In Georgia, Tampering With a Traffic Control Device Can Result in Civil Liability if it Causes a Car Wreck

Unlawful Tampering With a Traffic Control Device in Georgia


When one person’s actions cause harm to another person, proving that those actions qualify as negligent is an essential step in securing a settlement to cover the damages. In this blog series on civil liability in traffic accidents, we’ve been discussing how individual traffic laws can help with establishing negligence in court. Generally, proving negligence means proving that someone has acted in a way a reasonable person wouldn’t, due to the obvious likelihood of that action causing harm.

If the actions in question violate a law intended to protect the public, however, those actions are automatically considered negligent, eliminating the need to argue over reasonableness. This principle is called negligence per se.

Last week, we went over the Spencer Pass Law, which deals with motorists’ obligations to yield to certain service vehicles. This week, we’ll discuss statutes OCGA 40-6-17, OCGA 40-6-25, OCGA 40-6-26, and OCGA 40-6-396, which forbid tampering with traffic control devices.


What Qualifies as a Traffic Control Device?

Traffic control devices include traffic lights, railroad warning lights, traffic signs, and any other fixtures on public roads that are used by local authorities to manage a safe, orderly flow of traffic. Interfering with these devices is specifically forbidden by OCGA 40-6-26.


OCGA § 40-6-26. Interference with official traffic-control devices or railroad signs or signals

(a) No person shall, without lawful authority, attempt to or in fact alter, deface, injure, knock down, or remove any official traffic-control device or any railroad sign or signal or any inscription, shield, or insignia thereon or any other part thereof.


This fairly general rule is further expanded upon in other statutes, which we’ll get to in a moment.


What Qualifies as Tampering?

Tampering comes in many forms, both crude and sophisticated. One of the more high-tech methods involves the use of what’s known as a “traffic-control device preemption emitter.” These devices transmit signals that disrupt the usual timing sequences of traffic lights, usually to give the user exclusively green lights. Use or ownership of preemption emitters by anyone other than law enforcement and emergency services is illegal under OCGA 40-6-17.


OCGA § 40-6-17. Traffic-control device preemption emitter

(a) As used in this Code section, the term “traffic-control device preemption emitter” means a mobile infrared transmitter or any other similar device which transmits an infrared beam, radio wave, or other signal used for the purpose of changing, altering, disabling, or disrupting the normal signal sequence of a traffic-control device.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person other than law enforcement, fire department, or emergency personnel to use, possess with the ability to use, sell, or purchase a traffic-control device preemption emitter.

(c) Any person who violates subsection (b) of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.


Lower tech traffic control devices, like signposts, tend to be vulnerable to lower tech forms of tampering, such as theft or defacement. In addition to the general law against tampering with traffic control devices, it’s also specifically illegal under OCGA 40-6-25 to install fake, unauthorized lights or signs, or to add any form of advertising to existing traffic control devices.


OCGA § 40-6-25. Display of unauthorized signs, signals or markings

(a) No person shall place, maintain, or display upon or in view of any highway any sign, signal, marking, or device which purports to be or is an imitation of or resembles an official traffic-control device or railroad sign or signal or which attempts to direct the movement of traffic or which hides from view or interferes with the effectiveness of an official traffic-control device or any railroad sign or signal.

(b) No person shall maintain or place nor shall any public authority permit upon any highway any traffic sign or signal bearing thereon any commercial advertising.


In other words, interfering with people’s ability to read and obey official signs is a serious offense, as well as a serious safety hazard. The same goes for adding stop signs, speed bumps, or crosswalks of your own, to suit your own convenience.


Are Privately Made or Purchased Signs Ever Okay?

In short, yes, but only on privately owned property, and only if they can’t easily be mistaken for official road signs, as specified in OCGA 40-6-25.


(c) This Code section shall not be deemed to prohibit the erection upon private property adjacent to highways of signs giving useful directional information and of a type that cannot be mistaken for official signs.


Want to hang a “Beware of Dog” or “Children Present” sign on your gate? That’s fine. Want to hang a speed limit sign for tenants in the parking area of your building? That’s okay, but make sure cars passing on the street won’t see it and become confused. Trying to gain extra attention for your yard sale with an eight-sided red sign out on the curb that reads “STOP (for yard sale)”? Better rethink your strategy.


What Happens If Someone Gets Hurt?

Ideally, these kinds of disruptions to lawful traffic patterns should be taken care of before they can cause damage. Local authorities are explicitly granted the power to do this under OCGA 40-6-25.


(d) Every such prohibited sign, signal, or marking is declared to be a public nuisance, and the authority having jurisdiction over the highway is empowered to remove it or cause it to be removed without notice.


Sometimes, however, false or sabotaged traffic control devices can slip by unnoticed until someone gets seriously injured. Under OCGA 40-6-396, a person who accidentally causes a serious injury by interfering with a traffic control device can expect to spend up to five years in prison. If there’s a death, that number goes up to 15.


OCGA § 40-6-396. Homicide or serious injury by interference with traffic-control device or railroad sign or signal

(a) Any person who, without malice aforethought, causes the death of another person through the violation of subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-26 commits the offense of homicide by interference with an official traffic-control device or railroad sign or signal and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than two nor more than 15 years.

(b) Any person who, without malice aforethought, causes bodily harm to another by depriving such other person of a member of his or her body, by rendering a member of his or her body useless, by seriously disfiguring his or her body or a member thereof, or by causing organic brain damage which renders the body or any member thereof useless through the violation of subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-26 commits the offense of serious injury by interference with an official traffic-control device or railroad sign or signal and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.


Tampering with traffic isn’t just a criminal offense, however. If one person causes harm to another by tampering with traffic control devices, that person is also civilly liable for the damages under the concept of negligence per se.


What Damages Can You Recover If Someone Tampers with Traffic Control Devices?

Fake or sabotaged traffic control devices can easily lead to accidents and injuries. One missing stop sign can cause repeated T-bone collisions. Traffic lights changing out of sequence can force unexpected breaking, leading to fender-benders and whiplash. Even without a collision, misleading road signs can cause motorists to become lost or plan incorrectly, which can be deadly on long, unpopulated stretches of road. If you’ve been harmed by this kind of negligent interference, you have the right to compensation, which will take the form of “special” damages, “general” damages, or both.


 “Special” Damages Cover Financial Costs

Getting back on your feet after an accident costs money, in the form of doctor’s bills, vehicle repairs, lost productivity at work, and miscellaneous other expenses. That’s what special damages are for, to cover the quantifiable expenses you’ve incurred as a result of someone else’s negligence. To recover in this way, you’ll need to provide evidence of your financial losses, and prove that those losses were directly or proximately caused by the traffic tampering in question. To learn more about proving direct or proximate cause, click here.


 “General” Damages Cover the Losses that Can’t Be Measured

If you were to recover every penny you’ll ever have to spend because of your accident, and no more, it probably wouldn’t be enough to make you feel like you’d truly broken even. That’s what general damages are for, to help compensate for the pain and stress of the experience you’ve been through. It’s also meant to pay for the things that can’t be replaced, like any sentimental possessions destroyed in the crash, or that great day you had planned before the accident happened. These kinds of losses are obviously subjective, so it’s especially important to have a skilled lawyer to argue the dollar values for you.


What If Someone Died in the Accident?

While there’s no true way of compensating for the loss of a human life, the law does recognize how exceptionally serious fatal accidents are, and different rules apply to these cases. You can sue for damage to your own body and well-being under personal injury law, but if you’ve lost a loved one, that loss will fall under the category of wrongful death. You can learn more about wrongful death cases here.


Why Do I Need a Lawyer?

Even when the law is on your side, navigating the litigation process is stressful and complicated. To get the best possible settlement, you’ll need an expert on your side who can guide you through each step, explain the law and how it applies to your case, help you avoid traps set by insurance companies and defense attorneys, and argue passionately on your behalf.


How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta

You may think you can’t afford a lawyer, or that you can save money by going solo, but with the Wetherington Law Firm, you don’t have to worry about how to cover your legal expenses. We work solely on a contingency basis, which means we don’t accept payment until and unless we win. You only pay a portion of the compensation we secure for you, and given the difference between typical settlements for plaintiffs with and without skilled counsel, we think you’ll agree it’s well worth it.


To get started, just reach out by filling out the form on the right or by phone at 404-888-4444 for a free consultation.



You Can Make a Difference for Others by Working with the Wetherington Law Firm

Many of our clients want more than a cash settlement. They want to see solutions to the underlying problems that led to their injuries. The use of preemption emitters to tamper with traffic lights, for example, isn’t just the isolated act of an individual. It requires the production and illegal sale of the emitter, meaning that any related accidents aren’t just the result of the user’s impatience, but also the seller’s greed. If you believe there’s more to your case than one negligent act and one accident, we’re happy to help you pursue real change. To learn more about how your case can make a difference in the lives of others, reach out and talk to Wetherington Law Firm attorney today!











Have you been injured in an accident caused by a fake or damaged traffic sign?

If you’ve been harmed by this kind of negligent interference, you have the right to compensation. You may think you can’t afford a lawyer, or that you can save money by going solo, but with the Wetherington Law Firm, you don’t have to worry about how to cover your legal expenses.