Helping Injured Bicyclists Get the Compensation They Deserve
With weather that often is the envy of the nation and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, California is a great place to hop on a bicycle, see the sights, and feel the breeze on your skin. Its legendary urban traffic also makes California a deadly place to ride. In fact, according to a report, California leads the nation in total bicycling fatalities.
With the largest population of any state, California usually leads the nation in most raw numbers. California, however, also resides among the top five in per capita fatalities, and California’s bicyclist deaths account for more than 4 percent of all traffic casualties in the state, more than double the nationwide rate. Any way you look at it, while California might make a great place to ride a bike, it’s also a lethal one.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, fatalities from bicycling accidents rose 12.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, reaching a total of 818 biking deaths. California was third, behind only Florida and the District of Columbia, in the percentage of traffic fatalities from bicycle accidents, and second, behind Florida, for total cyclist deaths.
Interestingly, injuries for bicyclists involved in traffic accidents declined in 2015, down to about 45,000 nationwide from about 50,000 in 2014. However, according to research by one bicycling advocacy group, police dramatically underreported crashes that resulted in cyclist injuries, with local law enforcement actually reporting as few as 10 percent of incidents. It is entirely possible that traffic injuries to bicyclists did not decrease at all.
Oakland is Among the Worst Cities in California for Bicyclist Fatalities
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that nearly three-quarters of bicycle fatalities take place in cities, with urban traffic accidents accounting for 71 percent of bicyclist traffic fatalities in 2016. Oakland is no exception, and state statistics place Oakland among the worst of comparably sized California cities when it came to bicyclist fatalities and injuries in 2015. According to California’s Office of Traffic Safety, Oakland ranked third in 2015 among similarly sized cities in California for the most bicyclist traffic injuries and fatalities.
The increasing number of people who commute to work on a bicycle likely drive this figure. Recent Census Bureau statistics indicate that commuting to work on bicycles has generally expanded since the bureau first released statistics in 2005. Census Bureau statistics for 2015, the most recent year available, indicate that the number of people commuting to work via bicycle declined 3.8 percent in 2015 from 2014, however.
In keeping with that nationwide trend, in 43 of the 70 largest cities in the nation—Oakland was at number 45 in 2016—the rate at which people use a bicycle to commute to work continued to increase. And in 2014, the Census Bureau reported that the number of people who traveled to work by bicycle increased about 60 percent from 2000 through 2012. Interestingly, despite its ranking within the state for bicyclists traffic deaths and injuries, Bicycling.com rated Oakland as the 21st-best city in the country for bicyclists. Census figures indicate that bicyclist commuters in Oakland increased by 53 percent from 2010 through 2014.
More Cyclists Mean More Cyclist Traffic Accidents and Fatalities
As the number of bike commuters rises, so will the number of traffic accidents involving bicyclists. This inevitably will lead to more bicyclist traffic fatalities. According to an analysis of federal statistics by a bikers’ advocate group of data provided by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rear-end collisions account for almost half of all bicyclist fatalities. After examining the federal data, the Bike League determined that the most common collision type of bicycle-motor vehicle accident is a rear-end collision. These accidents are responsible for about 40 percent of bicyclist fatalities resulting from accidents involving motor vehicles.
The Bike League’s conclusions appear well-supported. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute found that more than 3,300 bicyclists died in traffic accidents from 2008 to 2012. The IIHS determined that the front end of a passenger vehicle striking a bicyclist caused almost three-fourths of those fatalities. In most cases, those crashes involved a motor vehicle striking a bicycle traveling in the same direction, hitting the bicyclists from behind. These rear-end crashes accounted for 45 percent of all fatal accidents involving a motor vehicle and a bicycle.
The number of people whom bicycle accident kill is low compared to the total number killed each year in motor vehicle crashes—even in California, which has one of the highest rates in the nation, only 4 percent of all traffic fatalities resulted from bicycle traffic accidents. Still that number is growing. In 2010, 621 bicyclists died in traffic accidents. That number rose to 741 by 2013, and estimates indicate that the number continues to climb as more people commute by bicycle.
Can Bicyclists Avoid Traffic Accident Fatalities?
Encouragingly, it appears that some can. More and more new motor vehicles come equipped with front crash prevention technology that detects vehicles in front of the car and automatically applies the brakes to avoid collisions. The IIHS contends that such technology could improve to detect bicyclists in front of a cars and take appropriate actions in those situations as well. Automakers may not have developed the detection sensitivity required to accomplish that yet, but the IIHS has taken the position that such improved technology would prevent or mitigate a large percentage of rear-end bicycle accidents, resulting in far fewer deaths and injuries of bicyclists in traffic.
Like rear-end motor vehicle accidents, rear-end bicycle accidents are almost never the fault of the bicyclist who gets hit from behind. Such accidents almost universally happen because of a failure by the person driving the vehicle that strikes the bicyclist from behind to see or adequately react to the bicyclist. In the absence of bike lanes, a cyclist can do little to avoid a collision with an inattentive driver. Even when using rear-view mirrors, a bicyclist lacks the acceleration power to get out of the way of any motorist about to rear-end the cyclist.
Nonetheless, a bicycle advocacy group advises that cyclists can:
- Get a headlight. Even for daytime riding, a bright white light with a flashing mode can make you more visible to motorists.
- Wave your arm to ensure a driver sees you.
- Ride further left in the lane. Drivers aren’t looking for things close to the curb, even if those “things” are bicyclists. Drivers look to the middle of the lane, so especially in city riding, keep closer to the center or left side of the lane in the absence of bike lanes.
- Never ride against traffic. Almost one-fourth of crashes involve bicyclists riding the wrong way.
- Don’t stop in a motor vehicle’s blind spot. They call it that for a reason.
- Don’t pass on the right. Blind spots are larger on a car’s right side, and blind spots means the driver can’t see you.
- Signal your turns. If you make it clear what you are doing and which direction you are planning on heading, motorists are less likely to hit you.
- Don’t listen to music or use a cell phone while riding. They will only distract you.
- Ride as if you are invisible. It might seem unfair to place so much of the burden of staying safe on the bicyclist, but face it, in any collision between a car and a bike, the car wins. Accept that cars can’t see you and ride accordingly—that means never assume a driver sees what you are doing and will take appropriate precautions.
California Law Codifies Many of These Common-Sense Precautions
Just like motor vehicles, bicyclists are required to obey California traffic laws. While the law makes exceptions for children, whom nobody can reasonably expect to know traffic laws, in general adult bicyclists are bound by the same duties and responsibilities as vehicle drivers under traffic law. Bicycles must abide by specific traffic laws as well. This means bicyclists are required to:
- Stop at stop signs and red lights as must any other vehicles.
- Ride in the same direction as traffic.
- If you are travelling as fast as other traffic, you can ride in the traffic lane. Otherwise, you must ride as close as possible to the right-hand side of the road. Exceptions are allowed for passing another bicyclist, preparing to turn left, and taking reasonably necessary steps to avoid traffic hazards.
- If you are riding on a road with a bike lane and you are moving slower than prevailing traffic on that road, you must use the bike lane.
- If you are riding at night, you must equip your body or your bike with a number of lights and reflectors, including a white light that is visible from a distance of 300 feet on the front of the bike. Your bike also must sport either a red reflector or a solid or flashing red light on the back of the bicycle that motorists can see from 500 feet away; a white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe, or ankle visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance of 200 feet; a white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center of the bicycle; and a white or red reflector on each side to the rear of the center of the bicycle, unless your bike has front and rear reflectorized tires.
- If you are younger than 18, you must wear an approved helmet when riding. Riders 18 and older are not required to wear helmets.
- Bicyclists may not wear earplugs in both ears or a headset covering both ears.
- All bicycles must have working brakes that can allow you to make a one-braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
- While pedestrians are required to use marked crosswalks when crossing a road, even when they do not, bicyclists must yield the right of way to a pedestrian and take appropriate care to avoid hitting the pedestrian.
- Do not stop in the crosswalk, which is for pedestrians, not bicycles or motor vehicles.
Motorists owe the same duty of care to bicyclists as they do to other motorists. Thus, they are held to the same standards in the event of a bicycle-automobile accident as they would be in an auto-on-auto accident.
In addition, the California Three Feet for Safety Act subjects California auto drivers to these requirements:
- A driver must provide three feet of space between a vehicle and any bicycle when passing a bicycle on the road
- If the driver cannot maintain this distance because of local conditions, the driver must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed when passing and only pass when doing so will not endanger the safety of the bicyclist
A motorist who negligently caused an accident can face liability for accidents suffered by the other driver, who, in this case, is a bicyclist.
Bicycle Accident FAQ
- If I am injured while riding my bicycle, can I sue the driver that hit me?
- Yes, as long as you can establish that the driver was at fault.
- Can I still bring a lawsuit against the driver if I was doing something I was not supposed to, such as riding on the wrong side of the street, not wearing a helmet or not having proper lights or reflectors at night?
