Do you have to wear a bike helmet in Georgia?
Our Atlanta bicycle accident lawyers answer this common question once and for all.
When riding a bicycle, a helmet is one of the easiest forms of insurance you can buy — cheap protection against a traumatic injury. Though a bike helmet doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get injured while cycling, especially if you get hit hard by a car or truck, it does provide vital protection to your head and brain in the event of a fall or collision.
While no state has a universal bicycle helmet law, a handful of states (including Georgia) have enacted laws that govern in which circumstances helmets and other safety equipment must be worn, and what the penalties are for failing to follow the law.
Essentially, Georgia’s bicycle helmet law requires every biker under the age of 16 to wear an ANSI compliant helmet. If you are over 16, then you aren’t required by law to wear a helmet in Georgia. Moreover, there are no criminal penalties for failing to wear a helmet.
However, as a personal injury law firm that has represented hundreds of accident victims across the state of Georgia, we can’t stress enough the importance of wearing a helmet at all times while riding your bicycle — even if state law doesn’t require it. If you’re hit by a car while biking without a helmet, your risk of suffering a catastrophic injury such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) is significantly higher.
Overview of Georgia’s bicycle laws
Most of Georgia’s bicycle laws can be found in Title 40, Chapter 6 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (commonly abbreviated as “O.C.G.A.”). Keep in mind that local cities, towns and counties might have additional laws and ordinances regarding bicycle safety and helmet use, so be sure to check your local laws before hopping on your bike.
Lights and other equipment on bicycles (Section 40-6-296)
Georgia’s precise requirements regarding bicycle helmet use are set forth in subsections 1-6 of Section 40-6-296. Subsections (a)(b) and (c) layout Georgia’s law with respect to the necessity of required bike lights for nighttime bicycle operation, a proper brake and the prohibition of “Ape” or “Ape Hanger” high bicycle handlebars.
Here’s the full text of the law:
(a) Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a light on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of 300 feet to the front and with a light on the back which shall emit a red light visible from a distance of 300 feet to the rear. Any bicycle equipped with a red reflector on the rear that is approved by the Department of Public Safety shall not be required to have a light on the rear of the bicycle.
(b) Every bicycle sold or operated shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level pavement.
(c) No bicycle shall be equipped or operated while equipped with a set of handlebars so raised that the operator must elevate his or her hands above the operator’s shoulders in order to grasp the normal steering grip area.
(1) No person under the age of 16 years shall operate or be a passenger on a bicycle on a highway, bicycle path, bicycle lane, or sidewalk under the jurisdiction or control of this state or any local political subdivision thereof without wearing a bicycle helmet.
(2) For the purposes of this subsection, the term “bicycle helmet” means a piece of protective headgear which meets or exceeds the impact standards for bicycle helmets set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation.
(3) For the purposes of this subsection, a person shall be deemed to wear a bicycle helmet only if a bicycle helmet of good fit is fastened securely upon such person’s head with the straps of such bicycle helmet.
(4) No bicycle without an accompanying protective bicycle helmet shall be rented or leased to or for the use of any person under the age of 16 years unless that person is in possession of a bicycle helmet at the time of the rental or lease.
(5) Violation of any provision of this subsection shall not constitute negligence per se nor contributory negligence per se or be considered evidence of negligence or liability.
(6) No person under the age of 16 failing to comply with any provision of this subsection shall be fined or imprisoned.
Other Georgia laws regarding bicycle safety and use (as set forth in O.C.G.A. 40-6-291 to 40-6-297) are listed below.
Traffic laws applicable to bicycles; signaling of right hand turns (Section 40-6-291)
(a) The provisions of this chapter that apply to vehicles, but not exclusively to motor vehicles, shall apply to bicycles, except as provided in this Code section and except that the penalties prescribed in subsection (b) of Code Section 40-6-390, subsection (c) of Code Section 40-6-391, and subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-393 shall not apply to persons riding bicycles.
(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of Code Section 40-6-50, any person operating a bicycle may ride upon a paved shoulder; provided, however, that such person shall not be required to ride upon a paved shoulder.
(c) Any person operating a bicycle may signal a right turn with his or her right arm and hand extended horizontally or with his or her left hand and arm extended upward.
Manner of riding bicycle; carrying more than one person (Section 40-6-292)
(a) A person propelling a bicycle shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto and shall allow no person to ride upon the handlebars.
(b) No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped.
(c) No person shall transport a child under the age of one year as a passenger on a bicycle on a highway, roadway, bicycle path, or sidewalk; provided, however, that a child under the age of one year may be transported on a bicycle trailer or in an infant sling so long as such child is seated in the bicycle trailer or carried in an infant sling according to the bicycle trailer’s or infant sling’s manufacturer’s instructions, and the bicycle trailer is properly affixed to the bicycle according to the bicycle trailer’s manufacturer’s instructions or the infant sling is properly worn by the rider of the bicycle according to the infant sling’s manufacturer’s instructions and such child transported in a bicycle trailer or infant sling is wearing a bicycle helmet as required under paragraph (1) of subsection (e) of Code Section 40-6-296.
