The Southern state of Georgia may present the image of a slower pace and sleepy nature, but it serves up a lot of driving variety — from cruising down the dramatic Atlantic coastline to winding through the Great Smoky Mountains. Indeed, driving through Georgia can provide a rich study in contrast as drivers pass through lush farmlands, graceful historic mansions, and the glorious garden cities of Savannah and Atlanta.
The Peach State provides what some think of as a laid-back American experience, but when driving, the need for vigilance is ever-present. Knowing the rules and requirements for safe driving in Georgia will contribute to your great driving experience.
Georgia’s Car Culture
Like many of their fellow Americans, Georgians have an affinity for cars. Georgia is not a car manufacturing hot spot like states such as Michigan and Ohio are. But it is the biggest state on the East coast – and thus getting around in Georgia means there is a lot of dependency and loyalty to the automobile as an essential part of life.
In fact, nothing could be a more quintessential celebration of the car than The Dukes of Hazzard, an iconic TV show set in a fictional Georgia county and featuring a pair of brothers who are constantly trying to outwit the local law. The show was famous for the many stunt jumps executed by the “General Lee,” a 1969 Dodge Charger used in the series. Astonishingly, up to 300 of these cars were wrecked while carrying out stunts in the course of the show’s seven-year run.
As Georgia is spared the harsh winters of the northern states, the population of classic cars in the Peach State can be an attractive calling-card for car aficionados. Many beautiful examples of older cars abound on country byways and in the city streets throughout the state. For a real blast from the past, consider a trip to Old Car City, the 4,000-car vehicle junkyard considered among the largest resting places for classic cars in the world.
Newer entrants to the automobile market may not share the same love for cars as older generations, however. Indications are that millennials are putting the brakes on car culture with younger residents slowing their adoption of the automobile. Like millennials elsewhere, young Georgia residents seem to be demonstrating increased adoption of public transit systems and other alternatives to car ownership, such as rideshare programs.
How Many Miles in a Year?
Georgia drivers travel an average of 18,920 miles in a year, compared to the national average of 9,772. That’s the second greatest average annual miles of any state in the country.
The number of miles driven per capita has also risen in recent years. From 2011 to 2014, Georgia saw the second-highest increase in “vehicle miles traveled per capita,” which is calculated by taking the total annual miles of vehicle traveled divided by the total population of the state (not just drivers). This increase is generally thought to be due to the recession ending, overall financial conditions improving and the city of Atlanta continuing to expand outward, increasing the average commute distance of drivers.
Urban vs. Rural Driving
In general, across Georgia accidents happen more frequently in urban areas, such as Atlanta, than they do in the rest of the state. Accidents in urban areas are also more severe, in terms of financial cost, than accidents in rural areas. However, if you examine the mortality rate of accidents in rural versus urban areas, you will find that rural counties experience a higher mortality rate – meaning that more people die as a result of car crashes in rural areas, compared to accidents in urban locations. In rural areas, it normally takes longer for first responders to arrive than in urban areas.
Why then are urban accidents, which are less severe in terms of resulting deaths, more costly than rural accidents? The prevailing theory is that crashes in the Atlanta metro area give rise to more lawsuits than accidents in rural areas.
Compared to rural areas, accidents in urban areas across Georgia are more frequent, simply due to the total number of cars on the road. They’re also reported more often than crashes in rural areas. In urban areas, however, accidents typically occur at lower speeds. These slower speeds mean a consequently lower risk of injury than the risk associated with incidents on wide-open rural roads, with cars travelling at greater speed.
The Unemployment Rate
Although it might not be immediately apparent, traffic congestion is directly impacted by employment levels: More people working generates more work-hour commuting, as well as more disposable income and greater levels of overall consumer activity. Greater levels of spending, in turn, create more commercial traffic as consumer goods are delivered and construction activity ramps up.
The Cost of Gas
Historically, Georgia gas prices have tended to hover around the nationwide average. More recently, that changed as the gas tax in Georgia moved from a percentage tax to a flat tax. As gas prices fell across the country in recent years, the state was seeing a shortfall of expected tax revenue from the pumps. In response, legislators decided to adopt a flat tax, which would allow overall state gas tax revenues to be maintained. This change caused prices at the pump to increase.
Because the price of gas is influenced by many factors, the southeast part of the state benefits from its proximity to major refineries in Louisiana, which keeps the transportation component of gas prices low at the pump. Georgia now has slightly higher gas prices than most of the southeast. Currently, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia drivers see higher average gas prices than drivers in Georgia do.
Georgia Driving Regulations
Since 2010, it has been illegal in the state of Georgia to text while driving. Police have been known to mount sting operations around the state dressed as construction workers at busy intersections. In these anti-distracted driving campaigns, undercover officers monitor driver behavior to determine when drivers are driving distracted, then radio other police officers ahead who pull drivers over and issue citations. This innovative approach to policing distracted driving was introduced when traffic units saw data that indicated traffic fatalities were skyrocketing, with texting and neglect of seatbelts as major factors.
Georgia has also passed a “Move Over” law, which requires that motorists travelling in the lane adjacent to the shoulder must move-over one lane when emergency and utility vehicles are stopped on the side of the highway and operating in an official capacity. This includes all first responders (law enforcement, fire, EMS), utility vehicles, DOT vehicles, HERO Units and wreckers tending to an accident. This law was expanded in 2016 to include utility linesman in the category of emergency vehicles which must be given a full lane of space when passing. Fines are stiff, but are designed to provide protection to public safety workers who are responding to incidents from their greatest safety threat: other vehicles.
In addition to the Move Over Law, safe passing of bicycles in Georgia has been legislated to require a three-foot safe passing distance on the roadway. Georgia also has a zero-tolerance law for impaired driving: drive sober or be arrested.
Teen Driving Regulations
Georgia employs a Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) system which means new drivers, who are usually involved in more collisions than more experienced drivers, must earn a series of qualifications over time.
The regulations for younger drivers include:
- A learner’s permit can be obtained at age 15.
- An “intermediate license” may be granted at age 16 if a driver’s education program has been completed, or at age 17 if no drivers’ education has been completed. To get an intermediate license, considerable in-car training time is required, at least some of which must be completed at night.
- During the first six months after an intermediate license has been obtained, only immediate family members may ride in the vehicle.
- During the second six months following issuance, only one passenger under 21 years of age who is not a member of the driver’s immediate family may ride in the vehicle. All other passengers must be over the age of 21 or in the driver’s immediate family.
- After the first and second six-month periods, only three passengers under 21 years of age who are not members of the driver’s immediate family may ride in the vehicle.
Drivers under 18 years of age who hold a valid out-of-state license should normally be able to obtain a comparable license issued by Georgia.
Auto Insurance Regulations
Auto insurance is required in Georgia. The minimum limits of liability required under Georgia automobile insurance law are bodily injury liability of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident and property damage liability of $25,000 per accident.
Georgia requires continuous insurance of vehicles. If your coverage lapses, your registration is immediately suspended and you may face fines of $85 per violation. Your insurance status is electronically on file with the state and a paper record may not actually be required, but out-of-state drivers would be well-advised to carry documentation.
The State of Driving in Georgia
Seeing Georgia by car can be a remarkable laid-back experience, rich in landscapes and history. Whether you’re planning a visit, or you’re a regular driver through the Peach State, it is wise to be aware of the requirements for motorists. As much as Georgia has a rich history of car worship, regulation has kept pace to enhance and increase the safety of driving for residents and visitors alike.