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Chapter 2: Traffic Laws & Safe Driving

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Traffic laws alone cannot regulate every type of driving situation that may occur. There are some general rules which drivers should understand and follow. Read this chapter with care. These safety tips might help you avoid a crash, serious injury, or even death. These are only general statements and cannot dictate your actions in all situations. It is up to you to evaluate the situation and make a determination as to the best course of action.

  • Occupant Safety (O.C.G.A. §40-8-76): Georgia Law requires that each occupant in a front seat be restrained by a seat belt.
  • The Hands-Free Georgia Act (O.C.G.A. §40-6-241) prohibits the use of hand held devices while driving a motor vehicle.

Traffic Laws

Safety Belts

O.C.G.A. §40-8-76.1 requires that each occupant of the front seat of a passenger vehicle, while such passenger vehicle is being operated on a public road, street, or highway of this state, be restrained by a seat safety belt approved under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208. In Georgia, the term “passenger vehicle” means every motor vehicle, including, but not limited to, pickup trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles designed to carry 15 passengers or fewer and used for the transportation of persons.

Safety belts have proven to be the most effective occupant protection in all types of vehicle crashes. Using safety belts correctly is a health care habit that, in the event of a crash:

  • helps you keep control of the vehicle.
  • helps keep your head from striking the dash or windshield.
  • helps keep people in the vehicle from hitting each other.
  • helps spread the crash force across the stronger parts of the body.
  • helps keep you from being ejected from the vehicle.

Moreover, when used correctly, safety belts are effective at helping reduce the risk of death or serious injury.

Safety Restraints for Children

Every driver transporting a child under 8 years of age, with the exception of a taxicab or public transit vehicle, must properly restrain the child in a child passenger restraining system appropriate for the child’s height and weight. The restraint system must comply with the United States Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.

NOTE: Senate Bill 88 (2011) amended O.C.G.A. §40-8-76 with regards to the age requirements for use of child restraint systems. Since July 1, 2011, children under 8 years of age must be properly secured in an approved car seat or booster seat while riding in passenger automobiles, vans, and pickup trucks. The car seat or booster seat must be in the rear seat, be appropriate for the child’s weight and height, meet all U.S. Federal standards, and be installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Taxicabs and public transit vehicles are exempt from this law.

Safe Driving

Steering

Good posture while driving is important because it allows a better view of hazards and more control of the vehicle. As a general rule, when gripping the steering wheel, place your left hand at the 9 o’clock position and your right hand at the 3 o’clock position on the wheel. Some manufacturers recommend placing your hands at 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions when the vehicle is equipped with air bags. Check your owner’s manual or contact your vehicle manufacturer to determine which position is best for your vehicle. Always keep both hands on the wheel unless you are safely performing another driving-related task, such as activating your turn signal.

Driving after sunset

Driving after sunset presents a unique set of challenges, the most obvious being glare and reduced visibility. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the fatal crash rate of teenage drivers 16-19 years of age is about four times as high at night.1 Vision can be severely limited at night. The vehicle’s narrow headlight beams limit the driver’s view. Young drivers in particular may find it difficult to determine the size, speed, color, and distance of objects. Be sure to look at the outer fringes of head-light beams to get the best picture of possible dangers ahead and to the sides of the vehicle. Avoid using a light inside the car, as this, too, will greatly reduce your night vision. And, always remember that you can reduce the potential of crashes by slowing down and increasing following distance.

Speed

Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. It reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels while a driver reacts to a dangerous situation. Higher crash speeds also reduce the ability of the vehicle restraint system and roadway hardware such as guardrails, barriers, and impact attenuators to protect vehicle occupants.

In 2015, approximately 27% of all fatal crashes were speed-related, resulting in 9,557 fatalities. The economic cost to society of speed-related crashes is estimated by NHTSA to be $52 billion per year.2

Always know your speed and the speed limit. Be mindful that hazards such as bad weather or dangerous road conditions may require a reduction in speed.

Space Management

Rear-end collisions are often caused by following another vehicle too closely. When following another vehicle, there must be enough distance for you to safely stop if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slows down or stops. One way to determine if there is enough distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you is to measure the amount of time between when the vehicle in front of you passes a reference point and when your vehicle passes the same reference point. Watch the car ahead of you. When it passes a reference point, such as a telephone pole or street sign, count “one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three.” If you pass the same spot before you are through counting, you are following too closely. Maintaining at least a 3-second space margin between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you not only provides you with visibility, time and space to help avoid a rear-end crash, but also allows you time to steer or brake out of danger at moderate speeds. In addition, remember that while driving at night, during inclement weather, or when hazardous road conditions are present, the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you should be even greater. When stopping behind another vehicle, stop in a position that allows you to see the back tires of the car in front you.

Tire Pressure

Prior to entering vehicle check tire pressure using recommended psi located in the door jam of the vehicle. Use a tire pressure gauge to check your psi. If your psi is above the number listed on your door jam, let air out until it matches. If below, add air (or have a retailer help you) until it reaches the proper number.

You may also measure tread depth using the penny test. Once every month, or before you embark upon a long road trip, check your tires for wear and damage problems. One easy way to check for wear is by using the penny test.

  1. Take a penny and hold Abraham Lincoln’s body between your thumb and forefinger.
  2. Select a point on your tire where the tread appears the lowest and place Lincoln’s head into one of the grooves.
  3. If any part of Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, you’re driving with the legal and safe amount of tread. If your tread gets below that (approximately 2/32 of an inch), your car’s ability to grip the road in adverse conditions is greatly reduced.

Texting and Cell Phone Use While Driving

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is one of the fastest growing safety issues. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,477 people were killed and an estimated 391,000 people were injured on U.S. roadways in 2015 because of distracted drivers. Distracted driving is doing another activity while driving. This takes the driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving and increases the risk of crashing. Common distractions include but are not limited to talking on a cell phone, texting, reading, eating, grooming, using a navigation device, and adjusting the stereo system. The presence of a passengers and pets can also increase crash risk. Georgia law requires drivers to exercise due care in operating a motor vehicle and prohibits any action that distracts the driver from the safe operation of such vehicle.

Texting and Driving

Georgia has a new Hands Free Law (HB 673) that mandates that drivers (any age, any license type) are not allowed to hold or support a phone for any reason. A phone can only be used with headphones, a wireless device, phone holder or mounted device. Penalties are fines and points added to your driving record that increase for each conviction.

Penalties include:

  • 1st conviction — 1 point and fine not more than $50.00
  • 2nd conviction — 2 points and fine not more than $100.00
  • 3rd or more convictions — 3 points and fine not more than $150.00

Take the Pledge

Teens can commit to distraction-free driving by taking the pledge to:

  • Protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving.
  • Be a good passenger and speak out if the driver is distracted.
  • Encourage friends and family to drive distraction-free.

The Parent/Teen Driving Agreement available in this manual can be used to take a pledge against distracted driving.

1. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Beginning Teenage Drivers. 2017.

2. Quick Facts 2015: Speeding, (December 2016). DOT HS 812 348. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

3. Facts and Statistics. (May 2017). Distraction.gov. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Did You Know?

FACT:

Georgia has a “primary” safety belt law, meaning that law enforcement officers may stop and cite violators without observing another violation.

FACT:

The fatal crash rate of teenage drivers 16-19 years of age is about four times as high at night.

FACT:

Two or more peer passengers more than triples the risk of a fatal crash with a teen at the wheel.

FACT:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2016, 58% of all passenger fatalities of 15-18-year-old passenger vehicle drivers were not wearing seat belts.

FACT:

In 2015, there were 268 speed related traffic fatalities in Georgia.