(d) No child between the ages of one year and four years shall ride as a passenger on a bicycle or bicycle trailer or be transported in an infant sling unless the child is securely seated in a child passenger bicycle seat, bicycle trailer, or infant sling according to the child passenger bicycle seat’s, bicycle trailer’s, or infant sling’s manufacturer’s instructions and the child passenger seat or bicycle trailer is properly affixed to the bicycle according to the child passenger bicycle seat’s or bicycle trailer’s manufacturer’s instructions or the infant sling is worn according to the infant sling’s manufacturer’s instructions.
(e) Violation of subsections (c) and (d) of this Code section shall not constitute negligence per se nor contributory negligence per se or be considered evidence of negligence or liability.
(f) No person under the age of 16 years failing to comply with subsections (c) and (d) of this Code section may be fined or imprisoned.
Clinging to vehicles (Section 40-6-293)
No person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, sled, or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself to any vehicle upon a roadway.
Riding on roadways and bicycle paths (Section 40-6-294)
(a) As used in this Code section, the term “hazards to safe cycling” includes, but shall not be limited to, surface debris, rough pavement, drain grates which are parallel to the side of the roadway, parked or stopped vehicles, potentially opening car doors, or any other objects which threaten the safety of a person operating a bicycle.
(b) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when:
(1) Turning left;
(2) Avoiding hazards to safe cycling;
(3) The lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle;
(4) Traveling at the same speed as traffic;
(5) Exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; or
(6) There is a right turn only lane and the person operating the bicycle is not turning right; provided, however, that every person operating a bicycle away from the right side of the roadway shall exercise reasonable care and shall give due consideration to the other applicable rules of the road.
(c) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on bicycle paths, bicycle lanes, parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles, or when a special event permit issued by a local governing authority permits riding more than two abreast.
(d) Whenever a usable bicycle path has been provided adjacent to a roadway and designated for the exclusive use of bicycle riders, then the appropriate governing authority may require that bicycle riders use such bicycle path and not use those sections of the roadway so specified by such local governing authority. The governing authority may be petitioned to remove restrictions upon demonstration that the bicycle path has become inadequate due to capacity, maintenance, or other causes.
(e) Bicycle paths subject to the provisions of subsection (d) of this Code section shall at a minimum be required to meet accepted guidelines, recommendations, and criteria with respect to planning, design, operation, and maintenance as set forth by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and such bicycle paths shall provide accessibility to destinations equivalent to the use of the roadway.
(f) Any person operating a bicycle in a bicycle lane shall ride in the same direction as traffic on the roadway.
(g) Electric assisted bicycles may be operated on bicycle paths.
Carrying articles (Section 40-6-295)
No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or other article which prevents him from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars.
Violation of part a misdemeanor; duty of parents and guardians (Section 40-6-297)
(a) It is a misdemeanor for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required in this part.
(b) The parent of any child and the guardian of any ward shall not authorize or knowingly permit such child or ward to violate any of the provisions of this part.
Bicycle helmet safety tips
Want to make sure that your bike is ready for the road? The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in Georgia has put together this handy checklist:
Bicycle Safety Checklist
Tips and tools for cyclists in Georgia
|Wheels||Do the wheels spin properly?||❏||❏|
|Are the wheels centered and secure in the frame?||❏||❏|
|Is the wheel rim round when spun?||❏||❏|
|Do the wheels run properly, without wobbling?||❏||❏|
|Tires||Are there any bulges, cuts, worn or bald spots?||❏||❏|
|Are the tires firm?||❏||❏|
|Is the tread good?||❏||❏|
|Brakes||Are the brakes working and secure?||❏||❏|
|Are cables and casings in good shape?||❏||❏|
|Do the brakes stop the bike quickly and smoothly?||❏||❏|
|Spokes||Are the spokes right and in place?||❏||❏|
|Are the spokes unbroken? (If the spokes are tight, they will make a high pitched noise when plucked.)||❏||❏|
|Chain||Is the chain in good condition?||❏||❏|
|Has the chain been lubricated?||❏||❏|
|Is the chain clean?||❏||❏|
|Does the chain fit snugly and have the proper tension? (It should fit snugly, with no more than 2 inches of slack. If links are rusted or frozen, the chain should be replaced.)||❏||❏|
|Pedals||Are the pedals secure?||❏||❏|
|Do pedals turn easily without moving from side to side?||❏||❏|
|Are the reflectors in place?||❏||❏|
|Seat||Is the seat properly adjusted?||❏||❏|
|Is the seat secure?||❏||❏|
|Is the seat parallel to the ground?||❏||❏|
|Handlebars||Are the handlebars straight and secure?||❏||❏|
|Frame||Is the frame clean?||❏||❏|
|Is the frame strong enough for the rider?||❏||❏|
|Are nuts, bolts and fasteners tight?||❏||❏|
|Is the paint smooth and free of wrinkles? (Wrinkled paint may indicate frame weakness or damage.)||❏||❏|
|Lights||Does your bike have a white light in front, which is visible from 300 feet?||❏||❏|
|Is there a red light or red reflector in the rear, which is visible from 300 feet? Proper angle?||❏||❏|
|Are the lights and reflectors clean and firmly attached?||❏||❏|
Frequently asked questions about Georgia bicycle laws
Q: Can you get fined for not wearing a helmet in Georgia?
