A BIKER'S GUIDE TO THE LAW IN GEORGIA
I initially created a volume of literature to assist biker’s about 10 years ago in the first edition of “Steve’s Saddlebag Manual.” It was a collection of short stories about motorcycling, legal guidance regarding rules of the road, recommended trips and practical biker advice. This side of the current book focuses on the legal issues that affect us all as bikers. It was written after a year of soliciting feedback from riding friends, biker blogs, motorcycle clubs and organizations, and most importantly, my biker clients at my Law Firm, Murrin, Wallace and Associates, L.L.C. otherwise known as “American Biker Lawyers.” I have dedicated my career to helping bikers who are injured in crashes on their bikes. It is an occurrence that far too often affects us in the motorcycling community. Protecting your legal rights begins with understanding your rights before a crash occurs. This understanding can greatly affect the outcome of your case should the unfortunate occur. This book will help you make the right decisions early on in any legal case you may have regarding your motorcycle. Although this book is not intended to replace the formal advice of an attorney, it should help you understand the legal process and help you in hiring an attorney to formally assist you in protecting your rights. I have represented thousands of motorcyclists over the course of the past two plus decades of my career. One thing has become abundantly clear: bikers have very specific legal needs. The mode of travel that we call motorcycling subjects us to much more damage in the case of a wreck and also renders us much more vulnerable on the open road. This is true not only from the car/truck driving public in general, but also from the scrutiny of the Government. By their nature, motorcycles are unprotected. It is for this reason that every person who rides a motorcycle should understand some of the basic laws in our state that govern their conduct specifically on a bike. In this book you will find a clear layout and analysis of the laws affecting us as motorcyclists, including insurance laws, moving violation laws, pistol carry laws, helmet laws, as well as advice on when you should hire a lawyer to assist you in a particular case.
Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home. –Irish
Copyright 2015 by Steve Murrin, Esq.; Murrin, Wallace and Associates, L.L.C.; and American Biker Lawyer, L.L.C. All rights reserved. This publication, its writings or photography, nor any part thereof may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author or his duly registered agents.
1. WHY DO I NEED INSURANCE and WHAT TYPE? (Comp / Collision / UM & UIM / Gap and Med Pay)
Simply stated, all motorcycles (excepting those with less than 50 cc of engine displacement) need insurance coverage in Georgia to comply with state law. As a modern society, we have decided to protect those injured on the roadways by virtue of other’s negligence with mandatory insurance for all. In a perfect world, this means that everyone has insurance and the commuter who is texting and runs up your back, will have insurance coverage to pay for your bike, medical bills and your pain and suffering. However, this is not always the case. Some knuckleheads try to cheat the system and simply don’t bother to buy coverage. Remember, insurance is a simple contract. You pay the insurance company money and they agree to protect you financially if you cause or are in a wreck. What people sometimes ignore is that your insurance company will only protect you UP TO THE AMOUNT OF INSURANCE THAT YOU PAY FOR!! At a bare minimum, we are required to carry liability coverage in an amount of at least $25,000.00. While this will get you on the road, it is not always a good idea to get basic coverage and a few extra insurance dollars can save your butt in the event of an accident. The types of coverage and their benefits are described below. I encourage you to contact me before you purchase insurance on your bike. My staff and I are always happy to answer questions about the right insurance coverage for you.
As a matter of fact, I use several separate companies when insuring my various bikes, as some companies are better at certain types of coverage than are others. The lesson here is to shop around. Not only for premiums, but for the types of coverage that fit your needs. Sport bikes, vintage bikes, project bikes, display bikes, cheap bikes, and customized bikes will all have very different insurance needs if you want to protect them. Insurance is only as good as the amount and type you purchase. Everyone who comes into my office who bought ‘minimum’ insurance just to get on the road eventually regrets it. You can always get the whitewall tires, or the fancy saddlebags later. Buy the best insurance you can afford with the highest coverage limits within a reasonable budget.
1.1 What is Comprehensive Insurance Coverage?
“Comprehensive” insurance coverage or “comp” is just that, comprehensive or “large in scope and covering or applying to much.” This is the type of coverage that is a ‘catch all’ and is the type of coverage you will likely need. Although often sold in tandem with collision insurance, this is NOT collision coverage. Comprehensive coverage provides reimbursement for all scenarios which can cause a need for repairs OTHER than a collision. For example: Floods, Storms, Hail damage, Theft, Fire, Vandalism, Damage caused by animals and the like. It will depend upon the specifics of your particular policy of insurance to determine exactly what your company will cover under the comprehensive portion of your policy. When the X keys your tank and fenders or that unexpected hail damage puts 7,000 dings in your paint, Comp is the type of coverage that takes care of it.
1.2 What about Collision Coverage?
Collision coverage is often sold together with comprehensive coverage and jointly they are referred to in the business as “full coverage.” However, it is possible to purchase these two types of insurance separately if you wish. State insurance responsibility laws do not apply to purchasing collision coverage or comprehensive insurance, but your lender will require this type of coverage if you take out a loan to purchase your bike. This is because banks need to make sure that their loan will be re-paid in the event of a loss, regardless of who is responsible for the loss. In most policies, the “actual cash value” or “ACV” is the limit that an insurance company will pay, for the total loss of your bike under your collision coverage. Be careful, however, because if you add a lot of aftermarket custom parts to your bike, you may not recoup that cost from your insurance company in the event your bike is totaled. To make up for that, most insurance carriers offer “accessories” coverage for an additional premium.
There is also a deductible that comes into play when you need to make a collision claim under your policy. The deductible is the portion of a claim that YOU are responsible for paying. Essentially, you can elect a higher deductible in exchange for a lower premium on your collision coverage, or pay a little higher premium in exchange for a lower deductible. I typically keep a $1,000.00 deductible on my modern bikes that are ridden regularly. That reduces my premium approximately 10 to 15 percent per year, and is still manageable in case of a collision claim. Some people drop collision altogether once their loan is paid off, or when the bike gets old and reduced in value. Whether you should keep collision coverage on your policy at this point depends on your personal comfort level and an informed decision of costs versus possible benefits. Once a bike is beat down to death and worth only a few grand, it may not be worth the annual cost of collision coverage. But you must assume the person who runs you off the road will either keep going, not have decent insurance, or blame you for the wreck, putting the onus on you and your collision coverage to get back on the road. Remember that if you are in a wreck and damage your bike, most insurance companies will declare your bike a total loss once the cost to repair the damage exceeds 70 or 75 percent of its fair market value. By way of example, if your $10,000.00 Road King has $6,500 in damage, the insurance company will write you a check for the repair of the bike. But if the damage is $8,000.00, they will most likely declare the bike a total loss, give you a check for $10,000.00 (minus your deductible in a collision claim) and take your bike to salvage. What people really don’t know is that the insurance company will take your bike and auction it off for salvage to recoup part of their expense in paying you off. To get that ‘total loss’ check, the insurance company will require that you sign the title over to them. State law requires that they forward the title to the Department of Tags and Titles to have the title issued as a ‘salvage’ so unscrupulous sellers don’t fix it up and resell it risking a non roadworthy bike going back on the road. You can re-title a salvaged bike, but generally it is not worth the effort. In case you have found Elvis’ Panhead or inherited your Dad’s airhead Beemer from the 40’s and it gets totaled, you can rebuild it back to proper specs and have the State inspect it for ‘cleaning’ up the title to a non salvaged one. This will mean the total loss check you receive will be reduced by the amount the insurance company would have gotten in reselling your bike for salvage value. On Harleys, Ducatis, and pricey bikes like that, the salvage value is generally high and your total loss check will be reduced greatly. Although, Harley is one of the few motorcycle companies that will sell you a new frame with the exact same VIN stamped in the appropriate places. To get this done, you have to cut the neck off the frame and send it to Harley to prove you are destroying the old bent frame before they will send you a brand new frame to replace your damaged one. Definitely a headache, but as a collector of old bikes I understand why someone may want to do this. I’ve done it myself, although not with Elvis’ bike!
1.3 What is GAP insurance and do I need it?
I am asked about GAP insurance all the time. People wonder if it is worth it. GAP is an acronym standing for Guaranteed Asset Protection. It is a kind of insurance that will pay the shortfall between what your bike is worth and what is owed to your lender if the bike is stolen or declared a total loss in a wreck. This insurance product is commonly offered by motorcycle dealerships during the purchase of a motorcycle. It may also be available through other insurance carriers or through the lender, not affiliated with the dealership. It is a common insurance product on cars and all too often ignored in the purchase of new bikes. It only comes into play if you are “upside-down” on your bike’s financing in relation to the bike’s market value. I have seen many clients who owe more on their bike than it is worth. This can be a big problem if their bike is damaged in an accident and the insurance company determines that it is a total loss. The insurance company does not care what the vehicle owner owes to the bank on the bike loan; they will only pay the bike’s current fair market value or actual cash value in a total loss claim. This is generally determined by a Kelly Blue book evaluation or an internet based search of similar bikes to arrive at “fair market value.” Accordingly, FMV is an ever changing number. The bank, on the other hand, doesn’t care what the bike is worth or its FMV; they only care about how much they are owed on the loan. In other words, there can be a gap in insurance coverage between what you owe and what your ride is worth. It is not uncommon for this gap between the fair market value and the loan payoff amount on a bike to be several thousand dollars. This situation occurs generally with a ‘no money down’ purchase or a trade in of low value. Sometimes, where the bike is newer and little was paid down, the depreciation right off the lot takes the value below what is owed to the bank in the first mile on the road. The bank expects to be paid regardless of why you no longer have the vehicle, and they will take action to get their money. How do you protect yourself against this dilemma? Either figure out a way to have immediate equity on the bike (buy used, put more money down) OR buy GAP Insurance. As you build equity in the bike by paying down the loan and you comfortably get the debt on the bike 25 or 30 percent below the fair market value, then you can take the GAP insurance off the policy to save a few bucks if it is built into your payment.
As with most insurance products, there are differences in price and value between GAP insurance policies, and a little proactive research can go a long way towards saving money and getting a valuable form of financial protection. Here are some tips for getting the best value if you want or need GAP insurance: 1. GAP policies have a total coverage limit, like most insurance policies. Make sure the policy you are buying has a high enough limit to cover your total amount financed. 2. Some GAP policies will also pay your applicable bike insurance deductible if you suffer a loss. With many people carrying $1000 deductibles these days, this can be a valuable benefit. In some cases, this benefit requires you to return to the same dealership from which you bought the bike for the replacement vehicle. 3. Any insurance is only as good as the company that issues it. Know who issues the policy you are considering. Are they a stable, established company? What is their A.M. Best rating? (This is the insurance industry rating system for a company’s financial condition) 4. The state of Georgia has set a statutory limit of $800 on how much a GAP insurance provider can charge for their product. The dealer cost of a typical GAP policy at an automobile dealership is $200-$250. Dealerships will usually price their policies at or close to the $800 figure, but they will negotiate the cost to you of a GAP policy, so a price around $400 is a better target to shoot for. If you are a particularly good negotiator, even lower prices may be possible! 5. Lenders unaffiliated with the motorcycle dealership may offer the GAP policy as a no cost benefit of financing with them. Many credit unions offer no cost GAP insurance, as do some bank and insurance company lenders. As you compare financing options for your vehicle purchase, compare not only interest rates, but also GAP insurance costs if you think you need the coverage. 6. Some insurance companies offer GAP insurance as an optional part of full coverage motorcycle insurance policies. In this case, the cost would be added to your insurance policy premium, not your car loan. The benefit here is that you are not paying a finance charge on the GAP policy. 7. Don’t wait until you are in the dealership’s finance office to start thinking about GAP insurance! At that point, your options are limited. Plan ahead, and do your shopping for a GAP policy before you are ready to buy the bike. Of course all this analysis is academic so long as you put down a sufficient down payment to ensure that you won’t be caught “upside down” if the worst happens.
