Road Rights- How to Handle Bike-Car Accidents, Part 1
I Was In A Collision—What Should I Do?
By Bob Mionske
It was an unusually bright sunny February day in Portland; I was on a ride and had a tailwind, so I was moving along pretty well. Suddenly, without warning or signaling, a driver made a right turn in front of me—a classic “right hook.”
I had a moment where I saw what was happening, and attempted to turn right along the trajectory of the car, but just before impact I had to accept that I was not going to make it. She stopped mid-turn and I t-boned her right front quarter panel. I did a long flying aerial somersault and landed flat on my back and back of my head.
After paramedics checked me for head and spine injuries, I went to emergency for x-rays. I was “lucky”; when my head hit the pavement, my jaw snapped shut, and I “only” broke my front teeth, dislocated my shoulder, and had my hips slammed into the pavement.
As every cyclist knows, any ride can bring a host of near-misses with inattentive drivers, aggressive drivers, or just plain clueless drivers—and it doesn’t take much to go from near-miss to tragedy. It can happen in the blink of an eye.
You can make your own riding as safe as possible, and you can take precautions to help drivers be more careful, but what if you’re involved in a crash anyway, despite taking precautions? There are some things you can do there too, before and after the crash, to protect yourself, and make things a little bit easier.
Before You Ride
There are a few things you need to take care of before you ride. You should be sure that you are fully insured on your auto, health, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies. If you have an automobile insurance policy, make sure that you have the highest amount of UM/UIM (“Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist”) coverage available. This is extremely important coverage for cyclists, but unfortunately, it’s only available if you have an automobile. The good news is, that may change soon—stay tuned!
If you have medical insurance, carry your medical insurance card or policy number when you ride. You will need this information if you crash and are taken to a hospital.
In that same vein, you should always carry some form of identification with you when you ride. This can be any form of government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, state I.D., military I.D., or passport. Alternatively, Road ID is one company that makes identification bracelets for cyclists, with information about the cyclist, and who to contact.
I recommend carrying a cell phone when you ride, too. If you’re injured and alone, you can use it to call for help. One of my clients did just that—he was badly injured, and would likely have died, but he saved his own life by calling his wife, who was on speed dial. Another reason to carry your cell phone while you ride is because you can use it to take photos and record information in the event of a crash.
After a Collision
Suppose a careless driver collides with you. Now what? There are some things that you need to know right away, and there are some things you will need to do, preferably in the immediate aftermath of the crash, or as soon as you are able afterwords.
First, DO NOT discuss any aspect of the crash, including who might be at fault, with the driver, and DO NOT attempt to negotiate with the driver. From the moment of impact, the driver’s insurance company becomes your adversary, and anything you say about the crash from that moment forward will be evaluated by the driver’s insurance company for its potential as evidence against you. Even if it seems obvious to you that the driver is at fault, the driver’s insurance company will attempt to turn your words and actions against you if it can. The claims adjuster’s job is to minimize the amount they pay out on claims. Their job is NOT about being fair to you.
However, you won’t want to remain silent after the crash. If a law enforcement officer is on the scene asking questions about the crash, make sure you give the officer your account of what happened, along with providing your name and address.
Try to remember everything the driver says; drivers will often apologize for causing the accident immediately after the crash, only to later deny that they admitted fault. Some drivers will not only deny causing the crash, they will even deny that they were there.
DO NOT let the driver leave the scene without providing you with his or her driver’s license and proof of insurance. Insist on seeing the actual driver’s license and proof of insurance. If the driver refuses to provide these, call the police immediately.
Note the color, make, model, and license plate number of the driver’s vehicle. Get this immediately, before the driver can have time to think about leaving the scene.
Collect the names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident. If you are injured and cannot get the names of witnesses, and the driver’s information, ask a witness to do it for you. If police respond to the accident scene, they should collect this information, but there’s no guarantee that the responding officer will do a good job, so if you’re not too seriously injured, make sure that the police have the information before the driver leaves.
However, don’t assume that the police have prepared or will prepare an accident report. These reports are only completed if the police investigate an accident, and policies on accident reports will vary from one law enforcement agency to another. If an accident report is prepared, make sure that it is accurate. It is not uncommon for police to interview the driver, and fail to interview the cyclist, particularly if the cyclist has been injured. These one-sided accounts of what happened typically shift the blame for the accident to the injured cyclist.
While the facts are still fresh, commit to memory everything you can about the accident—a description of the driver, the driver’s vehicle, and your best recollection of what happened. Write it all down, as soon after the crash as you are able.
After the crash, you may decide that you want to make a claim with the driver’s insurance company. However, DO NOT discuss the accident with the driver’s insurance company before consulting with an attorney. Again, the driver’s insurance company is NOT your friend. Insurance companies are highly skilled at fighting claims, so do not discuss the accident or your claim until you have consulted with an attorney.
In my next column, I will discuss what you will need to know and things you will need to do while you are recovering from an injury.
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.
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This article, How To Handle Bike-Car Accidents, Part 1, was originally published on Bicycling on June 2, 2011.
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