If you’re injured by a careless driver, you have a legal right to be compensated for your injuries.
The insurance industry has spent enormous sums of money in a public relations effort aimed at convincing the public that “tort reform” is needed to rein in “frivolous” lawsuits. There’s nothing frivolous about a car-on-bike collision– for the cyclist, they are painful, expensive, and the injuries received may be permanent and debilitating– sometimes even fatal. Receiving just compensation for your injuries is not “winning the lottery”– it is your legal right to be made whole again by the person whose carelessness injured you.
Nevertheless, because car-on-bike accidents can have such serious consequences for cyclists, it is by far better to avoid them in the first place, than to be compensated afterwards — after all, no amount of money can take the place of your good health. Fortunately, we know what the risks in cycling are, and therefore, it is often possible to reduce our risk.
- Related Article: Why We Say “Bicycle Accidents” Are Not Accidents
Observe the traffic laws
This is a legal requirement, and it protects you in two ways. First, the traffic laws are a common set of rules that tell everybody on the road what to expect from each other. When you ride in a manner that is predictable to others, your chances of being collided with are reduced. It’s the flip side of being able to predict how drivers (and increasingly, other cyclists) will behave around you. Second, riding in observation of the traffic laws will protect your legal rights in case you are involved in a collision. Riding in violation of the traffic laws usually constitutes negligence if it contributes to a collision, and if you are involved in a collision, and were riding negligently, it will virtually always severely reduce what would otherwise be your fair compensation. In fact, in some states, if you are even 1% negligent, you will not be able to recover any damages for your injuries. Therefore, because the consequences can be so severe, your first line of defense will always be to observe the traffic laws.
Ride with situational awareness
Generally speaking, you have a legal duty to keep a proper lookout, and you have a legal duty to exercise due care. These duties are somewhat analogous to riding with situational awareness– that is, being aware of what is happening in the road environment and how that may affect you. You do not have a legal duty to anticipate the illegal behavior of others on the road. Nevertheless, if you are observant of your surroundings, and are able to assess the potential dangers posed by the actions of others, regardless of whether those actions are legal or not, you will be able to respond to potential hazards before they become actual collisions.
- Related Article: Riding With Situational Awareness
In fact, that is the number one excuse drivers make when they collide with a cyclist– “I didn’t see him.”
There’s a 7:1 size differential between cars and bicycles, and while drivers also have legal duties to keep a proper lookout and to exercise due care, the sad fact is that many drivers don’t observe those duties with the care the law requires. The result is that they just don’t see cyclists on the road. In fact, that is the number one excuse drivers make when they collide with a cyclist– “I didn’t see him.” By enhancing your own conspicuity– the ability to be seen– you can significantly reduce the likelihood of collision with an inattentive driver. If you are riding at night, or in other low light conditions, such as fog or heavy rain or snow, the law requires you to equip your bike with a light and reflectors, and failure to do so would be evidence of your own negligence in a collision. However, although you’re not legally required to ride with lights during daylight hours, you can enhance your conspicuity by riding with lights during daylight hours as well– something that experienced motorcyclists have known for years. Additionally, solid scientific data indicates that brightly-colored clothing, particularly fluorescent yellow-green and fluorescent orange, increases the distance at which drivers first perceive a cyclist from 400 feet to 2,200 feet in daylight, and from 150 feet to 560 feet at night. Reflective material increases the driver’s nighttime perception distance even more dramatically, from 150 feet to 2,200 feet. The increased perception distance attained through enhanced conspicuity gives drivers more time to react to the cyclist’s presence on the road, and thus, to reduce the likelihood of collisions in which visibility is a factor.
Most collisions between cars and bicycles occur at night
Although you are well within your legal right to ride at night, as long as you meet your legal duty to equip your bike with lights and reflectors, you can significantly reduce your exposure to risk of collision by restricting your riding to daylight hours. If you must ride at night, you can reduce your risk by enhancing your conspicuity.
Most fatal collisions involve alcohol
There’s nothing you can do to control a driver’s intake of alcohol. However, you can control the times you ride, taking a cue from sober drivers by avoiding the roads at times when drunk drivers are more likely to be on the road. While this is no guarantee that you won’t encounter a drunk driver, the odds are greatly reduced. One factor you can control is your own consumption of alcohol. If you’ve been drinking, skip the ride home, because cycling fatalities related to alcohol also include collisions in which the cyclist was over the limit.
Most cycling accidents occur in intersections
Know and practice your emergency maneuvers
When all else fails, your ability to avoid a collision may well depend on your ability to successfully execute an emergency maneuver. The split-second before a crash is not the time to begin thinking about these maneuvers. You do not have a legal duty to know these emergency maneuvers, but if you hope to successfully use one, you must prepare beforehand, becoming familiar with the various types of emergency maneuvers, and practicing them until they become second-nature.
For more information, see the Emergency Maneuvers page here on bicyclelaw.com.