Sitting as a Municipal Court Judge, one of my primary duties is to hear traffic court cases. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what happens at intersections in terms of who has the right of way when, and when you can and cannot cross and intersection. I’m going to try my best to clear this up. In doing this, I recognize that the law does not reflect the way that most people drive. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t the law, and when you are in court, “but everyone else was doing it” and “that’s the way I always do it” is not a defense to the law.
Let’s look at some basic statutes in Georgia.
O.C.G.A. 40-6-71 says, “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.” Likewise, O.C.G.A. 40-6-73 says, “The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed This means that if you are turning left, whether you are in an intersection or turning into a driveway or anywhere else, it is only your turn if no one else is coming. You never get the priority. Even if the other guy is speeding. Even if you didn’t see him behind the tree. This is why I will always avoid left turns if I can, and why UPS drivers plan their routes to avoid left turns.
Running a red light can also be confusing. Luckily, we have a very detailed rule book to turn to. We all know what a green light means. Green means go, all is well. Red means stop. It’s the transition that gets us confused. O.C.G.A. 40-6-21 says that a yellow traffic light means that “the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection”. This isn’t especially helpful. It means that the light is going to turn red soon. You can enter the intersection when the light is yellow, but it is a gamble.
O.C.G.A. 40-6-205 says “No driver shall enter an intersection unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection to accommodate the vehicle he is operating without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians, notwithstanding any traffic-control signal indication to proceed.” This says to me that if there is a lot of traffic, or if you don’t have time to get all the way through the intersection before the light turns red for you and green for the cross traffic, you have a problem. If you are still in the intersection when the other cars can go, then you are “obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians.” Not to mention rude and obnoxious. It is the reason in bigger cities you will see a big X painted in the intersections and signs that say “Don’t Block the Box.”
That’s enough for now. Do you have questions about any other technical traffic laws? Let me know, and I will address them in future columns.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.