1.4 MEDPAY, What is it and Should I and Can I get it on my bike?
Med Pay or Medical Payments insurance coverage is the type of coverage that pays your medical bills should you get in a wreck and need medical care. It is much like health insurance although it only covers medical bills related to injuries sustained in a wreck. Med Pay coverage is voluntary and must be added to your policy in exchange for a separate premium. Many people have ‘basic’ health insurance or no health insurance at all, and med-pay can cover your medical bills in case you get run over on your bike. Generally, insurance companies are reluctant to sell med pay to a biker on his motorcycle because their risk for paying out is greater than that of a car driver. Also, not all companies offer this type of coverage, so you have to shop around to get it. You can buy as little as $500.00 in med pay, or as much as $100,000.00. I always counsel clients to buy this coverage even before they buy ‘optional equipment’ coverage. You can replace the chrome foot pegs next year. But if you’re in a wreck, you need to get to that Orthopedist NOW! Med pay may be the best way to do so especially if you have minimal or no health insurance. I personally carry $10,000.00 in med pay on any bike I ride, as it will not only cover my major medical deductible, but will pay all the co-pays and deductibles of my health policy. For this, I pay less than a hundred bucks a year per bike, which is in my opinion, the best deal in the motorcycle insurance racket.
1.5 Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
I have represented countless bikers in motorcycle accidents and when I look at their policy, they have “rejected” uninsured motorist coverage. This is almost always a huge blow to my client’s case, as uninsured motorist coverage, also known as UM coverage, is the most important coverage you can have on your policy. I repeat, UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT COVERAGE YOU CAN HAVE ON YOUR POLICY. You should purchase the highest limit of coverage that you can afford. As most already know, uninsured motorist coverage provides benefits to you for property damage and bodily injury in the event you are in a wreck caused by a third party motorist that does not have any insurance, known as an “uninsured motorist.” Under Georgia law, uninsured motorist coverage also includes “underinsured motorist,” or “UIM” coverage. As the name implies, this applies when a third party causes property damage or bodily injury to you and does not have enough liability insurance to compensate you fully for your damages. Hence, that person is “underinsured.”
The reason why UM and UIM coverage is so important is because if you are involved in a serious wreck caused by someone without insurance or with too little insurance, in most cases the only place for you to turn to be compensated for your damages is your insurance company under your UM or UIM coverage. If you are injured in an accident caused by a driver for UPS, or FEDEX, or Coca Cola, then, in all likelihood, you will not need to make a claim against your own policy because those companies have lots of insurance and lots of assets. However, most companies like those mentioned above employ professional drivers, and accidents caused by them are rare. The overwhelming majority of accidents are caused by individuals in their car or truck. In all likelihood, such a person that causes an accident, assuming they have any insurance at all, will have either minimum liability insurance limits of $25,000.00, or some amount up to a maximum of $100,000.00 as required by most auto lenders. If you are in a wreck on your bike and, God forbid, sustain severe and permanent injuries, even $100,000.00 will probably not even cover your medical bills, much less lost income or pain and suffering. The only place for you to receive additional compensation for such a loss is from your own insurance company under UM or UIM coverage.
While carrying uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on your policy is not mandatory in Georgia, the legislature has deemed it to be important enough that you must affirmatively reject the coverage in writing when purchasing a policy. If you do not sign a written form rejecting UM coverage, the insurance company MUST provide you with the state minimum coverage limit, a per claim limit of $25,000.00. When purchasing a policy, it is important to understand that there are two different types of UM coverage that you can purchase, and choosing the wrong type can greatly affect the amount of insurance available to compensate you in the event of a claim. The two different types of coverage are known as “traditional” or “offset” coverage, and “added-on” or “excess” coverage, and only apply in a situation where the person responsible for causing an accident is underinsured, as opposed to completely uninsured. So it will apply if you have suffered property damage or bodily injury and the responsible person does not have enough liability insurance to fully compensate you. If you purchase the traditional type of coverage, your insurance company is entitled to receive an “offset” for the amount of the responsible person’s liability coverage, BEFORE it will pay any money under your policy for UIM benefits. For example, let’s assume that you are involved in an accident on your bike and the value of your case is $50,000.00, but the person that caused the wreck has only the minimum of $25,000.00 in liability insurance to compensate you. Let’s also assume that you purchased the minimum UIM coverage on your policy of $25,000.00. If you have traditional UIM coverage, your insurance company will receive an offset for the amount of the other driver’s coverage, or $25,000.00. Because your policy also carries only $25,000.00 of UIM coverage, the offset wipes out your coverage and your policy pays $0. The result is that you can only recover a total of $25,000.00 from the other driver’s insurance, even though the value of your case if $50,000.00. Under traditional UIM coverage, you must carry MORE coverage on your policy than the other driver carries in liability coverage on his policy before your insurance company pays anything. So in the same example, if you carry $50,000.00 of UIM coverage, your policy would still receive the offset of $25,000.00, and you would be able to recover the remaining $25,000.00 of UIM coverage, for a total recovery of $50,000.00. Conversely, under the same example, if you carry “added-on” or “excess” UIM coverage on your policy, the offset does not apply and you can recover $25,000.00 from the responsible person’s insurance company and the additional $25,000.00 of UIM coverage that you carry on your policy.
Lastly, when buying UM/UIM coverage, you need to be aware of a concept under Georgia law known as “stacking.” It refers to recovering UM/UIM benefits under multiple policies of insurance in the event of a loss, or “stacking” the policies to recover the full compensation due. All insurance companies will require that your bike be insured under a policy separate from any other vehicles that you may own. Depending on your insurance company, however, you can insure multiple automobiles on one policy. In most states, if you are involved in a severe collision and you need to make a UM or UIM claim, you can stack the coverage on each policy AND on each vehicle insured under the same policy. For example, if you are in a bad wreck on your bike and you carry $25,000 of UIM on your bike policy. You also have three vehicles insured under one policy that each carry $25,000 of UIM coverage. In most states, you will be able to “stack” the coverage on your motorcycle and on the four vehicles on your automobile policy, for a total of $100,000 of available insurance. Unfortunately, Georgia is NOT most states. Under Georgia law, you cannot stack the coverage of vehicles insured under the same policy. You can ONLY stack UIM coverage for vehicles on separate policies. In our example, you would only be able to access your UIM coverage on the motorcycle, and then stack the coverage on only one of the vehicles on the automobile policy. The result is you will only be able to access a total of $50,000 of UIM coverage. The way to prevent this from happening is to make sure that your vehicles are always insured under separate polices of insurance.
2. WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE IN A MOTORCYCLE WRECK
Of course, in case of a crash, you need to call 911 right away. Prepare to allow the professionals to do their job. Even if you don’t think you are hurt, providing the insurance company with a police report can expedite the claims process. You should have your wife, husband or parent’s phone number stored in your cell phone, and your cell phone placed on a convenient setting, in case you have lost consciousness, so the EMS personnel or the Police can notify your relatives that you have been in a crash. I often see people put these emergency contact numbers under a 911 identity in their list of contacts. Most times, EMS personnel know this and utilize it to contact next of kin. Some of my clients are conscious after a wreck and are able to communicate with the first responders. If this is the case with your wreck, then you should make a mental note of who witnessed the wreck, who was involved and who you spoke with. If you are able to do so, write down the witnesses’ contact information and if you cannot, ask someone else to do it for you. You would be surprised how helpful strangers will be to you if you are laying on the ground, hurt. In the meantime, it is important to let the professionals do their job. It may be your first wreck, but it is most likely the cop’s, paramedic’s or the fire person’s 1,000th wreck. Recording the dynamics of the wreck and establishing who was at fault early on is typically the responsibility of the responding police officers. Although you have to remember that they also have an interest in clearing up the roadway for safe passage of traffic and handling other traumatized people, witnesses and responsible parties. It can be confusing and oftentimes details get lost. Establishing who witnessed the wreck is very important for your lawyer in the days following the wreck. Also, if you are able, you must give your side of the story to the officer as soon as possible. I am seeing more and more accidents come into my office where a Go-Pro type camera actually recorded the wreck. I personally run a Go-Pro every time I take a long trip on an interstate. I set it on low resolution and typically get 4 to 5 hours of recording time. I swap cards and batteries and if no soccer mom runs me off the road, I simply record over the data on my way back. It is a useful defensive tool for a few hundred bucks. It is also important to report to the treating physician in the ER exactly what happened. Often good doctors will record in the medical records that you were ‘run off the road’ or ‘had the green light’ or ‘got rear ended’ and I have used such statements to a doctor in my case against the responsible party to help establish that the wreck was not my client’s fault. The most important thing to do after arriving at the hospital is to pay attention to the nurses and doctors. Take notes of all your doctors, the witnesses, and any detail you recall from the wreck as soon as you can. Notes taken early enough can be used at trial as substantive evidence. Hiring a lawyer immediately after the wreck is EXTREMELY important. A good lawyer will know to get his investigator to the scene for observation, and to take pictures of skid marks, debris fields and fluid trails, which can establish directional travel, impact speed, sight distance, and ultimately - fault. Unfortunately, skid and yaw marks caused by tires in a wreck erode very quickly. The opportunity to photo and measure them dissipates in just days after the wreck, especially if it is in a high traffic area or if rain washes key evidence away. I cannot emphasize enough that the insurance company is not your friend. Whether it was the person’s who hit you or your own, their interest (despite their hokey commercials) is to pay as little as possible. Remember, the insurance commissioner sets the premium rates. The money collected by insurance companies from policy holders is limited. Reducing the amount of the claims paid is the best way for an insurance company to increase their profit. These are “FOR PROFIT” corporations folks. The less they pay you, the more profits they make. Simple math. Be warned!
My Law Firm handles more motorcycle wrecks than any firm in the South. We get many calls every week from men and women who have gone down on their bikes. Sometimes there are other parties involved and sometimes there are not. In evaluating potential cases at my firm we have a saying that speaks to the 3 things necessary to go forward with a claim or lawsuit on behalf of an injured rider. We make what we call the “triple crown” analysis. If you are in a motorcycle wreck, in order to have a viable claim for damages in Georgia against another driver, your case needs to have three elements. 1. DAMAGE: You in fact need to have an actual injury. I “could have” gotten killed or I “almost got run off the road” does not cut it. You or your bike actually had to have sustained injury or damage. Almost invariably, if you are separated from machine through the negligence of another, damage WILL occur, to YOU and YOUR BIKE. 2. FAULT: It has to be at least mostly the other guy’s fault. In a perfect world, no one gets in wrecks, but if you do, it cannot be mostly your fault if you wish to make a claim for personal injuries. We do have a system in Georgia called “comparative negligence” that allows you to be less than 50 % at fault but not 50% or more at fault, or you will be precluded from collecting anything from the other driver by State law. 3. COVERAGE: There must be a way to collect from the responsible party. By “collect” I mean from either their liability insurance or from your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on your vehicle(s). DAMAGES/FAULT/COVERAGE, the triple crown of case evaluation. This analysis can sometimes be complex when multiple parties or vehicles are involved. Feel free to call me to ask if you are in a wreck, as we never charge to evaluate a case. Sometimes clients thought they had no chance of recovering at all, and through a full investigation and legal analysis, my firm was able to get them a handsome award for injuries and damage.