It depends. Subsection (d)(6) makes it clear that no person under 16 years of age can be fined or imprisoned for failing to wear a bicycle helmet. However, when read in conjunction with O.C.G.A. § 40-6-297, it is possible that a parent could be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to equip their child with a bicycle helmet.
“As an Atlanta, Georgia bicycle and cycling injury lawyer, I would worry more about how a negligent motorist might blame the cyclist, even a child, for not wearing a helmet,” says Scholle Law founder Charles Scholle. “Subsection (d)(5), however, provides that the failure to wear a helmet shall not be considered negligent on the part of the cyclist. Therefore, a child injured in a serious Atlanta bicycle accident should not be judged negligent himself or herself for the failure to wear proper headgear. This is similar to the law concerning seatbelts.”
Q: Do you need a bike helmet in Georgia?
Are you at least 16 years old? If so, then no — you aren’t required by law to wear a helmet while cycling (but it’s smart to wear one anyway!).
If you are under the age of 16, then yes — you ARE required to wear a helmet. You might not get into trouble personally for not wearing a helmet since Georgia doesn’t penalize children and teens for riding without one; however, your parents could be charged with a misdemeanor for not enforcing the bike helmet law.
Q: What else do I need to know about Georgia’s bicycle laws?
Most cyclists obey traffic laws while riding, but some of the biggest offenses include riding against traffic on a roadway, failing to yield at a stop sign, and biking at night without bike lights. Another interesting legal tidbit in Georgia is that it is illegal to carry passengers on a bike – only 1 person is allowed on a bike at a time.
It’s important that drivers remember not to leave the scene of a bike accident as doing so can lead to misdemeanor hit-and-run charges. Some cyclists carry their ID and emergency contacts under their helmet, or under their seat in a special kit or case often located on the bike frame itself. In case of a crash, some cyclists also carry a mobile phone with emergency contacts listed out, or under ICE (In Case of Emergency) in the phone address book.
Bicycle accident and helmet safety statistics
Do bike helmets really work? Are they effective and do they actually save lives? Absolutely, but don’t just take our word for it. These statistics about the use (or lack of use) of bike helmets really tell the story:
- A majority of children (88 percent) and adults (78 percent) who suffered a head or neck injury while biking were not wearing a helmet at the time of their accident.
- About 42 percent of kids and 30 percent of adults always wear a helmet, but adult men were much less likely to be using a helmet compared to women.
- Adults were more likely than children to die in a bike-car accident, with adults accounting for at least 88 percent of bike fatalities.
- There are more than 80,000 biking-related head injuries each year involving treatment at emergency rooms for brain injuries.
- The average age of a cyclist killed was 47 in 2017.
- In 2017, more than a quarter (27 percent) of cyclists killed had been drinking, and 37 percent of all bicycle-vehicle crashes involved either a drunk cyclist or driver.
- Cycling fatalities happened most often between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., regardless of the season.
- A majority of fatalities are on roads, not intersections. About 27 percent were at intersections and 10 percent were in other locations. Just under 82 percent of cyclists were hit by the front of the vehicle.
- In the U.S., 857 cyclists died in 2018 — a 9 percent increase from the year before. This was the highest number of fatalities since 1990.
Common bicycle accident injuries
Bicycle-related injuries are responsible for more than 1.2 million doctor visits per year in the U.S., costing Americans and insurance companies more than $8 billion each year. Common injuries cyclists suffer — often when they’re not wearing a helmet — include:
- Traumatic brain injuries and concussions
- Eye or ocular damage due to objects like dust, insects or debris
- Dental injuries such as the loss of a tooth or several teeth
- Trauma to the upper or lower extremities (arms, legs)
- Superficial trauma to the face, abdomen or neck
- Internal organ damage if the cyclist is thrown over the handlebars, or lands on handlebars
- Contusions and lacerations of varying lengths and depths
- Road rash and scrapes due to falls in which debris must be removed from wounds
- Fractures, dislocations and strains which are identifiable by swelling, pain, deformity or bruising
Following an accident, cyclists who feel pain but see no bruising or other symptoms are urged to see a doctor immediately to be checked for any trauma that could lead to a hematoma (internal bleeding).
Looking for an experienced bicycle accident lawyer in Atlanta, GA?
For over 20 years, Atlanta personal injury attorney Charles Scholle and his staff at Scholle Law have worked closely with clients to assist them in all aspects of their recovery. Whether you have sustained a catastrophic injury while riding a bike or something less severe, you receive the same personal attention that all our clients receive. We keep our clients informed of all major developments in their case and don’t operate a high-volume practice, which means you won’t be just another case number.
Here at Scholle Law, your well-being and recovery matter to us and it shows. Check out what our clients have to say about our representation in our Client Testimonials page.
If you or a loved one was involved in a serious accident while you riding a bicycle, talk with a knowledgeable attorney today about your situation. Your first consultation at Scholle Law is free. Our team of attorneys and staff can help you learn more about any potential case and legal road path moving forward.