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.
If You Suffered an Injury in a Bicycle Accident in the Oakland area, Contact the Attorneys of Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis LLP
If a bicycle accident injured you in the Oakland area, consult a lawyer to determine your rights. The lawyers of Winer, McKenna, 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.