With the advent of cell phone cameras, the best thing you can do for yourself at the wreck scene (or have someone do for you if you are too injured) is to take as many pictures as possible. Take pictures of the roadway, the other vehicle, your bike, your road rash, witness’s license plates, vehicle’s position in the roadway, skid marks, landmarks, and anything else you can think of that may help your lawyer establish facts and preclude the other party or their insurance company from “making up defenses!” When the police officer completes his review of the case, he will most likely give you a case number for you to pick up a police report after he or she has had the chance to type one up. It will contain all the pertinent information from the wreck, including the other parties’ address and insurance company. Do not contact the other party. Let your lawyer or his investigator do that. Also, if you are contacted by an insurance company before you get to talk to a lawyer DO NOT MAKE A STATEMENT ABOUT THE WRECK. Most likely you are being recorded. At most tell them where your bike is so they can go evaluate it for property damage. Other than that, let your lawyer handle it. Write down who called you and when. Ask them for the claim number and record their name and which company they work for. There are some unscrupulous lawyers out there who use “runners” to contact YOU after a wreck. A good lawyer will never do this. In fact, it is a crime in Georgia to do this. It does not stop some unethical lawyers, and they even send intermediaries to the hospital to try to sign you up. Hire a lawyer based on reputation, recommendation and careful consideration. It can be a major decision, so feel free to kick a tire and interview the lawyer him or herself before signing any contract for them to represent you. The TV and billboard lawyers are typically actors and settlement lawyers. Make sure your lawyer is a seasoned trial lawyer that can take the insurance company to task if necessary. Without the trial skills ‘hammer’ to bring down on the insurance company, a settlement lawyer will never get you the money you deserve. The insurance company keeps a record of lawyers who do not go to trial.
3. FIXING YOURSELF; Proper Medical Care.
Getting proper medical care after a motorcycle wreck is not always an easy thing to do. We are in a state of transition in this country regarding health insurance. Whether you are for or against it, ‘ObamaCare’ is a game changer for the health insurance industry, the medical care profession and the personal injury lawyers. How you and your lawyer handle your motorcycle wreck will be greatly affected by whether you have health insurance or even medical payment coverage on your bike. In the past, there were great disparities between what the person with health insurance and the person without health insurance received in the form of compensation for damages after a motorcycle wreck. There are still great differences in cases involving the same injuries, depending on the type of health insurance coverage riders carry. The most important thing after your wreck is to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Many emergency rooms across the country will bandage up the obvious, stop the bleeding and treat the most immediate trauma. Then, they will refer you to a “follow up” doctor right before shoveling you out of the hospital in the absence of life threatening injuries. One of the reasons to obtain a lawyer immediately after a motorcycle wreck is because a good lawyer will ensure that you receive adequate follow up medical care. Typically, settlements as well as jury verdicts in motorcycle injury cases, depend in large part on the cost of getting you better. I have many a hard core biker client with a high tolerance for pain and poor or no health insurance benefits, who choose not to do follow up medical treatment. Believe me, they eventually regret it. First, because injuries that may have gone undiagnosed in the haste of emergency medical care crop up in the days and weeks and sometimes years after a motorcycle wreck. These injuries can fester and hinder activity and health for a lifetime. Second, without proper medical documentation, those injuries are very difficult to prove as related to the wreck when settling with the other person’s insurance company or in asking a jury for a monetary award. Without a medical doctor indicating that the pain is present and reasonable and connected to the wreck, your lawyer will have a hard time linking damages to your accident. A good lawyer can get your follow up care paid for in a timely fashion. Whether it is from med pay insurance benefits, health insurance coverage, or workers compensation benefits if you happened to have been riding as part of your job. Your lawyer can even have a separate finance company pay your medical bills and then get reimbursed from your case at the very end. Individuals who think they are covered by health insurance can be surprised by big deductibles and unaffordable co-pays, nowadays rendering some care unaffordable. Having an experienced law firm manage your case and make sure medical bills are paid for outside the benefits recovered in your case, is extremely important and ultimately puts more money where it belongs: in your pocket.
4. FIXING OR REPLACING YOUR DAMAGED MOTORCYCLE
I have represented many people involved in car and truck wrecks, and the prevailing attitude is that the cars and trucks are replaceable. While this generally holds true for bikers, they do not share that opinion with their car driving brothers and sisters of the open road. There is an emotional connection to one’s bike unlike that of most car owners. People invest much money and time customizing their bikes. For this and other reasons, when one’s bike gets wrecked in a crash, the analysis is a bit different than that of a car driver. First of all, the insurance system to get your bike fixed works similarly to that of getting cars fixed. Adjusters need to see the bike to estimate damage. This is typically done at the dealer you take the bike to after the crash. If you are loyal to a specific shop, then direct the tow truck driver to take it straight there. If you are not sure or unable, the bike will typically be taken to a private impound yard somewhere near the crash. Be mindful that many of these yards are not very secure and most of the time your bike will be left outside and uncovered. The charges for the tow are typically several hundred dollars and private impound lots charge ten to fifty dollars a day to keep your bike until other arrangements are made to move it. It is up to you to get the bike moved quickly and keep those costs down. A lawyer will help you with this. If you were hit by someone else, that person’s insurance company will ultimately have to pay this bill. Although, I have seen insurance companies refuse to pay large bills upwards of a thousand dollars when the bike is not moved from the tow yard promptly. Remember that you have a legal duty to prevent these charges from running up too high, even if you are stuck in a hospital. Make arrangement through your lawyer to have this rectified as soon as you can. We can help you with this by having the bike moved to your preferred shop or at least to your house while a decision is made about where to fix it. Oftentimes, we even have our staff move the bike to prevent problems with custom bikes or clients unable to make arrangements. Being a Biker Lawyer also means having a big truck and trailer for the convenience of my clientele.
The bike may be totaled, and in this case, you will be paid by the insurance company for its current market value. The insurance company will declare your bike a total loss once the cost to fix the damage exceeds 70% to 75% of the bike’s current market value. If the cost to fix the bike is less than 70% to 75% of its value, then the company is responsible to pay to repair it at the shop of your choosing. This approximate 30% is called the “reserve” and is a buffer left to pay unforeseen damage to the bike once the fixing process begins. The company does not want to be put in a place where they pay more to fix a bike than its actual value, because of unforeseen damage not discovered until the tear down process begins. You have the right to choose where the bike gets fixed or even to fix the bike yourself and pocket the ‘labor’ part of the estimate. You can even keep a bike declared a total loss, although the insurance company is required by Georgia law to have the title marked for “salvage.” Unfortunately, you are generally not entitled to a rental bike while your bike is in the shop. You can sometimes get a rental car if you can show the insurance company paying repair costs, that the bike is your primary transportation. Don’t forget that if your bike is declared a total loss and you have a loan still outstanding, that the bank that financed the purchase gets paid first. If you are upside down on the financing, then you’re going to owe money even though you have no bike. Gap coverage protects against this, and I have explained its benefits in this book. If you need to replace a totaled bike, feel free to give me a call. I am an expert at spending someone else’s money on a motorcycle! I’d love to help you pick your next bike.
5. WHAT IS MY CASE WORTH?
This is a common question in my business. People are hurt and out of work after a wreck and the bills are piling up. As a general matter, the law allows for recovery of monetary damages for three categories: medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. The value of a case depends on many factors. Value of your case, in large part, depends on the severity of your injuries and the costs associated with your recovery. If you are married, the law also allows for the recovery of damages by your spouse for what is called “loss of consortium.” Essentially, this claim involves compensation to your spouse for damages sustained by the interference being injured has caused to the marriage and home life. Trials often involve these claims and parties sometimes laugh about the misconception that consortium means sex. While that does play a role, it also involves who now cuts the grass, and does dishes, and laundry and changes bandages on the injured spouse. Much giggling occurs in my office in explaining this element of damage, especially where spouses ‘value’ sex differently. My “dishwashing” and “lawn mowing” talk oftentimes prevents hurt feelings!
There is no hard and fast rule or mathematical formula to calculate the exact value of your case. The facts and circumstances of your case will largely determine what each of these categories of damages is worth. That being said, insurance companies often use computer software to lump your case in with “similar” cases in determining its value. As you can imagine, the insurance company’s definition of “similar cases” is going to include cases that are not so similar and almost always worth less than your case. Left to its own devices, the insurance company will never place the same value on your case as you will, as it is their sole job to pay out absolutely as little as possible in every case. Moreover, insurance companies pay little attention to why your case is worth more than other so-called “similar” cases. It is the job of your attorney to argue and prove to the insurance company and to a jury at trial, the true value of your case. It is also your lawyer’s job to maximize the amount of the total recovery that actually goes to you as compensation. What that means is that when you have been injured in a wreck, there will be many hands out claiming that they are entitled to a share of your recovery. In many cases, few, if any, of those claims wind up being valid and enforceable under the law. Reimbursement claims of health insurance companies, subrogation claims of other insurance companies, unpaid co-pays and deductibles, uncovered medical procedures, double billing health care providers, all complicate who gets what and all will have their hand out looking for a piece of your pie. The system in this country typically will value a case based on the amount of medical bills incurred, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Logically, the greater the injury, the more it will cost in medical bills to recuperate back to maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is the recuperation point where you recover to the point where you are going to get no better, as certified by a doctor. Hopefully, a client will recover to 100% of their pre-wreck health. If not, then the MMI is calculated by a qualified medical doctor as a percentage of physical impairment or disability. Not improving to 100% of former health is considered greatly in calculating the value of a personal injury case. Not being able to return to your former duties at your job, not being able to take care of your family, and perhaps being in pain for years to come, has great impact on the value of a case. Pain and suffering are calculable based on length and severity of pain, and whether it is permanent or not. “Permanent pain and suffering” takes into consideration how long you can be reasonably expected to live and therefore suffer with the pain. We use expert testimony to calculate this, as insurance companies and injury lawyers have compiled data over many years to calculate the reasonable life expectancy of persons of certain demographics, races, ages, and health conditions. As a general rule, most damages are designed to compensate the victim because of another’s negligence. Sometimes, when the defendant was intoxicated, or acting recklessly or purposefully in causing you damage, the award is designed not to compensate you for your injuries, but to punish the defendant for his or her actions. Although, the money for both types of damages, compensatory and punitive, still goes into your pocket. Studies have shown that when a defendant simply caused your injuries through simple negligence, like they were texting or ran a red light and hit you, then your recovery will amount to anywhere between two and four times the medical bills incurred from your injuries where there is no permanent injury and you did not miss a lot of work. But if the defendant was intoxicated, studies have shown that your recovery can be increased to punish that person with damages up to 14 times the medical bills. A big difference in recovery. All in all, it is up to your lawyer to advise you as to whether you should accept the offer of the insurance company or go to trial and allow a jury to award you your damages (a topic addressed below). Make sure that the lawyer you choose has enough experience in motorcycle wrecks to give you proper advice. Feel free to call my office any time you are in a wreck or have questions about an injury you received due to someone else’s negligence. We have handled more motorcycle insurance claims than any law firm in the state.
