Bicycle Injuries Law and Rider Rights

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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All states have laws governing the rights of bicyclists. To be a responsible rider, you or your children should be aware of those laws and you should also be aware that if you comply with those laws and are involved in an accident, you will have the greatest possible chance of recovering damages because you were “in the right”. If you don’t follow the bicycling laws and are involved in an accident, the amount of damages you will be able to recover may be diminished.

Most jurisdictions dictate that you ride on a particular side of the road – generally, with traffic – when there is no bike lane. If there is a bike lane, you are probably restricted to riding in it unless you have to leave it to make a turn or avoid road surface hazards or obstructions. Be sure you understand when you may and may not ride your bicycle on the sidewalk. Some cities have ordinances that prohibit bicycle riding on the sidewalks. If you are injured while violating any of these laws, the person who hit you may claim that you contributed to your own injuries. Ultimately, this may reduce the amount of damages available to you in the event that you file a lawsuit.

Some jurisdictions allow you to split lanes – in other words, when traffic is stopped, you can ride between lanes of cars, passing the stopped cars on both sides. If you do lane split, though, even where it is allowed by law, you must still do so carefully, proceeding at a prudent speed and watching carefully for a car that might be switching lanes or that might swerve or make an abrupt lane change without signaling. If an accident happens, you are moving in and out of stop-and-go cars, it strongly suggests that it wasn’t safe and you could be held partially at fault.

There is no federal law that requires bike helmets for all riders. However many states (and localities) require helmet use; some require helmets all the time for all cyclists; others require only for a cyclist under a certain age. Wearing a helmet at the time of your accident shows that you are cautious and responsible and may factor into your settlement value.

And most jurisdictions will have laws governing who has the right-of-way when making a right turn. One of the most frequent bicycle/car accidents are collisions with the cyclist and a car making a right turn. If a car is sharing the right lane with a cyclist and plans to turn right through the path of the cyclist, the motorist must yield to the cyclist. If the motorist does not, and an accident results, most likely the motorist will be found at fault since his carelessness substantially caused the accident.

A cyclist at times can ignore other rules of the road for road surface hazards. An example of this would be if the road was so torn up that it would be unsafe to ride on it; you may be able to ride on the sidewalk even if that normally isn’t allowed.

Young children are often held to a slightly lower standard of care for their own safety as they do not have the same experience and foresight as adults. However, you must make sure that your children know and understand basic traffic and bicycle safety laws before you allow them to ride on public roads. If your child sailed through a stop sign because he had no idea that it applied to him as he rode on his bike, it would be almost impossible to argue that anyone else was responsible for his injuries.

If you are injured in a bicycling accident, one of the factors that will be taken into account will be whether you violated a law, thus helping cause the accident. This can reduce your damages – for example, if you did not wear your helmet as required and the court decides your injuries were 50% caused by your failure to wear the helmet, your damages would be reduced by 50%. In extreme cases, failure to follow the law can even preclude you from receiving any damages, for example, if you were drunk or on drugs or driving recklessly. If you are involved in a serious bicycle accident, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to find out if your failure to obey the law has any effect on your case.

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