The Dunwoody City Council is considering a new ordinance that would prevent motor vehicle drivers from getting too close to or threatening pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and other “vulnerable road users” as part of a goal to make city roads safer.

The ordinance would impose stiff penalties against violators, including fines, jail time or having their license suspended. The penalties could be removed if the driver agreed to take a driver education class.

The Dunwoody council was scheduled to take up the ordinance at its Sept. 9 meeting in the first of two presentations, but the council agreed to defer discussion to allow the city’s legal department more time to go over its language.

“This is an important public safety issue and we want to get it right,” Councilmember Tom Lambert said at the meeting. Lambert is the sponsor of the proposed ordinance. There was no other discussion by councilmembers at the meeting.

The current draft of the ordinance would require, among other things, that motorists move over into an empty lane if possible when passing someone on a bike, scooter or moped. If another lane is not empty, then car and small truck drivers would be required to pass vulnerable road users with at least 3 feet of space between them. For larger trucks or commercial vehicles, the safe space to pass a vulnerable road user is at least 6 feet, according to the draft ordinance.

The ordinance bans motor vehicles from driving too closely to “vulnerable road users” to intimidate or threaten them, or tossing objects at them. The draft ordinance also requires motorists to yield to vulnerable road users who are approaching an intersection or close to an intersection.

The ordinance’s definition of “vulnerable road users” includes highway construction workers, emergency service providers and utility workers whose job can put them close to busy roads. People using skateboards, roller skates, wheelchairs and horse-drawn carriages would also be classified as “vulnerable road users.”

The ordinance might not apply in incidents where the “vulnerable road user” was violating traffic laws.

Lambert said he felt compelled to propose the ordinance after learning in January about a middle-school student being nearly struck by a car while she was in a crosswalk at North Peachtree and Tilly Mill roads. In another January incident, a jogger was struck by a car as she ran in a crosswalk and sustained serious injuries, he said.

The drivers were not paying attention to the road while the pedestrians were following the law, Lambert said. The proposed ordinance could help raise more awareness among motorists about sharing the road, he added. Deterrents such as fines, mandatory court dates and even a stint in jail, are also intended to change driver behavior to be more aware of their surroundings.

“We are striving to become a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city and have initiated a lot of priorities like sidewalks [and] crosswalks,” Lambert said. “Infrastructure is great, but you only get one piece of the puzzle.

“The idea not to be punitive, but to educate drivers,” he added. “We’re crafting the ordinance in way the driver can have penalties reduced or removed if they complete a driver education class.”

No other cities in Georgia currently have such an ordinance, Lambert said. He said he worked with Police Chief Billy Grogan and the city attorney to come up with Dunwoody’s ordinance by researching similar ones in Houston and Washington state. Nine states in the country have “vulnerable road user” laws, Lambert said.

Lambert said he hopes to have the proposed ordinance back before the City Council later this month. “I’m excited for us to blaze this trail … and set an example for other municipalities,” he said.

Dunwoody resident Cheryl Summers spoke out against the ordinance during public comment, saying “vulnerable road users” can use sidewalks and other pathways to stay off roads.

“I don’t see the need for this,” she said. “I don’t know of any driver or operator of a vehicle who would deliberately try to run down a pedestrian or one of these others vulnerable road users. I think this is a little ridiculous and redundant to what we already have.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.