6. Settling with the Insurance Company as opposed to going to trial.
When injured in a collision, your claim against the responsible driver will likely end in one of three ways: settlement, verdict in your favor after trial, or verdict not in your favor after trial. The overwhelming majority or cases, more than 90%, will result in a settlement. In many cases, there will be claims settled with more than one insurance company, usually the responsible driver’s insurance company and your own. Depending on the facts of your particular case, you may be able to reach a settlement of your case without having to sue the responsible driver. If that is not possible, then your recourse under the law is to file suit to recover your damages. Whether or not to settle your case or to file suit and take your case to trial before a jury involves a complex legal analysis taking into consideration many factors too numerous to list here. That is why anyone who finds themselves in such a situation should ALWAYS be represented by counsel. It is not possible for the average person to know all of the laws that affect their rights when injured in a collision, to enable them to make informed decisions on fairly resolving their particular case. You can be sure of this, however: when you have been thrown into the world of insurance claims and lawsuits, every other entity involved will have the benefit of legal representation. Obviously, the other driver will be represented, as he or she gets a free lawyer to defend them through their insurance company. But also, your motorcycle insurance company, auto insurance company, health insurance company (if applicable), the hospital, doctor’s offices, and the lien holder on your bike will all have lawyers representing them. All of them know the law, as well as your rights and their rights under the law, and have immediate access to a lawyer. The only person not in that position is the person who needs legal advice the most: YOU, the injured biker.
7. HOW SHOULD A BIKER HANDLE A DUI. How to avoid one.
Riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense in Georgia, as it is in all states now. This is not a speeding ticket, folks. You are going to need a lawyer to help you navigate through this problem. There are mandatory jail terms in play, as well as serious financial penalties, license revocations or suspensions, as well as major civil ramifications, if you cause a wreck. I’ve represented many a rider who hadn’t taken a single sip of alcohol and still found themselves getting a free ride to jail by Johnny Law. Remember, smoke too much pot = DUI, take too many pain pills= DUI, go on a bender all weekend and drive to work the next day (smelling like alcohol) = DUI. Georgia has adopted the 0.08 blood alcohol content test. This translates into a low tolerance by our society for drinking alcohol and driving. The question that I am presented with most in this area is: “should I blow?” The quintessential dilemma if you find yourself pulled over after a few “cocktails.” The answer depends on you. The correct answer to that question is quite complex. In typical lawyer fashion, I am going to say it depends on the situation. The law requires that every driver/rider in Georgia submit to a test to determine their blood alcohol content upon probably cause discerned by a law enforcement official. A series of steps need be taken by the officer to ensure he has a reasonable suspicion that you have been drinking alcohol. These are called ‘field sobriety tests.’ The ‘One-Leg-Stand,’ the ‘Walk-and-Turn,” the ‘Horizontal-Gaze-Nystagmus,’ the ‘Recite-the-Alphabet,’ as well as several other tests, are designed to give the officer an idea if you have been drinking. “Probable cause,” if you will. The discretion is theirs on which test and how many to give. Now, if you confess when asked the “Have you been drinking?” all of this is academic.
If you’re like most of the riders who are arrested for DUI in Georgia, it’s probably your first time being on the wrong side of the law. Unfortunately, while you may assume your unblemished criminal history will protect you from many of the penalties associated with a drunken driving conviction, that is not the case. Because DUI laws are designed to deter motorists from drinking and driving, the state enforces mandatory sentencing guidelines on anyone who is found guilty of DUI, even if it is your first offense. This can affect your insurance rates and your employment opportunities (employers routinely require you consent to criminal background checks). It can worsen your sentence, should you ever get another DUI later in life and it certainly has the associated social stigmas attached to an arrest for any crime: your case being reported in the police blotter of the local paper and on-line, complete with your mug shot, your fingerprints being taken and added to the FBI’s criminal fingerprint database,, not to mention your nosey neighbors gossiping behind your back!!
Regardless of the circumstances of your arrest, a first-time DUI conviction carries a mandatory jail sentence, license suspension, and fines of up to $1,000.00, plus surcharges levied by the State. If you are found guilty of drunk driving, you can expect to spend at least 24 hours behind bars and in some more conservative jurisdictions in the state, even longer. DUI carries up to 1 year in jail as a possible sentence. Fines associated with DUI run anywhere from $300 to $1,000, and can sometimes double, given State and local surcharges. Loss of license is mandatory and depends on many factors. You can be without a license from anywhere between 30 days, up to a whole year. In addition, you’ll also have to perform a minimum of 40 hours of community service and will be placed on probation for a year. In some cases, the judge may even require you to undergo alcohol treatment and/or enroll in a driver’s education program—all at your own expense. And, once your sentence is complete, you’ll face increased insurance rates, as well as the consequences of having a DUI conviction listed on your criminal record indefinitely. Not any fun at all.
You often hear about the 10 day rule when you get arrested for DUI. It is likely misinterpreted or misunderstood. It affects your driving privileges and is an administrative function of the state. This means that when the officer suspends your license at the time of your arrest, you only have 10 days to appeal that suspension to a State Administrative Law Judge. This is not the Judge in your criminal case. This is the Judge vested with the power of determining whether you will have driving privileges during the pendency of your DUI case. Once you make the appeal of your license suspension within the 10 days after arrest, you will be notified of your license suspension hearing appeal date. At that hearing the Judge will be determining whether the officer properly suspended your license after arrest. If you refused to submit to the state administered test of blood, breath or urine, then the Judge will make a determination as to whether you were advised of your rights and whether you understood them. If so, then you will have your license suspended for a year automatically. Often times the attorney on behalf of the state will offer you a temporary license pending the outcome of your case, in exchange for you signing a statement that you will eventually enter a plea of “guilty” to the underlying charge. Remember, that signature can be ultimately used against you in the criminal case as substantive evidence, in addition to the testimony of the officer about his observation of you and the circumstances surrounding your arrest. DUI cases usually last several months and it is not uncommon for them to be pending in court for over a full year. Without retaining a lawyer and appealing to the State for a hearing and contesting your suspension, you could be looking at a license suspension for many months, even before you are found guilty. So, this is something you must act on immediately after your arrest.
Most importantly, if you are pulled over, remember that everything you say to the officer is most likely being recorded on a microphone on his uniform. Many stops for DUI arrests start with tail lights of license plate lights or small equipment violations on your bike. After all, law enforcement needs a reason to get you to the side of the road. Make sure all lights, blinkers and signals are in proper working order to cut down on your chances of being pulled over. Being rude, belligerent, loud or abrasive will NEVER help. Do your best to seem cooperative, polite and organized. Remember, you do not have to answer a myriad of questions if you do not wish to do so. Taking off your helmet will defuse the situation but it is not a legal requirement unless asked by the officer so that he may get clear identifying information from you. This is more likely with a full face helmet. If you have a modular helmet, at least pull the face shield up. Pay attention to whether he asks you to remain on the bike or dismount and stand there, generally in front of his car. DO NOT leave the bike running. Shut it down, remove your license and insurance card quickly and be ready to present them. Most importantly, this all becomes a moot point if when you’ve had a couple of drinks. The best course of action is to avoid this situation by locking the bike up, calling a cab or a friend, and getting the bike the next day. It sure will save a pile of headache as well as the estimated $10,000.00 a DUI costs between fines, lawyers, and lost income.
8. Speeding tickets in Georgia (Do’s and Don’ts)
So you got a speeding ticket!! Not the end of the world, unless you’re my wife. How could this have been avoided? What to do in the case of the unavoidable speeding ticket. This is not brain surgery. Speeding tickets are pretty simple. No one wants the ‘yellow souvenir.’ I’ve probably had dozens of them in my life. Oddly, none in the ten years I was a prosecutor. The simple answer to the age old question on how to prevent them is to simply: DON’T SPEED. See, I told you this was not brain surgery. Seriously, speeding tickets are covered by the Official Code of Georgia, under Code Section 40-6-181. The statute reads in pertinent part as follows: O.C.G.A 40-6-181. Maximum limits:(a) The limits specified in this Code section or established as authorized in this article shall be the maximum lawful vehicle speeds, except when a special hazard exists that requires a lower speed for compliance with Code Section 40-6-180.
(b) Consistent with the provision of engineering and traffic investigations regarding maximum speed limits as provided in Code Section 40-6-182, no person shall drive a vehicle at a speed in excess of the following maximum limits:
(1) Thirty miles per hour in any urban or residential district;
(1.1) Thirty-five miles per hour on an unpaved county road unless designated otherwise by appropriate signs;
(2) Seventy miles per hour on a highway on the federal interstate system and on physically divided highways with full control of access which are outside of an urbanized area of 50,000 population or more, provided that such speed limit is designated by appropriate signs;
(3) Sixty-five miles per hour on a highway on the federal interstate system which is inside of an urbanized area of 50,000 population or more, provided that such speed limit is designated by appropriate signs;
(4) Sixty-five miles per hour on those sections of physically divided highways without full access control on the state highway system, provided that such speed limit is designated by appropriate signs; and
(5) Fifty-five miles per hour in other locations.
(c) The maximum speed limits set forth in this Code section may be altered as authorized in Code Sections 40-6-182, 40-6-183, and 40-6-188.
In your travels, there are many things to look out for to mitigate the chances of getting the speeding ticket. Some of them are common sense and some are not. First, in planning a trip, it is pretty easy to anticipate your route and post on a travel blog or a search engine a query to request some answers about known speed traps on your intended route. You would be surprised how many people post these matters to the net for the use by the general public. Knowledge, People, is in fact power! The “10 miles per hour” rule is pretty commonly accepted. With little exception 65 in a 55 or 75 in a 65 will not garner you a ticket. 15, 20 certainly 25 MPH over the limit will. This is discretionary and changes with the territory. School zones, high density urban areas, touristy destinations and the like will be exempt from these generally accepted principles. Govern yourself accordingly. Radar detectors are legal in Georgia, although you should be aware that is not the case in all states and simply having one is a crime in some jurisdictions. With the advent of laser speed detection devices, detectors are less and less reliable. Radar used to bounce a generalized beam off your car and those around you, kind of like a shotgun blast. The returning signal calculated speed based on rate of return of the radar signal. With laser, the officer aims and shoots a very specific laser light at YOU and it returns informing him of EXACT speed and distance from the gun in great detail and is more like a rifle shot segregating you from the traffic and objects around you. Pretty reliable technology. Any highway patrolman will tell you to be conscious of your surroundings, use your cruise control set at a reasonable limit and watch long downhill curves and overpasses. However, If you are in fact confronted with the blue lights in the rear view mirror, there are certain things you can do to better your chance of driving off ticket free. First, pull over immediately. Do so safely and under complete control. No sideways slides to the shoulder. That makes a bad impression. Have your license, registration and insurance paperwork handy. Don’t bury that stuff under a pile of junk in the console or glove box. Fumbling through your car makes Officer Grumpy Pants even more grumpy. Cooperate with questions as long as they are reasonable. Unless you have bodies in the trunk, don’t be afraid to engage in small talk. Also, until you are 2 points away from license revocation, don’t sweat it. It’s only a ticket, right? Be polite. Cursing, attitude, yelling or questioning Johnny Law’s authority cannot help. Trust me on this one. Give sweet talk your best shot. Engage the officer and personify yourself. Set yourself apart from the 10 pissed off taxpayers he just ticketed. If it’s a minor speed infraction and it’s your first in a while apologize, compliment his bike, or his purple uniform, or whatever it takes to get him talking. Lame, silly, made up excuses rarely work. “I just got the Flu, my wife called and our dog is sick, I’m late for work,” etc… Forget those and those like them. A slight speed with a smile and proper respect and engaging small talk has the best chance of getting a ‘warning.’
