Are Cyclists Ever At Fault?
When a cyclist and motor vehicle collide, it is almost always easier for the biker and bystanders to automatically place the blame on the driver. Though admittedly unfair, most people are quick to blame drivers in bike-car collisions because bikers are likely to sustain considerably more harm than occupants of motor vehicles. Yet, the level of one’s injury rarely, if ever, equals the level of his or her fault. If you were to remove bias from many bicycle-vehicle accident cases, you may discover that cyclists are at fault just as often, if not more than, drivers.
Bicyclists Must Follow the Same Rules of the Road as Drivers
Though bicyclists are in unique situations when on the road with other drivers — their situations being that they are surrounded by fast-moving, much larger machines while riding bare-bones contraptions — they must adhere to the same rules of the road as vehicle operators. This means that they must stop at stop signs, yield to oncoming traffic, ride in the same direction as traffic, signal before turning and more. While biking laws vary from state to state, examples of typical rules of the road for bikers are as follows:
- Bikers and motor vehicles may only overtake each other when either ensures adequate distance from itself to the other.
- Bikers must wear protective helmets.
- Bikers must ride in the bike lane or as far to the right of the road as practical.
- Bikers may not bike under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Bikes must have functioning brakes.
- Bikers must equip their bikes with front and rear-facing reflectors.
- Bikers must keep one hand on the handlebars at all times.
- Bikes may not carry a passenger unless the operator has equipped it appropriately to transport one.
If a biker breaks a rule of the road, and if a car hits him or her because of the violation, there is a strong likelihood that state law will hold him or her accountable for the incident.
When Bicyclists are At Fault for a Collision
Surprisingly, bicyclists are at fault for their accidents more often than most people might think. Per one NPR report, reporters and data analysts across several states decided to crunch the bike-car crash data, and what they found is that bikers are not so innocent.
After analyzing the data in his state, one reporter found that, in 44% of fatal bike-car crashes, the bikers were at-fault. The driver of the motor vehicle was at fault in the remaining 56% of collisions, with the most common collision type being rear-end crashes. A Minnesota Department of Public Safety Report found that bikers were responsible for their crashes at least 49% of the time, with failing to yield to right of way being the most common cause of bike-car collisions. A similar report from Washington D.C. revealed that the Capitol’s bikers were more likely to cause bike-car accidents than motor vehicles.
Of course, location and population density are bound to play a role in how frequently cars hit bikes and vice versa. Regardless of either factor, though, and despite what the data says, the law may hold bikers accountable if the driver of the motor vehicle and/or bystanders can demonstrate that the biker acted negligently or recklessly leading up to the incident. Some examples of what might constitute as biker negligence or recklessness are as follows:
- Riding While Impaired: Though the data on the subject is minimal, alcohol use seems to be an issue in approximately 40% of bicycle-vehicle accident cases. Bikers who are under the influence are more likely to commit reckless behaviors (beyond riding while impaired), such as foregoing a helmet and falling from their bicycles.
- Riding Against Traffic: Cyclists often think that just because their modes of transportation are smaller than vehicles, they can ride wherever they please. This thinking causes several bikers to ride against traffic, despite laws requiring them to ride with traffic. Bicycling against the flow of traffic is not just illegal — it is dangerous. When a biker rides against the flow of traffic, drivers cannot and often do not anticipate their approach, leaving little to no time for a startled driver to avoid a collision. Though bikers assume they have ultimate control when they can see an oncoming vehicle, the truth is that motor vehicles are much larger and quicker than bicycles, rendering a biker’s reaction time a moot point.
- Riding Without Reflectors or Lights: When riding during the day, bikers must equip their bikes with rear and front-facing reflectors. For night-time riding, they must install headlights and taillights. Failure to equip one’s bike with adequate safety equipment may render a biker invisible to even the most well-meaning and law-abiding drivers. As a result, a driver, through no fault of his or her own, may accidentally hit a biker.
When a biker breaks a law or otherwise proceeds along the road in a reckless fashion, he or she increases his or her risk of sustaining an injury and, in the process, his or her presumed level of fault.
When Motor Vehicles are At-Fault for Bike-Car Crashes
Though bicyclists have a duty to safeguard themselves against collisions by following the rules of the road and making themselves visible, there is only so much they can do. Drivers must reciprocate by being courteous of all other occupants of the road — whether they are in passenger vehicles, on motorcycles or on bicycles— and exercising an appropriate level of care when approaching, passing or riding alongside cyclists. Though there are several ways in which a driver may fail to uphold his or her end of an agreement, some situations that may give rise to a bicycle accident claim are as follows:
- Driving in a Bike Lane: The purpose of bicycle lanes is to grant cyclists a safe section of the road in which to ride. If a vehicle infringes on that territory and hits a bicyclist in the process, the driver may assume responsibility for injuries and damages.
- Driving While Impaired: Driving while intoxicated is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If a driver is impaired at the time of an accident with a bicyclist, the law may hold him or her partially or wholly accountable.
- Failing To Stop: If a driver runs a red light, stop sign or clearly marked stopping point and hits a bicyclist in the process, he or she may assume full accountability for the accident.
When a Driver and Bicyclist Share Fault
In many cases, both a driver and bicyclist may share fault for a bike-car crash. In this case, the state’s comparative negligence laws may apply. Comparative negligence laws dictate how deciding parties must allocate fault and how much, if any, of an award or settlement an accident victim may recover. An experienced bicycle accident attorney can help you better understand comparative fault laws and how they may apply to your unique case.
When To Consult With a Bicycle Accident Lawyer
If you were involved in a bicycle-accident car crash, the best thing you can do to protect your interests is to consult with a skilled bicycle accident attorney right away. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities under state law and advise you on what you need to do to minimize your liability and, if possible, maximize your recovery. For the guidance you need during this stressful time in your life, schedule your free initial consultation today.