Our firm recently began handling a case involving a cyclist’s death when the cyclist was struck and killed by a motor vehicle. I began to get curious about the legal implications and new statutes passed in my state that could help our case, but could also help to keep me, my friends, and my family members safe as we bike.
Here are some data that I’m chewing on:
Rules and Stats
• The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) shows that a total of 777 cyclists died in collisions during 2017 . This is a decrease of 8 percent from 2016 but an increase of 23 percent since the low of 2010. The highest number of deaths are among men over 20 years of age. 54 percent of cyclists killed were not wearing helmets. Since 2010, the use of helmets has remained pretty stable…but disappointingly so — only 16 percent of those killed were wearing them. The highest percentage of deaths occurred between 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
• Many of the incidents involve the driver or the cyclist being drunk or under the influence of drugs.
• Share the Road Laws: Nearly every state has laws which give a cyclist the right to share the road, but with those laws comes the responsibility to know how to apply them.
• Side of the Road Laws: All states have the “side-of-the-road” rules which require bicyclists to ride on the far right side of the road or in a bike lane if they are not moving as fast as traffic. This usually includes their right to bike on the shoulder if no bike lane is available.
• Safe passing distance: Most states (37) now require that a motor vehicle, when passing a cyclist, gives them at least three feet of space between the cyclist and the vehicle. (National Conference of State Legislature, NCLS, 7/27/18 “Safely Passing Bicyclists”)
• Helmet Laws: The League of American Bicyclists has data which show that most states (29 of them) do not require a bicycle helmet at all! The other states only require it for minors of various ages.
• More people die or have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) when not wearing a helmet. Helmeted bicycle riders had 51 percent reduced odds of severe TBI and 44 percent reduced odds of mortality according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Their conclusion? “Bicycle helmet use provides protection against severe TBI, reduces facial fractures, and saves lives even after sustaining an intracranial hemorrhage.”
Dooring Laws: Dooring laws require that a person opening their vehicle door do so with due caution for cyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles. Dooring accidents are most common in urban areas and often go unreported.
I often hear people say, “Why should I wear a helmet? I’m riding trails and not roads.” They don’t account for the road crossings to get to the trail, unlevel trails and walkways from bulging tree roots, or deep cracks in sidewalks that are in disrepair. A friend of mine was biking on a trail and because of such an anomaly in the trail, she was catapulted over her handle bars. She ended up with severe facial injuries (broken nose, facial fractures, broken teeth and cut lips after she took a serious fall on that trail. She was hospitalized and had several months of recovery and was told by her doctors that if she hadn’t been wearing her bike helmet and a baseball cap, she likely would have died or had traumatic brain injury.
I know of people who have been injured. One of my close friends was struck by a car while riding her bike less than a mile from her home, in a low speed zone. The motorist “didn’t see her” (in spite of my friend’s hand signals, bright colors, flashing lights and right of way). Another friend had a motorist open a door on her as she was passing the parked car on her bike, and now she has one fewer digit on her hand! A retired gentleman from my bike club was struck by a truck on a ride and had months of recovery. His wife hid his other bike, hoping he’d forget he had it. Though he sustained cognitive loss from the accident, he remembered exactly how many bikes he had and has convinced his wife that he must ride with the group to be happy in life.
What should you do if you (or a loved one, or a client) is in a bicycle motor vehicle collision? These suggestions come from Bicycle Law, an organization (no surprise, made up of lawyers who are cyclists) that provides legal resources and legal help to cyclists.
1. A collision is generally the result of someone’s negligence (the driver’s, the cyclist’s, both driver and cyclist, or local government for the road and trail conditions).
2. Get a police report, even if you don’t think you are seriously injured. Often a cyclist doesn’t realize the extent of his/her injuries until several hours later.
3. Get estimates for the property damages for your bicycle. Take photos of the damages to your bike and equipment and don’t obtain repairs until you have spoken with an attorney. Leave your bike and other damaged property in the same states it was after the accident.
4. Do what you can to ensure that the officer is reporting the collision accurately. Ensure that the officer includes any witness statements and a statement from the cyclist.
5. Don’t attempt to negotiate with an at fault driver.
6. Don’t communicate with the driver’s insurance company before consulting an attorney.
7. Seek prompt medical treatment for your injuries. Keep a journal of physical symptoms. Your medical records become part of the evidence of the extent of your injuries.
8. Take photos of your injuries (from different angles and with different lighting).
9. Try to be sure that a detailed analysis is made of the crash site including skid marks, photographs of the accident, measurements and diagrams of the accident scene, and if possible, obtain a black box analysis of the vehicle.
I love biking and, in truth, will continue to bike to work (and other places). There’s a new Bicycle Commuter Act that may pass and it would give me a possible tax break. Alex Voucolo reports in Bicyling.com that this new bill in congress will give bike commuters a tax break (about $53/month) which will help to cover maintenance and upkeep on a commuter bike.
But also, I will try to be sure I’m following these guidelines:
• Inspect my bike regularly and give it tune ups, cleaning and lubing the chain and gears. Check tire pressure, brakes, gears and lights before getting on the bike.
• Know the specific rules for my state.
• Follow the rules of the road. Since I have the same rights as motorists, I need to display the same responsibilities and stop at traffic lights and stop signs.
• Try to become visible to motorists. (They often don’t see cyclists.). Be more visible with eye catching colorful clothes, lights, reflective clothing, pedal reflectors and even glow-in-the-dark paint for bicycles or cyclists clothes.
• Give clear hand signals and be predictable with stops, turns and intentions for lane changes.
• Be a good ambassador for bicycling. For safety, I always assume the motorist may not yield to me, but always give a congenial wave when they do. Be a good ambassador to pedestrians on the trail as well. Instead of zooming past them or barking out, “ON YOUR LEFT!”, I try to call out in a pleasant voice “passing on your left…thank you…have a great day.”
• I hope to become involved in being a spokesperson for better legislation for bicyclists. The League of American Bicyclists states that there is model legislation that each state can strive for: (“vulnerable road user laws” to protect pedestrians and bicyclists by having stiffer penalties for motorists who injure them, model “where to ride laws” which delineates more clearly where on the road one should ride and under what conditions, and model “safe passing laws” which contains specific text to clarify the 3 foot rule as to how it applies on different road conditions.
I’ve concluded that my best biking happens when I have an understanding of the laws combined with my love for the sport. Now, it’s time to suit up for my morning ride!