If you have a bad driving record or in fact do have bodies in your trunk, then forget what I just advised. Do not confess to anything. Take your ticket and go! Hire a lawyer to handle the ticket for you after you get it. Did you ever wonder why that when you get pulled over the officer will ask you: “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Well, it’s to illicit what is known as a “confession!” Saying the words “was it because I was speeding?” tells him exactly what he wants to hear. It obviates most possibilities that you can win at trial. Even if your silly speedometer is off, or your tires are over sized, in stating those words, you let the Judge and Jury right inside your brain. Regardless of your excuses, if you think you were speeding, and tell the officer so, then chances are a Judge or a Jury will think you were speeding too, notwithstanding your silly mechanical excuses. So if you find yourself roadside and you do get a speeding ticket despite using your best manners and complying fully and going along with the plan to engage, personify, apologize and cooperate, then stage two of ticket mitigation kicks in. Remember, if you act like a jerk, the officer will remember you when you get to court and reducing your speed in court is unlikely. If you were polite, perhaps thank him and laugh it off with “I understand” officer, he’ll remember that too. Remember, you have to go to Court and see this guy again. Perhaps, even talk to him in the hall and ask him to reduce your speed.
In Georgia you can plead nollo contendre to a traffic infraction once every five years. The literal translation of this term is from the Latin meaning ‘no contest.’ It is not a guilty plea. It means you get to have your case adjudicated by the Court, pay a fine, but have no point assessed to your license with the State. This also means that the chances of having an insurance premium increase are also reduced greatly. Although I wouldn’t waste this option every time you run out and get a ticket. If you were to have your speeding ticket reduced with the consent of the officer and perhaps the prosecutor if the court you are in has one, to at most 13 MPH over the posted limit, then your infraction is not reported to the State. Just like in a nollo plea, just simpler and free! If you are cited for speeding and the speeding ticket is the basis of the stop of your motorcycle, from those events flows a search and arrest of your person and impound of your bike, AND the illegal substance or stolen goods, or unregistered handgun, (I could go on here) are found, then it is imperative that you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer handle your case. Do not delay. Hire the best lawyer you can afford immediately. Do not fall for internet ads or yellow pages. Get a lawyer based on a referral. Make sure you know something about who you are hiring. Hiring a lawyer is like buying a car. It’s expensive, but it’s an important decision, so make that decision carefully and be informed.
9. GUNS: How can I carry a gun on my bike (2nd Amendment and Bikers)
I have lectured on this topic for several years to biker groups. I usually begin my talk with a primer on the process to obtain a ‘carry permit’ in your particular jurisdiction. This information is limited to Georgia, as each State has its own version of their concealed carry (CC) regulations and laws. For the record, CC in Georgia is a constantly evolving and complex topic. There are several helpful web sites that do a good job in these areas in breaking down the development of these CC laws. The Probate Court in each of Georgia’s 159 counties is authorized to issue CC permits. There is a relatively standardized application process to get a concealed carry permit (CCP) in each county, although they all have a fee of typically about $75, which covers the application fee as well as the fingerprinting fee. You will have to appear at the Probate Court or perhaps download the application forms from their web site if they have one. Then, you will have to fill out the forms and answer many questions about your background, criminal history, mental health, citizenship and the like. Fingerprints are required to be submitted with the application and you can typically get them at the sheriff’s office in your county. There is a small fee associated with this service. You can also get fingerprinted at your local municipal police department. The whole application process can take between a few weeks to several months, so you must be patient. Permits are good for 5 years and must be renewed at the probate court to remain valid. I advocate that everyone who is eligible to obtain one should go ahead and get it even if you are not in the market for a gun presently. You never know when the process will get more complicated, restricted, or expensive, and at least you will be grandfathered in.
Georgia has reciprocity for CC with several states. You can carry your pistol concealed in those states subject to their specific rules about state parks, restaurants, public buildings and such. These states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. These states recognize Georgia issued firearms licenses, although each has restrictions and special rules with which you should familiarize yourself before carrying in those jurisdictions. Although, traveling ‘through’ those states on your bike will not be a problem. Connecting the dots to get to a far away location may be a logistical issue but that’s why we have paper maps! Research these issues closely before traveling. Penalties for CC in states that have no reciprocity with Georgia range from misdemeanor conviction with a monetary fine, up to felony violation with mandatory jail time.
The statute in Georgia on Possessing a handgun without a license is codified in O.C.G.A. 16-11-126(a) and reads as follows: Any person who is not prohibited by law from possessing a handgun may have or carry on his person or her person a weapon or long gun on his or her property or inside his or her home, or place of business without a valid weapons carry license. This means you can, under certain conditions, carry a handgun without a CCP but the penalties for going outside these parameters are fairly serious. I have referred to several websites over the years for clarity on the topic and find that www.georgiacarry.org is an excellent resource for the details on this issue, and the site also has helpful information on the legislative history as well as a useful map of the U.S. and all of the various CCP rules of the different states across the county.
You can carry a handgun on your motorcycle even without a CCP if you are transporting the weapon from a range to home or from business to home and the like, so long as the handgun in carried in a case and it is unloaded. If it is a long gun and it is loaded, it must be carried in the open and not concealed. It is very important that the rights of a private property owner supersede even a CCP holder’s right to carry, and if asked to do so, you must leave private property immediately or risk being arrested for criminal trespass. By this, I am talking about retail stores, restaurants, movie theatres and the like. In 2008 and 2010 when pro-gun laws HB 89 and SB 308 were respectively passed, Georgia loosened up some of the places you were allowed to carry a weapon, so long as you were qualified to do so. More recently, our legislature has passed HB 60 entitled “The Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014.” The purpose of this law was to clarify some of the loose ends that existed in Georgia’s carry law and to allow current CCP holders additional carry rights. Most importantly, before this amendment to the carry law existed, it was against the law to carry a weapon into an establishment that qualifies as a ‘bar.’ Now, CCP holders can carry into a bar, so long as the management of the establishment does not restrict that which the law allows them to do. Also, churches are now permitted to allow worshippers, at the church’s discretion, to attend services while carrying. CCP holders can also carry concealed into government buildings that do not have security checkpoints or screening personnel that are law enforcement certified as you enter. There have also been many situations where individuals have found themselves carrying legally and thereafter mistakenly taken their weapon into an otherwise restricted place, like an airport terminal. Under the new law, if you realize this indiscretion, you can approach an officer or security guard and advise them accordingly, without fear of criminal prosecution.
There are many minuscule changes to the existing law and some of them are still being worked out by Probate courts and law enforcement. For example, the CCP renewal process still has provisions for re fingerprinting for the renewal process, although that requirement was intended to have been taken out of the existing CCP law by HB 60. A “work in progress,” as they say. Of course, if you are a felon, you cannot get a CCP or carry a handgun under any circumstances, even if you are on “first offender felony probation” and expect your felony to be stricken from your record once your probation is complete. You still cannot possess a handgun. Minors are also restricted from possessing a handgun except under very specific situations covered under OCGA 16-11 132, such as certain hunting or target practice activities spelled out in the statute. So, while there may be many ins and outs of carrying your weapon on your motorcycle, the best and easiest way to do so is to get your CCP as soon as possible. If you already have your CCP, log onto Georgiacarry.org for specifics on the ‘hows’ and ‘wheres’ of the law’s restrictions.
10. HELMET LAWS IN GEORGIA (A Historical Perspective)
Being the “Original” Biker Lawyer, as well as being General Counsel to ABATE of Georgia, I keenly understand that bikers have a unique legal position in our society. One of the issues that have traditionally garnered the most interest amongst many bikers in Georgia, is our HELMET LAW. It is amongst one of the most contentious issues in the biking community. To comprehend the law’s current state, its history, both on a Federal level as well as a State level, must be considered. I say “State and “Federal” because each plays a role in why we have a helmet law in Georgia and why some states don’t. There are many unique legal and political structures in the United States, but one of the most complex and interesting are the powers vested in both federal and state governments. The “Supremacy Clause” found in Article VI Clause 2 to our US Constitution gives the feds the trump card when there is conflict between the federal law and a state law or regulation. Sometimes, the federal government bestows upon the states the right to decide their own legislation on a specific topic. A perfect example of this is the multifaceted “Helmet Law.” The good citizens of this country motored about with no helmet law for more years than they have with any helmet law. Until the 1960’s, there was no requirement in any state to wear a helmet on a motorbike. But there came an overwhelming outcry in the 60’s, fueled by ever increasing speeds of bikes and faster roadways, causing greater injuries and more fatalities. This ultimately forced regulation of helmet use. There has always been vociferous objection to helmet mandates, but there comes a time when Uncle Sam steps in and does what he does best: requires states to do something he wants and if not done, he cuts off their allowance!
So, in 1967, the federal government required states to enact universal motorcycle helmet laws to qualify for certain highway safety funds. Stated plainly, no state helmet law, no money for roadway projects. By 1975, all but three states had complied. In 1976, Congress revoked federal authority to assess penalties for noncompliance, and many states began to loosen their helmet laws to apply only to young or novice riders. What the Feds had done is given the State’s the right to make their own choices, but had put the carrot on the preverbal stick cutting off money to the States that did not enact helmet laws. Currently, about half the states require helmets for all motorcyclists. Most other states require helmets for certain riders, and three have no helmet law at all. We here in Georgia, of course, have a straight helmet requirement, no exceptions. In my 25 years of practicing law and doing research on the topic it has yet to be shown to me that a helmet-less rider is a threat to the physical well-being of any person other than himself. It is interesting to note here that Uncle Sam lets us smoke cigarettes, eat fast food, imbibe in alcohol and in some states smoke WEED, all of which exponentially kill more Americans every year than motorcycle wrecks. Regardless of any helmet law, many motorcyclists still wear helmets in the non helmet law states—proof that people, given the choice will oftentimes make perceived safety decisions and choose helmets without governmental regulation. I, for example, think ‘let the rider decide,’ although I wear a helmet almost always. In other words, don’t TELL me what to do, we can decide for ourselves.
The argument is not much different than laws mandating seat belts for drivers of cars. How is an adult’s failure to wear a seat belt in any way affecting other people? It comes down to a cost basis. With respect to the helmet laws, the argument is made by the government as well as the medical establishment, that the rate of increased injury and the probable severity thereof requires that the government step in and mandate the use of a helmet for the ‘common good.’ A real life “Big Brother” governmental intrusion, if you were to ask most bikers. The counter argument is that such laws only open the door to more intrusive regulations, and fuel the “government knows best” mentality. This is often referred to in the law as the “slippery slope argument.” That individual freedoms will be slowly eroded starting with just small impositions of government regulation, accelerating and culminating in public acquiescence and complacency resulting in the end of freedom, stifling overregulation. Thus, the age old tug of war between personal freedom and government regulation.
Nevertheless, there are some empirical studies cropping up from the medical establishment that further complicate this debate. In June of 2012, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here in Atlanta, released a Federally funded study claiming to have shown conclusively that fewer motorcyclists die in states that require helmets, and the costs to society are lower as well. The “costs” argument is a major element in the argument of the pro helmet factions. Head injuries are simply put, expensive to treat and difficult to recover from, if one recovers at all. About five times as many non-helmet biker deaths occur in states with less restrictive laws, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found. “These laws save lives,” said Rebecca Naumann, a physician of epidemiology at the CDC and the study’s lead author. CDC researchers looked at a government tally of fatal traffic crashes. They focused on 2008 through 2010 and counted 14,283 deaths of motorcyclists, unfortunately, some of whom were my clients. That included 6,057 bikers with no helmet. Only about 12 percent of those deaths occurred in the 20 states that required everyone on a bike to wear helmets. The researchers also made 2010 cost calculations based on medical expenses and lost work productivity from motorcycle deaths and injuries. “In 2010, more than $3 billion in economic costs were saved due to helmet use in the United States,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement. “Another $1.4 billion could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.” In states that mandate helmets, more is saved per registered bike than in states with fewer or no restrictions, $725 versus $200, researchers estimated. When the study was done, three states — Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire — had no helmet law and another 27 only required helmets for teenagers or certain other riders. Twenty states had universal motorcycle helmet laws, but Michigan changed its law this year. Now, riders there older than 21 can ride without a helmet if they meet certain requirements, including carrying an additional $20,000 in medical insurance.
At the current time, 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have a helmet law for motorcyclists. 19 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have a universal helmet law, requiring helmets for all riders. The remaining 28 states and Guam require helmets for specific riders. 3 states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) do not have a motorcycle helmet law. “Live Free or Die” baby. You have to love New Hampshire. We have had a helmet law here in Georgia since 1962. That law is older than me, but not by much! Our current helmet law in Georgia was introduced to the House as Bill number 713 by a representative ‘Kidd’ in 1961 and it read “No person shall ride upon or operate a motorcycle on the highways or roads of this State without wearing upon his head a crash helmet of a type designated by the Director of the Department of Public Safety of this State.” The bill also prescribed specifics on seating for motorcyclists and their passengers. A pretty wide legislative brush stroke. I do not know this “Kidd,” but I can state with clarity – I do not like him!! The law passed the Senate on January 24, 1962, was signed by the Governor in March and went into effect July 1 of that year. The odd part is that the law as written had no provision for penalties for violating it and was basically ignored by law enforcement. It was not until ’69 that it was amended to include penalties and money got involved. That’s 7 years of inaction. You know what happens when money gets involved? Yea, you guessed it, enforcement began! Why would cops give you a ticket, if there was not money at the end of your court case. Proving once again, that it’s not for ‘protection’ of the public, it’s for additional ‘taxation’ of the public. Then between 1969 and 1982 there were a few adjustments to the helmet law in Georgia, but nothing earthshaking. Substantive changes came after ’82, and before then, not much more than safety ‘declarations’ and public service announcements from the Governor and the Legislature. Some amendments, both stricter and looser, all died on the vine before passage. Much of the records evidencing these minor machinations have been lost to time, as this was before electronic data storage. No computers, no internet. Needless to say, the period of 1969 to 1981 was one in which my lovely teenage daughter and scholar Brenna would declare us citizens who have lived through that time as “internet immigrants.” She, and her brother Brendan, having been born after the invention of the internet, and us (the over 40 crowd), having immigrated to it! The computer and internet age that is.
From the early 1980’s, the Helmet Law in Georgia took some lefts and some rights. To understand where it is now, one must appreciate some of the more significant developments throughout the last 30 or 40 years. Here, I will attempt a consolidated synopsis. I do not address every attempted amendment or repeal, but will hit the high points as time, print space and interest allow. The first major developments came in 1981 from a Senator Summer, a friend to all freedom loving Americans. With Senate Bill (hereinafter referred to as ‘SB’) 569 Senator Summers proposed the complete repeal of Georgia's law requiring protective head gear & eye protection for motorcycle operators and passengers. Unfortunately, no action was taken on the bill, and sadly Sen. Summers became ill and died after the 1982 Session. So began the arduous political process of repealing a law, which is not an easy task! In that same session, a Rep. Colbert, assigned to the House Insurance Committee, proposed House Bill (hereinafter referred to as ‘HB’)1154 which would have required mandatory no fault insurance for motorcycles. (A law requiring such for other motor vehicles had passed in the 70's.) HB 1154 passed the House 92 to 27. It was killed by the Senate insurance Committee 5 to 4. It was killed because of massive response against it from motorcyclists all across the State, saying the cost of such insurance was unfair and too high. A perfect example of a concerted effort by a singular united group. Can you spell “ABATE?” Yes, Georgia’s “American Bikers Active Towards Education,” scored a victory, with careful planning, unified action, and targeted lobbying efforts.
The next major effort to repeal GA’s helmet law came late in 1984. Rep. Neal Jackson, assigned to the House Motor Vehicles Committee, introduced HB 723, which in its original form would modify GA.'s helmet law to require protective headgear only for those under 18. It was later amended by the House MVC to “under 21.” The bill was assigned to a House Study Committee in the '83 Session. Public hearings were held on it during that summer. In the '84 Session, HB 723 passed the House 116 to 39. It was then assigned to the Senate Public Safety Committee, for what is known as ‘committee process,’ or study. Motorcyclists had commitments from enough Senators to pass the bill on the Senate floor, if it got through the committee process. The Medical Association of Georgia and the Head Injury Foundation brought disabled people in wheel chairs and on crutches with head injuries to the meeting. They told of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost to care for these people. And that the State usually had to foot the bill for the care of these people because they stated that they mostly did not have insurance. Motorcyclists at the committee meeting were not prepared for this tactic of using injured people like puppets. The committee voted to put HB 723 in a Senate Study Committee, killing any chance of the full Senate voting on it in the '84 Session. It was learned after the committee meeting that none of the injured people put on display by the Medical Association had been injured in motorcycle accidents. Dirty pool baby, dirty pool!! So as you see, the helmet law develops (or not) over time with much misinformation and quite a bit of subterfuge. Such is the political process!
At the end of the 1984 session, Sen. Kidd, of the Senate Public Safety Committee proposed SB 450. This bill would create a rider education program under the Georgia Board of Public Safety. It would become effective once money was appropriated to fund it. It was proposed that funding would come from an increase in motorcycle registration fees. The Ga. Board of Public Safety supported motorcycle rider education, the fact that motorcyclists themselves would be funding it, made it even more palatable to everyone. The Commissioner of the Dept. of Public Safety liked the idea, but wanted the program under his power. What a shock, a guy wants more power! Needles to say, no one really cared about whom the boss was and SB 450 passed the Senate and the House; the Governor signed it that term. The program was scheduled to start as soon as enough money was raised. This law was a big deal and is the predecessor to the motorcycle safety program that we have today. The only other development that term was an increase in motorcycle registration fees of $4.00, raising the fee from 5 bucks to 9! HB 1568 introduced by Rep. Dick Lane was signed by the Governor and went into effect on January 1, 1985. Although in the next year, Rep. Jerry Jackson had the fee reduced by a dollar. Unbelievably because the new $9 fee didn’t fit into the State’s “registration codes” on their new computers!! Talk about grinding out political sausage! Silliness I say, but solved the inadequate state computer language problem. Remember that legislative terms run from one year to the next, so in the 1985/86 term, an attempt was again made to require only those under 21 to wear a helmet. SB 151, by Sen. Brannon, was proposed, but despite much political positioning, it was defeated by a 45 to 8 vote. Senators had told motorcyclists that they would vote “yes,” although they had told the Lieutenant Governor and or his staffers they would vote “no.” A simple case of representatives telling those who ask, what they want to hear, but voting another way nonetheless. The records speak for themselves as motorcyclists recorded a majority of affirmative promises to vote for the bill, but when push came to shove, it was a landslide defeat.
In 1986 Sen. Kidd proposes HB 477, that would drastically change the rider education program created by SB 450. During 1985, nothing was being done about the rider education program even though money was being collected. The Commissioner of the Dept. of Public Safety was stalling on implementing the program. At the request of Motorcyclists, Sen. Kidd wrote a letter to the Commissioner demanding that he get the program going. What was gleaned from all this was that the Commissioner's plans for the program were sorely deficient. The teaching of rider education would be contracted. Not much different than the drunk driving classes you see at the strip malls nowadays. Prospective students would be required to pay very high fees to take the courses. The proposed head of the program would be a Junior Trooper in the GA State Patrol. I imagine this was proposed to save money. Rider Ed would not be his only assignment and he wouldn't even have to have a motorcycle license himself!!! In 1986, Sen. Kidd proposed that the program be run by the Board of Public Safety. He proposed a full time Coordinator, who had to be a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor. The program had to at least meet MSF standards. The bill stated all instructors had to be MSF certified and authorized promotion of motorcycle safety in other areas, such as motorist awareness, throughout the state. The bill was introduced as SB 477 and it passed the Senate and the House, and the Governor signed it late that term. The program starting November 1986 and is the backbone of the safety program that we have today, that is very successful.
Not related to helmet law but related to bikers nonetheless, in the 1986-87 term, a Rep. Ramsey, tried to pass HB 5, a law making it illegal for bikers to wear headsets or headphones. Motorcyclists defeated it, as many headset systems were for bikers to communicate with each other and were deemed very safe, if not a positive safety option. HB 51 was never brought up in committee, and fortunately no action was taken on it. No law exists today precluding such use of headsets. As a matter of fact, in the next term, a law was passed allowing motorcyclists but NOT car drivers to use such systems. Now, there’s a switch! Chalk one up for the bikers. Cagers = 0. Late in the same term, Sen. Brannon proposed SB 644, which again called for abolishing the Helmet Law for those over 21. It was soundly defeated and some motorcyclists gave up on changing GA's helmet law. Those who didn't, asked Sen. Brannon to introduce another bill just to show there were still those who believed in Freedom of Choice. Nothing was done and the helmet repeal again hit the ground with a resounding THUD! In the 1989/90, term HB 280 was introduced by Rep. Thompson, assigned to House Motor Vehicles Committee. This bill would make headsets and headphones legal for motorcycle operators. It was exactly like HB 51 in the converse. More and more bikes had these systems as standard equipment adding to the group dynamic of motorcycling for some. The manufacturers, both OEM and aftermarket, promoted this ‘safety feature,’ but convincing politicians was another matter. It was feared the bill would be defeated in committee, but as a compromise the bill was amended to read, "a person may wear a headset or headphone for communication purposes only while operating a motorcycle." It passed that term and was signed by the Governor.
