By Richard H. Adler, Attorney at Law
Bicycles have become quite popular over the past few years. With increasing gas prices, more and more folks ride to and from work or use bikes to run errands. It is a convenient and inexpensive method of travel and a fun way to exercise by yourself or with family or friends. Many cities have recognized the increase in bike traffic and have constructed special bike lanes. Parks have made trails accessible to cyclists. Unfortunately, some automobile drivers do not respect the bicyclists’ rights to share the roads. Equally important, some bicyclists have not been educated on how to legally and safely share the roads with automobiles, resulting in serious and sometimes fatal injuries.
Did you know?
- Nearly 1 million children are injured each year in bicycle-related collisions.
- A bicyclist is fatally injured every 6 hours.
- 49 percent of all bicycle fatalities occurred to children under the age of 16.
- While bicycle v. vehicle collisions only account for one-third of all collisions, they account for a majority of the catastrophic injuries.
The most common causes of bicycle v. motor vehicle collisions occur when:
- The motor vehicle driver opens his/her driver’s door when parked
- A motor vehicle sideswipes a bicyclist while passing
- A motorist fails to yield the right of way to the cyclist
- The cyclist travels over a road surface hazard
Though a cyclist has as much of a right to the roadway as a motor vehicle in Washington, the number and types of bicyclist vs. motor vehicle collisions that occur seem to indicate that motor vehicle drivers are not aware of cyclists’ road rights. Here are a few common examples of when cars and bicycles crash.
- Driver Opens Door of a Parked Car: Cyclists are required to ride as far to the right of the road as possible. This places a cyclist close to parked cars. There is a duty for a person opening a door of a parked car not to do so unless it is safe to other cars passing as well as cyclists. A traumatic injury caused by the opening of a parked car door is generally the fault of the door opener.
- Sideswiped by a Passing Motor Vehicle: Another rule of the road for a motorist requires him/her to maintain a safe space while passing a bicyclist. The problem of sufficient passing space has become more complicated as more trucks, buses, and super-sized SUVs are on the roadway.
- A vehicle traveling behind a cyclist who wants to pass him/her cannot do so unless it is clearly safe. This may require the busy motorist to slow down and wait until there is enough space to pass or to change lanes. It is not uncommon following a collision of this type for the at-fault party’s insurance company to argue that the cyclist was not as far to the right as he/she could have or should have been. The appropriate counter-argument to this claim is that the motorist had a duty to wait until it was safe to pass, and that knocking a cyclist over is not a permissible option, despite the urgency of the motorist to pass.
- Turning Into the Path of the Cyclist: It is most common for motor vehicle v. bicycle collision to occur when the motor vehicle turns into the path of a cyclist. In this situation the motorist is liable for the collision in light of a basic rule of the road – a vehicle may not turn unless it is safe to do so.
- Common Roadway Hazards for a Cyclist: Roadway hazards (pot holes, sewer grates, slick paint, improperly placed monuments or man hole covers, and disruptions to the road surface from street construction work) are particularly dangerous for a cyclist as they may cause cyclists to lose control or veer into the path of another vehicle. These types of personal injury claims are complicated and involve taking action against the governmental or public agency that maintains the roadway. It is important to note that filing a claim against any public agency is coupled with special requirements and time limits before a lawsuit may proceed.
What to Do After a Bicycle Collision
The checklist below sets out what you need to do as a cyclist if you are ever involved in a bicycle collision, especially one in which you receive traumatic personal injuries:
- Call Police: Both the cyclist and the motorist have a legal obligation to report the collision to the police if there is any physical injury or property damage, and to remain at the scene of the collision until police arrive.
- Exchange Information with the Driver: Both cyclists and motorists have a legal obligation to exchange information at the scene of the accident including their names, addresses, phone numbers, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, make of car, and automobile insurance policy numbers.
- Obtain Names and Phone Numbers of Any Witnesses: Witnesses to the collision and the injuries can be helpful in documenting what happened and recording the information you need.
- Obtain the Police Collision Report Number: Before the police leave the collision scene, ask for a card from the officer and write down the collision report number.
- Write Down How the Collision Happened: Soon after the collision, draw a detailed map or diagram using arrows to show the position and direction of yourself and all motor vehicles involved.
- Seek Medical Attention: Consult a doctor immediately for an assessment of your physical condition and treatment of any personal injuries from the collision.
- Contact the Insurance Company of the Driver: It is important to notify the insurance company of the driver of the vehicle for two reasons: first, to find out if the driver carried Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, which would be available to pay the cyclist’s medical bills and provide other benefits; second, to notify them of a possible third party or liability claim against the driver for causing the injuries and damages in the collision.
- Preserve Evidence: Take photographs of any visible injuries to you, damage to your bicycle, and/or roadway hazards that caused or contributed to your injuries, if any. Keep any damaged clothing and bike parts. Get a written assessment of the damage to your bicycle. If possible, avoid having the bike repaired until any issues of liability and damages from the collision are concluded.
- Notice how these practical tips are very similar to the list of what to do in any type of motor vehicle collision. No one plans on having a traumatic injury in a car or on a bicycle, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared.