Unofficial Opinion U2018-2

August 20, 2018
To: 

Chair, Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia

Re: 

Georgia law does not require a vehicle travelling on a three or five lane road divided by a center turn lane to stop for a school bus that is stopped on the opposite side of the road with its visual signals engaged.

You have asked whether, based on the 2018 revision to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163(b), a car travelling south on a three or five lane road where the north and south lanes are divided by only a center turn lane and not a grass strip or other physical dividing median has an obligation under Georgia law to stop for a school bus that is stopped with its visual signals engaged.[1]  For the reasons that follow, I conclude that this statute, as amended by the General Assembly during the 2018 session, does not require a vehicle travelling on a three or five lane road divided by a center turn lane to stop for a school bus that is stopped on the opposite side of the road with its visual signals engaged.  See O.C.G.A. § 40‑6‑163(b) (2018).

Prior to the 2018 revision, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163(b) read in relevant part: “The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with separate roadways need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on a different roadway . . . .”  1990 Ga. Laws 2048, 2273.  This office previously interpreted this language to mean that vehicles approaching from the opposite side of a highway separated by a grass strip or other physical division were not required to stop for a school bus, but all vehicles approaching a stopped school bus from either direction were required to stop if the lanes were separated only by painted stripes such as a flush median or left-turn lane.  See 1989 Op. Att’y Gen. No. 89-20; 1963-65 Op. Att’y Gen. pp. 303, 304.

However, the General Assembly recently amended the language of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163(b) to provide:

The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with separate roadways or a divided highway, including, but not limited to, a highway divided by a turn lane, need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is on a different roadway or on another half of a divided highway . . . .

O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163(b) (2018) (emphasis added).  See Website of the Georgia General Assembly, 2017-18 Regular Session, Act 545 (H.B. 978), www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20172018/179022.pdf (last visited August 15, 2018).  A “divided highway” is defined in the Georgia Code as “a highway divided into two or more roadways by leaving an intervening space or by a physical barrier or by a clearly indicated dividing section so constructed as to impede vehicular traffic.”  O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(13).

There is a presumption that all statutes are “‘enacted by the legislature with full knowledge of the existing condition of the law and with reference to it.’”  Evans v. Gwinnett Cty. Public Sch., 337 Ga. App. 690, 693 (2016) (quoting Botts v. Southeastern Pipe-Line Co., 190 Ga. 689, 700-01 (1940)).

[T]he cardinal rule of statutory construction “look[s] diligently for the intention of the General Assembly,” Judicial Council v. Brown & Gallo, LLC, 288 Ga. 294, 296-97 (2010), and “the ‘golden rule’ of statutory construction . . . requires us to follow the literal language of the statute ‘unless it produces contradiction, absurdity, or such an inconvenience as to insure that the legislature meant something else.’”  Telecom*USA v. Collins, 260 Ga. 362, 363 (1990) (quoting Dept. of Transp. v. City of Atlanta, 255 Ga. 124, 137 (1985) (Clarke, J., concurring specially)).

2016 Op. Att’y Gen. 2016‑5.   A statute should be construed according to its terms with words given their plain and ordinary meanings.  See Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172-73 (2013).  “‘[F]rom the addition of words, it may be presumed that the legislature intended some change in the existing law.’”  Evans, 337 Ga. App. at 693 (quoting Bd. of Assessors of Jefferson Cty. v. McCoy Grain Exchange, Inc., 234 Ga. App. 98, 100 (1998)).  The rules of statutory construction counsel against an interpretation that would render some language of the statute mere surplusage.  Abercrombie v. State, 343 Ga. App. 774, 777-78 (2017). 

The plain and ordinary language of O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163(b), as amended, does not require a vehicle travelling on a highway “divided by a turn lane” to stop for a school bus that is on the opposite side of the road.  The statutory definition of a “divided highway” does not itself include division by a center turn lane, but O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163(b), as amended, goes beyond the statutory definition of divided highway.  The statute expanded the scope of vehicles that are not required to stop for a school bus to include those travelling on the other side of a highway “divided by a center turn lane.”  See O.C.G.A. § 40‑6-163(b) (2018).  As noted above, a center turn lane would include a lane separated only by painted stripes, such as a flush median or a left‑turn lane.  Under the canons of statutory construction, it is presumed that this additional language was intended to change existing law.  If not, this addition would be mere surplusage.

Given the above provisions, I conclude that Georgia law does not require a vehicle travelling on a three or five lane road divided by a center turn lane to stop for a school bus that is stopped on the opposite side of the road with its visual signals engaged.

Prepared by:

Meghan Davidson

Assistant Attorney General

 

[1] For purposes of this opinion, it is assumed that the school bus is stopped in a northbound lane, i.e., the on-coming vehicle is on the opposite side of the road from where the school bus is loading or unloading.