By the 1990 term, motorcycle fatalities in Georgia were down 50% over the prior 3 years. This was taken as a sign that the motorcycle safety programs were a success. Accidents and injuries had been reduced also. SB 381 was introduced by Sen. Brannon, and assigned to the Senate Public Safety Committee. The rider education program, “GA Motorcycle Safety Program,” as it was known, was doing very well. Motorcycle fatalities in Ga. had been reduced by 50%. Everyone, including almost all the legislators, supported the GMSP. A bill was considered that would allow those who passed the rider ed program to go without a helmet. This seemed like a good compromise and a back door way to get rid of the Helmet Law. Under 21 was excepted regardless of riders ed. SB 381 just didn't have enough support to pass. No action was taken on it in the '89 Session. During the time between the sessions, many Senators told motorcyclists that they would vote for a bill similar to the House version on changing the Helmet Law. It was again brought up in the 1990 session. It has been rumored that the Medical Association of Georgia and the Head Injury Foundation got a Senator who had a son killed on a motorcycle to ask the Chairman to hold the bill. Unfortunately, no motorcyclists from the Chairman's district pushed him to let SB 381 get out of his committee. The Senator whose son had been killed, made emotional pleas every day to keep SB 381 in committee. By the time motorcyclists got the Chairman to agree not to hold the bill any longer, the session was almost over. Time ran out before SB 381 got to the Senate floor. It was just not in the cards. One impassioned person with power can be a game changer, one way or the other.
One last ditch effort was made late in the 1990 term via HB 1097 by Rep. Mike Barnett. On the House Motor Vehicles Committee, he attempted to require everyone under 21 to wear helmets while riding a motorcycle, but with passengers 21 and older allowed to ride without wearing protective headgear. The operator could only opt out of headgear if he had successfully completed a rider ed course and had proof of the same attached to his motorcycle by a sticker. It did not pass. These attempts to rid us of the Helmet Law were getting more and more complex and picayune in their rendition. It exacerbated the problem by complicating the interpretation and frustrating the effort. Mike Barnett did not seek re election in the next year and a true friend of the biker was lost in the legislature. By the time the 1991//92 term had come about, some senators had seen 20 failed attempts at the repeal in one form or another. The issue was truly turning into a David versus Goliath story. Again, Rep. Garnett, tried to introduce HB 158 in 1991 which was the same as SB 381 of the previous term. It was a futile attempt, as no action was taken on the bill. I do believe that was the expected result and the effort was simply ceremonial. Sen. White, assigned to the Senate Youth, Aging and Human Ecology Committee, tried with his version, introducing SB 247. This bill had the exact same wording as HB 158. It got a little traction, which was unexpected as the bill was moved to the Public Safety Committee. The Chairman of PSC had agreed to accept it. After much testimony from motorcyclists, it was put in a study committee. This study committee met on the bill, and after listening to motorcyclists, they voted to recommend that SB 247 be moved from committee, but it got hopelessly stuck there. It remained there throughout the 90/91 Term. Needless to say, it died there. Reps. Porter, Jamieson & Saker, assigned to the House Motor Vehicles Committee, introduced HB 1145. This bill was part of the new Governor's "Georgia Rebound" package. It raised registration fees on all motor vehicles in the state. Motorcycles would go from $8 to $20. Passenger vehicles went up in that same bill as well. Even though motorcyclists opposed such a big increase, the bill had a lot of traction and did promise to raise more funds, possibly for the rider ed program. The bill passed and funding for the GMSP was approximately doubled that year. With funding at an all time high, the program was really in a position to make major changes in the injury and fatality stats in Georgia, which could bode well for a repeal effort of the Helmet Law. In the same term, Rep. Carter, introduced HB 1417. He was assigned to House Motor Vehicles Committee. This bill would prohibit motorcycle passengers under 10 years old. Rep. Carter told motorcyclists he introduced this bill at the request of a constituent. It seemed a man in his district wanted to keep his son-in-law from riding his grandson on a motorcycle. Must have been one of his pals! Because of opposition from motorcyclists in a committee meeting, the bill was amended to under 5 years old. After seeing how many motorcyclists were opposed to the bill altogether, Sen. Carter thought the better of it. I guess he figured he had more votes in the biker crowd than in his pal’s household. Funny how that works.
Going forward, the “Coalition For Safety” was formed by motorcyclists, and one of its purposes was to have politicians give motorcyclists a more fair split of revenues. This coalition met weekly during the 1st Session of the 1992 term. They were successful in getting funding for the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program, and it almost doubled. This was and still is a great accomplishment, considering the coalition was made up of mostly non legislators. In the 1995/96 term, Rep. Brian Joyce, of the House Motor Vehicles Committee, introduced HB 227. This bill would modify the existing motorcycle Helmet Law to state that if you pass a state certified motorcycle education course and are over 21, then it is your choice to wear a helmet or not. This bill actually got past the House Motor Vehicles Committee on 2/28/95, but it ended there and no further action taken on the bill. It too died on the vine. Rep. Allen Powell, of the House Motor Vehicles Committee, introduced HB 1230. This bill read that as of January 1st, 1997, all new motorcycle licenses would not be issued to anyone under 21, unless you have passed a “Motorcycle Rider Education Course.” The bill also read that all those under 21 must wear a helmet. It was amended on the floor stating all ages must pass a MREC to get a motorcycle license. HB 1230 passed House of Representatives 2/13/96 by a vote of 99-64. The Lt. Governor put HB 1230 into the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Lt. Governor and the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman had legislation that would eventually go to the House Motor Vehicles Committee, where the sponsor of HB 1230, Rep. Alan Powell, was the Vice-Chairman. It was voted on and shot down with the tie breaking vote of Sen. Mary Margaret Oliver. No dice again.
On the last day of the 1996 session, Rep. Joey Brush (One of Georgia’s best Senators ever and a friend to ALL freedom loving Americans) added the language of HB 1230 as an amendment to the Lt. Governor and Senator Oliver's child restraint bill. Also added as amendments to the child restraint bill, were the speed limit bill, and the bill that failed House Motor Vehicles Committee - Senator Oliver's' seat belt primary offense bill. This was an example of multiple legislative goals tacked together in the same bill. Ultimately the helmet repeal was dropped under the threat that the Senators involved would lose highway funding in their districts. The next big issue for bikers was Senator Nathan Deal’s SB 438. Then Senator Nathan Deal was assigned to the Senate Public Safety Committee. This bill would allow for disabled tags and antique tags for motorcyclists. SB 438 Passed the Senate. Toward the end of the 1996 term, the bill was not able to continue thru the committee process in the House of Representatives because they could not let a tag bill get to the floor. It seems there were several tag bills that would have been attached to SB 438 that they could not let out. Through the summer of 1996, ABATE found out that legislation was not needed for disabled tags for motorcycles. The code sections were already in place. There are now disabled tags for motorcyclists in Georgia. Thanks ABATE. The 1997/98 term came around and Senator Joey Brush, assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee, introduced SB 86. The bill was put into a sub-committee and a public hearing was held on February 12th, 1997. SB 86 was passed unanimously out of sub-committee on Monday, March 3rd. Two Senators voted “yes,” so that the bill was not stranded in the subcommittee. There were about 7-8 medical related lobbyists and organizations testifying against the bill. They stated the same old statistics about all the head injuries, as well as the huge public burden that modifying the law would create. Senator Brush spoke of the "no list" from the Board of Public Safety. This is the commonly understood glitch in the law where the “list” was supposed to be adopted by the commissioner of all the “approved” helmets, but none ever existed. The chairman asked the Dept. about this, and the chairman was given a copy of the Helmet Law and the letter from the Dept. stating there is not now or ever been a list of approved protective headgear, and the Dept. was asked to check into it. To this day, no list has officially been approved by the commissioner or anyone else for that matter! The commissioner has simply adopted the rule that so long as the helmet is DOT approved it is “sufficient” for purposes of enforcement of the Helmet Law. Senator Don Cheeks spoke in favor of SB 86, made the do-pass recommendation; Senator Steve Langford seconded the motion. Senators Cheeks, Langford, Senator Mike Crotts, and Senator Richard Marable voted yes. All others on the committee voted no. Senators Eric Johnson and Charlie Tanksley were out of town and not available for the meeting. SB 86 failed by a vote of 6-4.
Needless to say, between the early 1970’s and the early 1990’s, the Helmet Law here in Georgia saw many challenges. The 30 or 40 years of attempts to abolish or even limit the Helmet Law, have passed with relatively no changes to the law itself, but many positive changes have come about as relates to bikers education and the perception of the general public. Much time and effort has been put forth by those before us, but we simply have not had the right support or had the right Governor. To recap, our current law states: "No person shall operate or ride upon a motorcycle unless he is wearing protective headgear which complies with standards established by the Board of Public Safety."
I hope you have enjoyed this history of Georgia’s always contentious often complex Helmet law. So you see, it is a complex analysis that factors in money, medical treatment, the insurance industry, society’s overall losses, costs of equipment, personal freedoms, constitutional issues and the like. It’s not as simple as just stating “I don’t want to wear a helmet.” It can be dry reading at times, but at least you now you have a basic understanding of the helmet law and its machinations over the decades. Knowledge certainly is power. It’s up to us in the motorcycling community to be pro active. Join ABATE, reach out to your legislature, and get involved in the process. Let your opinion be known and heard by those we elect to affect these laws on OUR behalf.
11. MOTORCYCLE SPECIFIC LAWS IN GEORGIA.
Noise ordinances and exhaust regulations, handlebar height, lighting requirements, horns, proper license plate display, lane sharing and splitting, The “Idiot” law, and the like.
Noise Ordinances and Exhaust Pipes: Georgia has codified the requirements of exhaust systems on motorcycles as well as other vehicles in O.C.G.A. 40-8-71(a)(1): Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with an exhaust system, in good working order and in constant operation, meeting the following specifications:
(1) The exhaust system shall include the piping leading from the flange of the exhaust manifold to and including the muffler or mufflers and tail pipes;
(2) The use of flexible pipe shall be prohibited except on diesel tractors or according to manufacturers' original specifications;
(3) The exhaust emission point shall extend beyond the rear or outside of the passenger compartment. The statute goes on to state in (OCGA 40-8-71(c)) that It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale any muffler which causes excessive or unusual noise or annoying smoke or any muffler cutout, bypass, or similar device for use on a motor vehicle or for any person to use, to sell, or to offer for sale any motor vehicle equipped with any such muffler, muffler cutout, bypass, or similar device. Any person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Some states do have specific decibel level limits on motor vehicles, but Georgia is not one of them. For your information, Florida is one and the limits are that maximum sound levels permitted are 82 dBA for vehicles manufactured before January 1, 1979; and 78 dBA for vehicles manufactures after January 1, 1979. There may come a time in Georgia where these noise limits are applied to us and police carry decibel level recording devices in their patrol cars, as they do in Florida.
Handlebar Height: This is regulated in Georgia under OCGA 40-6-314(b), which states that no person shall operate a motorcycle with handlebar height more than 15 inches above the seat occupied by the rider… This vaguely written statute has been the subject of much speculation as to where the rider’s portion of the seat should be measured. The curves in the seat create high points and low points. Not to mention that handlebars can be measured from many different places including the bars or the grips or averages of different points on the hand controls. This law has not been too strictly enforced, as there are many bikes sold by manufacturers that violate the law. Also, the law’s vagueness makes it an easy mark for a good lawyer to challenge such a ticket.
