Determining Liability After a Car Wreck in Georgia: Divided Highways, Emergency Lanes, and Transit Buses – OCGA 40-6-50

Driving on Divided Highways- Georgia Traffic Laws

Ready to learn about another Georgia traffic statute? You’re in luck!

Over the last few months, we’ve been talking about the rules of the road and how they can be used to determine civil liability after a car accident. Traffic statutes can be used this way because of a concept called negligence per se. Basically, if someone breaks a rule intended to keep people safe, and someone gets hurt as a result, the simple act of breaking that rule is automatically considered negligent behavior. This makes determining liability much simpler than it is in cases where no laws have been broken, and the defendant’s behavior must be judged by the standard of what a “reasonable person” would do.

There are as many ways of committing negligence per se as there are safety rules to break, which is why we’ve been going over one particularly rich collection of safety rules: the rules of the road.

Last week, we discussed statute 40-6-49, which has to do with following the driver ahead of you too closely. This week, we’ll talk about statute 40-6-50, which covers the basic rules of divided highways and how to use their emergency lanes.

How to Drive on a Divided Highway

A divided highway consists of a set of lanes moving in one direction, a set of lanes moving in the other direction, and some kind of center divider, whether in the form of a wall, an island, a stretch of blank asphalt, or an unpaved stretch of dirt. To maximize safe speeds, entering and exiting a divided highway is limited to designated onramps and offramps.

Divided highways have their own rules, laid out in statute 40-6-50.

§ 40-6-50. Driving on divided highways; transit bus use of emergency lanes

(a) As used in this Code section, the term “gore” means the area of convergence between two lanes of traffic.
(b) Every vehicle driven on a divided highway shall be driven only upon the right-hand roadway unless directed or permitted to use another roadway by official traffic-control devices or police officers. No vehicle shall be driven over, across, or within any dividing space, barrier, gore, paved shoulder, or section separating the roadways of a divided highway; except that a vehicle may be driven through an opening in such physical barrier or dividing space or at an established crossover or intersection unless specifically prohibited by an official sign, signal, or control device. No person shall drive a vehicle onto or from any controlled-access roadway except at such entrances and exits as are established by public authority.

Just like on most U.S roadways, drivers on divided highways must keep to the right hand set of lanes, unless a traffic control device or authorized person says otherwise. Drivers must also stick to a single lane, except while making a controlled change from one marked lane to another. Under everyday circumstances, it’s illegal to drive outside the marked lanes. That means no driving on the shoulder or across the center divider.

If there’s an intentional gap in a divider, that’s a sign that it’s legal to drive across it, but it’s still important to obey all traffic control devices. Many gaps in highway center dividers have signs forbidding U-turns, for example.

How to Use an Emergency Lane

An emergency lane is a shoulder or other paved section of highway that is outside the marked lanes of traffic, but wide enough to accommodate an extra lane of traffic in case of emergency. Emergency lanes are not to be confused with FlexAuto lanes, which have a statute of their own.

(d) Nothing in this Code section shall prohibit the use of a FlexAuto lane in the manner permitted under Code Section 32-9-4.1.

As to how to use emergency lanes, the short answer is, unless you’re having an emergency, don’t.

Except as provided for in subsection (c) of this Code section, no vehicle shall be driven in an emergency lane except in the event of an actual emergency.

Statute 40-6-50 doesn’t offer a definition for an “actual emergency,” but common sense is key here. Being late for work isn’t an emergency. Getting in an accident is. Having a medical episode that renders you unable to drive safely would also qualify. Note that the emergency lane isn’t restricted to the victims of an emergency — emergency personnel and passing good Samaritans may also pull over into the emergency lane to offer assistance — but there must be an emergency, and it must be the reason for using the lane. If someone uses the emergency lane to get ahead in traffic and causes an accident, such as by hitting someone who’s pulled over into the emergency lane to deal with a real emergency, the person wrongly using the lane is liable under negligence per se.


The Transit Bus Exception

You may have noticed buses using emergency lanes for exactly the reason most vehicles aren’t allowed to: to escape from traffic congestion. To support public transportation and help reduce congestion overall, local authorities may legally grant permission for buses to do this, but there are some limitations.

(c) For purposes of this subsection, “transit bus” means a bus used for the transportation of passengers within a system which is operated by or under contract to the state, a public agency or authority, or a county or municipality of this state. If the commissioner of transportation permits the use of emergency lanes of a controlled-access roadway by transit buses in the metropolitan Atlanta nonattainment area, the commissioner shall designate on which controlled-access roadways the use of emergency lanes by transit buses may be allowed and upon such designation the commissioner shall only permit the use on that emergency lane of a transit bus with a seating capacity of 33 passengers or more. Transit buses authorized to use the emergency lanes under this subsection may be operated on the emergency lane only when main lane traffic speeds are less than 35 miles per hour. Drivers of transit buses being operated on the emergency lanes may not exceed the speed of the main lane traffic by more than 15 miles per hour and may never exceed 35 miles per hour. Drivers of transit buses being operated on the emergency lanes must yield to merging, entering, and exiting traffic and must yield to other vehicles on the emergency lanes. Transit buses operating on the emergency lanes must be registered with the Department of Transportation.

