven to the left of the center of the roadway except when authorized by official traffic-control devices designating certain lanes to the left of the center of the roadway for use by traffic not otherwise permitted to use such lanes or except as permitted under paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of this Code section. However, this subsection shall not be construed as prohibiting the crossing of the center of the roadway in making a left turn into or from an alley, private road, or driveway.
As usual, traffic controls take precedence over general rules, as explained in statute 40-6-48:
(4) Official traffic-control devices may be erected directing specified traffic, including but not limited to buses or trucks, to use a designated lane or designating those lanes to be used by traffic moving in a particular direction regardless of the center of the roadway, and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of every such device; and
(5) Official traffic-control devices may be installed prohibiting the changing of lanes on sections of roadway, and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of every such device.
If signs or lights indicate that a lane is off limits, or assigned to a particular direction of traffic, drivers should ignore the usual “right half of the road” rule and follow the signals.
When Is It Not Okay to Cross the Center Line?
Whereas statute 40-6-40 explains the scenarios where it’s okay to access the left side of the road, statute 40-6-45 lays out the exceptions to these exceptions.
40-6-45. Further limitations on driving on left of center of roadway
(a) No vehicle shall be driven on the left side of a roadway designed and authorized for traffic traveling in opposite directions under the following conditions:
(1) When approaching or upon the crest of a grade or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction;
(2) When traversing any:
(A) Intersection which is clearly marked by a solid barrier line placed on the right-hand element of a combination stripe along the center or lane line or by a solid double yellow line; or
(B) Railroad grade crossing; or
(3) When the view is obstructed upon approaching within 100 feet of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel.
(b) The foregoing limitations shall not apply upon a one-way roadway nor under the conditions described in paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-40 nor to the driver of a vehicle turning left into or from an alley, private road, driveway, or roadway.
To make sure a passing maneuver can be completed safely, drivers are not allowed to use the left side of the road to pass each other if a hill, bridge, tunnel, or similar obstacle might block their view of oncoming traffic. Using the left side for passing is also forbidden on railroad crossings and in most intersections. That’s why dotted lines become solid when entering and leaving an intersection.
There’s also one exception to these exceptions to the exceptions: if an obstruction makes the left half of the road the only way to proceed, drivers may always do so, with extreme caution and while yielding to oncoming traffic.
What About Lane Changes?
Statute 40-6-48 goes into some more detail on driving within the lanes.
40-6-48. Driving on roadway laned for traffic
Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, the following rules, in addition to all others consistent with this Code section, shall apply:
(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety;
(2) Upon a roadway which is divided into three lanes, and provides for two-way movement of traffic, with two lanes in one direction, a vehicle being driven in a continuous or center lane shall have the right of way when overtaking and passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction;
(3) Upon a roadway which is divided into three lanes and provides for two-way movement of traffic, a vehicle shall not be driven in the center lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction when such center lane is clear of traffic within a safe distance, or in preparation for making a left turn, or where such center lane is at the time allocated exclusively to traffic moving in the same direction that the vehicle is proceeding and such allocation is designated by official traffic-control devices or road striping;
In other words, when a road is divided into lanes, drivers must keep their vehicles within one lane, without listing or swerving into the adjacent lanes. Exceptions are made for certain vehicles that are wider than a single lane, but even these are required to stick to one lane as much as possible.
Lane changes are allowed, but only after the driver has checked that the way is clear, and drivers may not spend an extended amount of time in any lane that is not designated specifically for the direction in which they’re moving.
What If a Slow Driver Is Blocking the Road?
Drivers and vehicles that move slowly are required to minimize their disruption of the flow of traffic by following certain rules of their own. Under 40-6-40, slow vehicles must keep to the far right of the road, except while passing even slower vehicles.
(b) Upon all roadways, any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
And multiple vehicles are not allowed to slow down traffic by driving slowly side-by-side.
(d) No two vehicles shall impede the normal flow of traffic by traveling side by side at the same time while in adjacent lanes, provided that this Code section shall not be construed to prevent vehicles traveling side by side in adjacent lanes because of congested traffic conditions.
Even so, slower vehicles often cause frustrating delays, which is why the question of what constitutes an “obstruction” has been the subject of so much debate. Legally, an obstruction does not have to be stationary, but it does have to be unexpected. For example, a garbage truck doing its weekly rounds would not count as an obstruction, but a driver stuttering along at five miles per hour due to engine trouble might be. When in doubt, it’s best to wait for a passing zone, or take an alternate route.
What Damages Can You Recover If Someone Makes an Illegal Lane Change?
A driver crossing the middle of the road at a risky time or switching lanes without looking can easily cause a serious accident. Because these maneuvers violate the rules of the road, the at-fault driver is automatically liable for the resulting damages, under the concept of negligence per se. When multiple drivers are at fault, percentages of liability can be determined in court. If you’ve been injured by someone making an unsafe lane change or driving on the wrong side of the road, the damages you’ll be able to recover will fall into the categories of “special” damages and “general” damages.
“Special” Damages Have a Quantifiable Price
Special damages are the simpler kind to prove. These are the financial losses you’ve suffered as a direct or proximate result of the at-fault driver’s actions. (Click here to learn more about direct and proximate cause.) These kinds of damages typically include medical bills, vehicle replacement, and lost wages. To collect special damages, you’ll need to have proof of each expense you want reimbursed, so it’s important to keep careful personal records following an accident.
“General” Damages Do Not
There are many non-financial ways a traffic accident can affect your quality of life. If you’re left with ongoing pain, disability, or psychological trauma, there’s no amount of money that can perfectly put your life back the way it was, but a settlement for general damages is the best compensation available in our imperfect world. Skilled legal counsel is especially important in cases that involve general damages, because the amounts assigned to these non-financial losses are highly subjective and can vary widely from case to case.
What If the At-Fault Driver’s Lane Change Cost Someone’s Life?
Legal proceedings for fatal accidents have their own rules. Click here if you’d like to learn more about them. If you’ve lost a loved one to an accident caused by a bad lane change, your case will fall under the category of wrongful death rather than personal injury. The Wetherington Law Firm can help with these kinds of cases too.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Nobody should have to face legal proceedings without qualified help. They certainly shouldn’t have to face legal proceedings that involve insurance companies and life-changing stakes. Auto insurance companies maximize their profits by paying out as little as possible, and in order to do that, they have an array of trick questions and other techniques designed to trap victims into hurting their own cases. At the Wetherington Law Firm, we have the experience you’ll need on your side to help you avoid the traps and get the settlement you deserve.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
The Wetherington Law Firm works solely on a contingency basis, which means our payment only comes out of the settlements we win for our clients. We don’t charge up front, we don’t get paid unless we get results, we’ll never leave you worse off than you started, and once we take your case, we’ll stand by you for as long as it takes. We believe cases should never be decided according to which side can afford to drag things out longer, and we’re proud to help people who wouldn’t be able to afford expert counsel out of pocket.
When You Work with the Wetherington Law Firm, You’re Helping Others Find Justice Too
At the Wetherington Law Firm, one of our favorite things about practicing law is getting to effect real change in the world. If you believe that what happened to you is a symptom of a larger problem, we’ll make the effort to get to the bottom of the real issue. Were you injured at a poorly designed intersection, or by an irresponsibly handled commercial vehicle? We’ll investigate everything from city infrastructure to company training policies to help you protect others from the same fate. To learn more about how your case can be an instrument of positive change, give us a call today!