Lighting: LED lights and halogen bulbs have complicated the requirements of “Lighting” on motorcycles in Georgia. Stated in a basic sense, OCGA 40-8-22 states that your motorcycle must have at least one but no more than two headlights mounted in front, at least 24 inches off the ground and no more than 54 inches high. OCGA 40-8-25 states that you need at least one brake light on the rear of your bike. OCGA 40-8-26 requires that the brake light be red in color and be visible from 300 feet in both daylight and at night. Turn signals must also be visible from 300 feet both during daytime and nighttime. Many bikes have “Auxiliary Lights” and OCGA 40-8-29(b) dictates that so called fog lights should be between 12 and 30 inches off the ground. These lights are required to be mounted so that they project 4 inches lower than their bulb mounting height at a distance of 25 feet. This provision also allows for passing and additional auxiliary lights but is restricted with the intent that they not hinder the view of oncoming traffic. Flashing and rotating lights are strictly the province of emergency response vehicles especially those colored with blue or red lenses. Although, clear modulating lights are allowed. Don’t forget that your license plate tag must be illuminated according to OCGA 40-2-41. The illumination of the plate is required at the rear of the bike and the plate cannot be covered with anything to hinder authorities from seeing the ID numbers/letters clearly.
Horns: There is no shortage of aftermarket horns to stand out on the open road. Certainly bikes bought from manufacturers also have pretty effective horns to alert others on the road of your presence. OCGA 40-8-70(a) states that motorcycles must be equipped with a horn that is clearly audible from at least 200 feet, but it cannot emit “an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or whistle”. No decibel level is dictated and even the small obnoxious air horns out on the market are legal. The louder the better, I say.
License Plate: License plates are sometimes a fashion statement on a bike and one can get up to 6 letters/numbers on a Georgia tag. OCGA 40-2-41 requires that the license plate must be displayed on the rear of the bike, illuminated at night, and not covered by any material unless it is transparent and colorless. It also requires that it is “plainly visible,” which calls into question whether those sideways tags you often see are legal or not. The Georgia law simply does not speak to this. Although, running afoul of this statute can get you convicted of a misdemeanor.
Lane Sharing and Lane Splitting: Lane Sharing is allowed in Georgia. No more than “two abreast in a lane” is the limit according to OCGA 40-6-312(d). So, while we are allowed to travel two abreast, it is not recommended for novice riders, and it is a practiced skill acquired by experienced riders, especially at highway speeds. Lane splitting is prohibited under OCGA 40-6-312(c). There have been several attempts to get more in line with California which allows “lane splitting”, “sharing” or “filtering” but Georgia’s legislature deems it unsafe at the present time. California does not specifically authorize it under their state law, however, they choose to allow it to alleviate congested traffic conditions plaguing their highways.
The IDIOT Law: We actually have a statute in Georgia (OCGA 40-6-311(b)) that states “a person shall ride upon a motorcycle only while sitting astride the seat, facing forward, with one leg on either side of the motorcycle”. This actually makes it illegal to operate a motorcycle while sitting on the front fender, putting your legs up in the air while juggling, sitting backwards or upside-down, or for that matter, riding the motorcycle while seated upon your head, and blindfolded while naked. I sometimes can’t believe we need laws like this, but perhaps I have too much faith in humanity!
12. Building and titling a custom bike and salvaged titles in Georgia
Many of my clients want to know about building a bike from a salvaged or totaled bike. Whether their bike was totaled in a wreck or they got the ‘deal of the century’ on Craig’s list with a salvaged title, the process to clean the title and rebuilding the bike is about the same. You definitely have to jump through some hoops that typically outweigh the deal you got! OCGA 40-3-37(f)(1) exempts bikes over 25 years old, so the vintage market is easier to deal with in this regard. Once a bike is declared a total loss by the insurance company because it was in a wreck the law in Georgia requires that the title be marked accordingly. Now, prior to that particular bike getting back on the road with a valid tag, it will have to be repaired, inspected, and re titled. OCGA 40-3-36(c) sets out the initial title salvage process and states in pertinent part: “Any insurance company which acquires a damaged motor vehicle by virtue of having paid a total loss claim shall mail or deliver the certificate of title to the commissioner for cancellation. In every case in which a total loss claim is paid and the insurance company does not acquire such damaged motor vehicle, the insurance company paying such total loss claim, the vehicle owner, and the lien holder or security interest holder, as applicable, shall take the following steps to secure a salvaged certificate of title for such motor vehicle. (i) If the vehicle owner is in possession of the certificate of title, the owner shall deliver the certificate of title to the insurance company prior to any payment of the claim, and the insurance company shall mail and deliver the certificate of title, an application for a salvaged certificate of title, and the form provided by the commissioner for issuance of a certificate of title; (ii) If the certificate of title has been lost, destroyed or misplaced, the vehicle owner shall, prior to the payment on the claim on such vehicle complete an application for a replacement of title on the form provided by the commissioner and deliver such application and form to the insurance company and the insurance company shall mail or deliver such application and form to the commissioner for issuance of a replacement original title marked salvage; (iii) If the lien holder or security interest holder has possession of the certificate of title, the vehicle owner shall complete an application for a replacement title on a form provided by the commissioner and shall deliver the completed form to the insurance company prior to the payment of the claim; the insurance company shall thereafter mail or deliver the application to the commissioner with notice of the payment of the total loss claim and the name and address of the lien holder or security interest holder in possession of the title. The commissioner shall mail notice to the lien holder or the security interest holder that a total loss claim has been paid on the vehicle and the title to such vehicle has been canceled, and the commissioner shall provide to the lien holder or the security interest holder a salvage certificate of title for such vehicle, provided that the validity of the security interest shall not be effected by the issuance of a salvage certificate of title.
Needless to say, you have to have a pretty good reason why you would want to repair a bike that has been declared a total. When explaining this to clients, I first explain that new motorcycles are manufactured every year by the hundreds of thousands. So unless you have found Elvis’ Harley or inherited your great grandfather’s Excelsior Henderson, let it go! Harley is one of the only companies worldwide that has an extensive frame replacement program and they can actually re-stamp a new frame to replace your bent existing one, with an exact match ,down to the VIN number. As I mentioned earlier, they require you to cut the neck off the old frame and send it to them first, effectively sending them the VIN stamp from the original frame. A couple of months’ process, but I have seen it work with some success in those instances where rarity, emotional attachment, or title history is important to the owner and restoration process.
13. Rider Training and License Requirements, Insurance breaks and how to survive on the open road
In order to legally operate a motorcycle in Georgia one must obtain a class “M” license endorsement. You can transfer one from another state if you passed that state’s motorcycle test, or you can pass Georgia’s test requirements and you already have a Georgia driver’s license. So, to get an “M” endorsement, you need to start out with a valid Georgia license. Anyone 17 years old or older can apply for a class “M” license. You can do so at 16 if you take an approved driver’s training program first, consisting of the 30 hour training/education course. If under 18, a parent or legal guardian must sign the application approving of the test process. The initial part of the motorcycle license application process is a written test about motorcycle operation. Not much different than the car driver’s written exam, just specific to motorbike operation. You must also pass an eye exam. Once they are passed, you get a temporary (6 months) permit allowing operation of a bike. The operator’s temporary permit is not valid for passengers, when traveling on a limited access highway like I-285 or interstates, or for operating a motorcycle at night. The written test scores are good for 2 years and if a full class “M” is not obtained by then, you must start over from scratch with the written test.
There are several motorcycle safety courses offered in the State of Georgia for both inexperienced riders as well as brush up courses offered for experienced and even expert riders. I encourage every rider, no matter how many miles you have logged, to take a safety course. Regardless of experience, you will always learn something from the instructor. My friend, Chris Carr, has excellent credentials and offers many safety school options throughout the state of Georgia and can be reached through his web site at “twowheeladventures.com.” That one technique or accident avoidance skill you learn, could make the difference between life and death. Taking these classes averages about a couple hundred dollars for full day courses. However, this expense can be offset by insurance premium savings upon reporting the safety class to your motorcycle insurance carrier. In the end, the course could be a freebie over the course of a couple of years. I have been riding on the street for a full 35 years and have taken several ‘refesher’ courses. I am always surprised how I learn a new trick or technique, despite what I thought I knew. Lesson of the day: old dogs can in fact learn new tricks.
Survival: The simple habits that have served me well, are condensed as follows: I never assume what the other driver is going to do whether they are in the next lane from me on a highway or stopped at the light opposite me in an intersection. I watch, interpret and then proceed. I assume the guy traveling next to me on a limited access highway, does not see me. For this reason, I NEVER ride abreast of a car and especially not a truck or trailer. Speed up, slow down, but never languish in a blind spot. I spend a couple of extra bucks on LED brake lights. Getting rear ended accounts for about 25% of the cases in my office. I’m sick of seeing “I never saw him” on police reports. Hedge your bets with LEDs out back, for the cost of a decent meal out. Proper gear, no matter what the weather, is absolutely imperative. The older I get, the more I gravitate to full faced helmets, protective gloves, back protector, thick road boots, chaps, and a proper leather riding jacket with elbow inserts. I try to avoid nighttime highway riding. Drunk drivers, deer, tired commuters, and of course ‘freaks’ all come out at night. Not a definitive list, just a practical paragraph after almost 4 decades of riding, and even surviving some crashes and scrapes.
14. Use of Headsets, Eye Protection Requirements, Mandatory Clothing and gear
In Georgia, there has been much ado about the use of headsets by motorcyclists in our legislature. At the current time, you cannot simply use ear buds for listening to music or I-pods and the like, unless the headset worn is specifically a two way communication device. O.C.G.A. 40-6-250 states that the use of an iPod or similar ‘music only’ device is prohibited. The legislative notes indicate that our lawmakers believe that doing so would impair a driver’s ability to hear his surroundings, such as traffic, horns, emergency vehicles and the like. Eye protection is required in Georgia, and is typically goggles or protective sunglasses. You are exempt from this if you have a full windshield on your motorcycle. I was stopped once and an officer with a good sense of humor quizzed me about why he pulled me over. I couldn’t figure it out. The sun had set on a long ride and I had stashed my shades. Although my old panhead puttered along at 40 or 45 miles per hour on rural Dawson County back roads, I did not realize that without a windshield, I was in violation of the law. I dug through my one saddlebag and found an old pair of ‘clears’ and went about my business without a yellow souvenir. O.C.G.A. 40-6-315 covers this, and until that time, even as a lawyer, I had no idea that what I was doing was illegal. The only way to travel without a windshield or glasses/goggles is to have a face shield affixed to your helmet. Eye protecting face shields must be no higher than the tip of the nose. So much for free and unencumbered motorcycle travel.
I can say from experience that a face shield on a full face helmet provides the best protection. By way of example, I once caught a bouncing acorn on Georgia 400 right on my upper lip. I did have a DOT approved half shell on, along with a pair of Ray Ban aviators. I felt the sting and assumed I would have a fat lip. The driver next to me signaled in horror within a mile as I did not realize that I had split my lip open and was leaking that red fluid all down my face, neck and shirt. A bloody mess to say the least. Lesson learned. Special regulations in Georgia state that the eye protection shall not impair the wearer’s ability to discern color, so a good pair of polarized lenses should be fine. Although cheap sunglasses, as cool as they sometimes can be, may be in violation of the law if they obstruct color pigments through the lens. Tinted windshields sometimes present a problem, and anything transmitting less than 85% of the light through it cannot be used at night. Be careful when ordering tinted custom shields for your bikes, as too dark a tint can run you afoul of the law AND make it difficult to see on darkened roadway. By the way, contact lenses do not count. Each lense on your glasses must be at least 3 inches square, a minimum of 2 inches wide, and a minimum of 1.5 inches tall. Prescription glasses that meet these requirements are fine, or you can simply wear purpose built goggles to cover them. A relatively simple piece of equipment made complicated, thanks to our legislature. Remember, the old saying of ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’ is ironic only because its absurdity is a truism!