Only public buses are allowed to take advantage of this special permission — no privately operated tour buses or shuttles. The bus must also have at least 33 passenger seats in order to qualify, and may only use the emergency lane to maintain a speed of 35 miles per hour when traffic won’t allow this within regular lanes. For safety reasons, buses using the emergency lane are not allowed to go more than 15 miles per hour faster than the flow of traffic, even if that means going slower than 35 miles per hour.

Using the emergency lanes for non-emergency purposes can be dangerous, even at relatively low speeds, so bus drivers are required to watch for vehicles entering and exiting the highway, or people experiencing real emergencies, and yield accordingly.


What Damages Can You Recover If Someone Misuses an Emergency Lane?

People who use emergency lanes to cut ahead in traffic will often break multiple other laws in a short period of time and can cause collisions in a variety of ways. If someone illegally using an emergency lane strikes your vehicle while you’re entering or exiting a highway, handling an emergency, or simply driving in the rightmost lane, that driver is liable for the damages. The settlement you’re entitled to will be calculated based on two categories of damages: special and general.

“Special” Damages Are for Losses with a Price Tag

Even thinking about what an accident is going to cost you in the long run can be a daunting exercise, but it’s a necessary part of pursuing fair compensation. Your medical care, the damage to your vehicle and any valuable possessions you might have had inside it, and any lost income from missing work all count as special damages. To be compensated for these damages, you’ll need proof that the expenses occurred, such as receipts or a record of communication with your boss. You’ll also need to prove that the expenses were caused by the defendant’s actions, either directly or proximately. To learn more about the difference between direct and proximate cause and how we can help you prove them in court, click here.

“General” Damages Are for Priceless Losses

Say you were on your way to a special romantic getaway when the accident occurred, and because of your injuries, you had to cancel. Even if you get back any nonrefundable money you spent on that vacation, you’ll still be disappointed about not getting to go. Just breaking even doesn’t really compensate you for what you’re missing out on, and it’s that additional emotional loss that would qualify as “general damages.” The vacation is just an example; general damages can be much more devastating. Pain and disability are common grounds for claiming general damages. These are things that affect your quality of life and can’t be made right just by paying off your doctor’s bills and related expenses. Unfortunately, these kinds of losses don’t come with a receipt you can show in court, so the dollar amount of one general damages settlement can be vastly different from another, even when the situations are much alike. That’s why it’s so vital to have a good lawyer to help make sure you’re getting a fair deal.


What If the Driver Who Misused the Emergency Lanes Has Killed Someone?

Wrongful death lawsuits differ from personal injury lawsuits in several crucial ways. To learn more about the rules for wrongful death suits and how the Wetherington Law Firm can help you after the loss of a loved one, click here.


Why Do I Need a Lawyer?

No personal injury case is ever so simple that an insurance company can’t complicate it. Auto insurance companies make the profits they do by paying out as little in claims as possible, and they have an arsenal of underhanded but effective tricks to make that happen. The Wetherington Law Firm has experts who’ve worked on both sides of this dynamic, so we know exactly what to expect and how to counter it. The earlier you hire a qualified lawyer to act on your behalf, the less likely you are to fall for a trick question that can ruin your case irreparably. We’ll also walk you through every step of the process and make this stressful period in your life as painless as possible.


How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta

We believe firmly that no one should be left without quality representation, and no case should ever be determined by who has the deepest pockets. That’s why we only work on a contingency basis. The only payment we accept comes out of the settlements we secure for our clients. No hourly fees, nothing up front, nothing unless we win. Once we take you on as a client, we’ll fight for you for as long as it takes, so you don’t have to worry about being forced to back down when your resources run dry.

To learn more and discuss your case with a seasoned professional, email or call us at 404-888-4444 today!


If You Think Your Case Can Change the World, We Want to Hear from You!

At the Wetherington Law Firm, many of our cases aren’t about getting the biggest, quickest settlement possible and moving on. We love working with clients who want to help others and use their cases to effect positive change. For example, if you were struck by a private tour bus, or a public bus using the emergency lane to exceed 35 miles per hour, we’ll go digging into the policies of the company, or the bus driver training procedures of the city itself, to fix the problem and prevent future accidents like yours. To learn more about how we’ve helped people make a positive difference in the world through litigation, reach out by phone or email. We’re always happy to talk about our passion.








Have you been injured by someone illegally using an emergency lane?

At the Wetherington Law Firm we believe firmly that no one should be left without quality representation, and no case should ever be determined by who has the deepest pockets. That’s why we only work on a contingency basis. Call us for a free consultation today!