- Yes. You can bring a lawsuit as long as you can prove that the driver or some other person or entity was at fault. The bicyclist has the same duties and responsibilities on roadways as a motor vehicle driver. Further, there are some additional special requirements for bicyclists. Adult bicyclists are not required by law to wear helmets, although a jury can still find you negligent for not wearing a helmet even if you are an adult. Further, not following the law by riding on the wrong side of the road or not having proper gear to ride at night can, and often will be found to be negligent behavior on your part. However, a bicyclist’s negligence does not eliminate their ability to sue another party; it simply reduces the recovery by the percentage of their fault. In other words, if the jury were to award you $1 million for your injuries but determined that you were 50% at fault, your recovery would be limited to $500,000.
- My child was injured or killed while riding his bicycle. What are our rights?
- Children, particularly young children, are not held to the same standard of care for their own safety as adults. Thus, drivers must be more cautious when they know that children riding bicycles are in the area. Even if your child was negligent, you would be able to recover against anybody responsible for causing the accident, including the driver of the vehicle that hit your child.
- I was riding my bicycle when I rode over a pothole which threw me off my bike and caused a serious head injury. Do I have a case?
- Yes. You have a potential case. If you can establish that public or private property was maintained in a dangerous condition and that it was foreseeable that someone would be riding a bicycle over that property, you will usually be able to bring a case. However, to win the case you must prove that the possessor or owner created or should have known about the dangerous condition and failed to repair or warn of the danger.
- I brought my bicycle in for repairs shortly before my accident. I believe that they improperly repaired the brakes which caused me to lose control of my bicycle and run into a tree, causing a severe injury. Can I sue the repair shop?
- Yes, as long as you can prove that the repair shop negligently repaired your brakes, and the brake failure contributed to your accident. You will have to retain an expert to prove your case, plus you will somehow have to prove that you or someone else did not cause the brake failure.
- I bought a bicycle several years ago and always kept it in good repair. However, while I was riding one day I went over a bump and my front wheel collapsed, causing it to crash into a parked car. Can I sue of the manufacturer of the bicycle?
- Yes. As long as you can establish that the bicycle was defectively manufactured or designed, you can prevail in a case against the bicycle manufacturer.
- I recently brought a bicycle with reflectors. I rode the bicycle at night. A car did not see me and took a turn in front of me; I crashed into the car and received a severe injury. Can I sue the seller of the bicycle?
- Maybe. There are special requirements under the California Vehicle Code for sellers of bicycles. It is illegal for a seller of a bicycle to sell a bicycle that does not have the many types of reflectors that are required by law, therefore not meeting the requirements established by the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you can establish that your bicycle did not come with all of the reflectors required by the Vehicle Code, you can sue the bicycle seller as long as you can establish that the lack of reflectors contributed to your accident and injury.
- Can I repair or sell my bicycle and get a new helmet after a bicycle accident in which I have been injured?
- Yes, but you may be doing irreparable harm to your case. If your case involves a head injury or traumatic brain injury, an examination of the helmet will be critical. Thus, you should always maintain your helmet. Further, the bicycle itself should be left in the exact condition it was in after the impact. Bicycle cases almost always involve disputed liability and an accident reconstruction expert or bicycle expert will be greatly aided in his or her evaluation of the case by being able to examine the bicycle. An expert will be able to determine speed of impact and all of the forces involved in the accident by inspecting the bicycle. If the bicycle is still not around, hopefully you have a picture of the bicycle in its post-accident condition. If you do not, you should not give up on the case but still consult with an attorney who may be able to prove the case in a different way.
- Is there such a thing as a bicycle expert?
- Yes, absolutely. There are physicists, engineers, and other specialists who devote their life’s work to reconstructing bicycle accident cases, designing bicycles and determining whether or not a bicycle was improperly manufactured, repaired or maintained. In any bicycle accident involving a serious injury or death, the plaintiff’s attorney should retain such an expert.
- How soon do I need to bring a case after a bicyclist accident?
- If you are an adult, you have two years from the date of the accident to bring a case except on rare occasions in which there is delayed discovery. However, if a public entity is in any way at fault for the accident, the claim against the public entity must be brought within six months. The same rules would apply if your child was killed in an accident. If your child was injured in a bicyclist accident, he or she has until the child’s 19th birthday to bring an action. However, it is generally wise to not wait very long to bring a case because evidence will be lost and the cast may become more difficult to prove. Further even children are required to bring claims against government entities within 6 months (usually extended to one year).
If You Suffered an Injury in a Bicycle Accident in the Oakland area, Contact the Attorneys of Winer, Burritt & Tillis LLP
If a bicycle accident injured you in the Oakland area, consult a lawyer to determine your rights. The lawyers of Winer, Burritt & Tillis LLP, can assist you in protecting your rights and will not collect any legal fees from you unless we successfully recover compensation on your behalf. You can reach us at (510) 200-0162 or through our website.