The League of American Bicyclists has named Washington “The Most Bicycle-Friendly U.S. State” for the past nine years, and Bellevue, WA boasts a number of bike routes for cyclists to enjoy. Despite this, bicycle accidents still occur at an alarming rate. In 2013 alone, Washington saw 1,325 bicycle-vehicle collisions. In these collisions, bicyclists generally run a much greater risk of being seriously injured or killed than vehicle drivers do. At Lehmbecker Law, we see a number of personal injury cases that involve bicycle accidents each year.
In a bicycle-vehicle collision, the jury or judge usually has must determine whether liability belongs to the bicyclist, the driver of the vehicle, or a combination of the two. In bicycle accident cases, liability (or who is at fault in the accident) generally translates to negligence. The driver of the vehicle may be entirely liable if he or she crashes into a bicyclist by disobeying the rules of the road or distracted driving. In other cases, the bicyclist may have been riding in the wrong lane, or may have biked out in front of traffic without proper signaling, thus causing the accident him or herself and assuming liability.
Negligence in Bicycle Accidents
Drivers can be negligent by speeding, failing to check their mirrors, failing to use turn signals, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other actions that constitute negligence on the driver’s part include:
- Texting while driving;
- Driving in the bike lane, and;
- Failing to obey traffic signals and stop signs.
Drivers have a responsibility toward bicyclists, just as they do toward other drivers. This means that they should be alert and use reasonable caution when driving around bicyclists and turning across bike lanes.
However, bicyclists also have a responsibility toward drivers. If a bicyclist turns unexpectedly, rides out into the middle of traffic, rides the wrong way down a one-way street, or runs through a stop sign, he or she may contribute to an accident.
In cases involving a bicycle-vehicle accident, the jury (or judge) will usually consider whether or not any recklessness or negligence on the driver’s part caused the collision, and whether or not the bicyclist contributed in any way through his or her own negligence.
The plaintiff (injured person) in a case is responsible for proving the other party acted negligently. In a collision involving an injured bicyclist, this means the bicyclist (or their representative) must prove that the driver of the vehicle was acting negligently at the time of the accident, and that this negligence caused the bicyclist’s injuries. The plaintiff often proves this through eyewitness accounts, police reports, and photos of the damage.
In some cases, traffic violations can help prove negligence. If, for example, the driver was speeding shortly before the accident occurred—or if the driver ran a red light—and evidence of this traffic violation exists, that evidence counts as proof of the driver’s negligence. If this is the case, then the driver (the defendant) must prove that his or her negligent behavior did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries. If the driver cannot prove this, then he or she may be responsible for covering the cost of the plaintiff’s medical bills related to injuries caused by the accident, as well as for pain and suffering damages and lost wages.
However, if a bicyclist contributes to an accident by being negligent in any way, he or she may be unable to recover money from the driver for damages. When a bicyclist’s negligence contributes to an accident, it is known as contributory negligence or comparative negligence. In this case, the bicyclist is at least partly responsible for his or her own injuries, and can even be held responsible, depending on the circumstances, for the driver’s injuries as well.
In accidents involving child bicyclists, courts generally go easier on the bicyclist and hold the driver more accountable.
Understanding the Law as a Cyclist
The most important law bicyclists should understand is that they have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists while on the roadway. Whatever action you would, or would not, take in a car will also apply to your time on a bicycle. A bicyclist also may be ticketed for a moving violation committed while on a bicycle.
Some other important cycling laws to know include:
- Bicyclists can ride no more than two abreast on the roadway;
- A white front light and red rear reflector are required for night riding;
- Certain state highways are closed to bicycle traffic;
- Remember to use proper hand signals to turn or stop.
One law that does not exist on a statewide basis is a requirement to wear a helmet while biking. But many individual municipalities do have such a law, including King County. The county passed its law in 1993, and extended its enforcement to Seatle in 2003. The fine for not wearing a helmet is $30.
Bicycle Accident Statistics
- Each year, hundreds of bicyclists die in traffic accidents.
- The total cost of injury and death suffered by bicyclists in the U.S. is over $4 billion each year.
- Per capita, Florida is the deadliest state for bicyclists. Washington ranks at number 27.
- 68% of fatal bicycle accidents occur in urban areas.
- 34% of 2013 bicycle accidents involved alcohol.
- In 2013, about 48,000 bicyclists were injured and 743 were killed in traffic accidents in the U.S.
- Male cyclists are seven times more likely than female cyclists to die in bicycle accidents, according to data gathered in 2013.
- In Washington, 35% of fatal accidents happen when bicyclists cross roadways; 27% when bicyclists ride against traffic; and 10% when bicyclists turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
- About one third of all bicycle injuries occur when bicyclists are hit by cars.
- Three out of five at-fault drivers in vehicle-bicycle collisions are never cited.
What to Do after Being Involved in a Bicycle Accident
When an accident of any kind occurs, it is critical to take the appropriate actions as soon as possible. Contact police and emergency personal to assess the scene as soon as possible, and do not leave the scene of the accident without first filing a report, gathering contact information of those involved in the accidents (along with witnesses), photos of the scene, and treat any injuries that require immediate attention. Never accept a settlement or give a statement without first consulting an experienced attorney and discussing your case to determine your claim.
At Lehmbecker Law, we have over 30 years of experience in assessing and winning personal injury cases on behalf of our clients. Contact us today for a free initial consultation and to learn more about seeking compensation for your injuries.