This is the first entry of my three part series on Bicycle Safety including information on reducing risk, types of injuries, insurance issues, liability, and litigation.

There is always a risk of injury when a person is learning or competing in a sport. Bicyclists face a unique challenge however, as many of our risks come from sources which are EXTERNAL to their own conduct or the act of cycling. More specifically, these risks come from the cars traveling around us and the condition of the roadways and surroundings in which we ride. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) bicycle fact sheet, every year nearly 50,000 people are injured in accidents that involve both vehicles and bikes. About 13,000 of those injured are children.

The types of injuries from vehicle-vs-bicycle accidents can be very severe, running the gamut from hand and wrist injuries, to broken collar bones and ribs, and even traumatic brain injuries.Answering the question: “Who pays for these injuries?” can be complicated. For instance did you know that in some states a bicyclist in a car-bike accident will generally turn to his/her CAR insurance to pay for medical bills and related damages? In other states or different circumstances, a bicyclist may instead need to turn to his health insurance, or homeowners/renters insurance for coverage. A good rule of thumb is to speak proactively with your insurance agent or a bicycle accident lawyer, such as myself, about improving your coverage. Try focusing first on the actual coverages, rather than the price of the policy when you do so. You’ll thank me if you’re ever hurt due to the negligence of another.

Setting aside the issue of insurance coverage, one of the primary ways to reduce your risks as a cyclist is to be safety conscious, especially when riding around cars.

Tips to Avoid Bike Accidents

Before you bike

  1. Take a bicycle safety course, or watch safety videos, such as these:
  2. Check your equipment
    • Are your tires at risk for flatting due to worn out or cracking rubber?
    • Check the brake cables. Periodic adjustment is needed due to stretching from use.
    • Make sure moving parts are oiled and functioning properly.
    • Check that you have reflectors either on your bike or on your gear. (If you don’t have reflective gear, it could increase your accident liability.)
  3. Choose your route carefully:
    • Choose a route that has bike lanes or shoulders.
    • Try to avoid roads with heavy traffic.
    • Consider joining a biking group on tried and true bike paths.
  4. Choose your time
    • Avoid 6-9 p.m. if you can, as statistics show most fatal bike accidents happen during this time period (NHTSA Fact Sheet).
    • Check the traffic in your area before leaving on your bike ride.
      • Avoid rush hour.
      • Avoid cycling at night without proper equipment.

While you bike

  1. Follow the rules of the road just as you would if driving a car or motorcycle. Bicyclists generally have the same responsibilities (and rights) as the driver of a car.
    • Always stop at Stop Signs and Red Traffic Lights
      • Cars expect you to stop—if you don’t, you might cause an accident.
    • Keep as far to the right as possible and ride with the traffic – not against it.
    • Use lights and reflective equipment, even during the day, to enhance your visibility. (Good lights will have a strobe mode for use during the day.)
    • Use hand signals so cars know when you are going to turn.
  2. Don’t assume the driver of the car has seen you, as they may not be paying attention. Make eye contact if possible and be cautious.
    • Common car vs. bike accident scenarios (Visual Examples)
      • Car pulls out in front of bike at intersection or on roadway.
      • Car hits bike while passing.
      • Bike pulls out in front of car at intersection or roadway.
      • Car door opens into bike.
      • Bike swerves to avoid road hazard.
  1. Give space when passing parked cars, if possible. You are generally permitted to use the travel lane in order to avoid the hazard.
    • Watch for opening car doors.
    • Watch for cars entering flow of traffic.
    • Watch for cars backing out of parking spots.
    • Watch for cars exiting driveways.
  2. Get off and walk.
    • If you are uncomfortable on the road or get frightened by the amount of traffic, stop, move your bike to the sidewalk, and walk along with it until you get to an area with which you are comfortable.
      • Do not ride the bike on the sidewalk.
        • Transitioning from the sidewalk to the roadway can be unsafe as cars may not see or expect you to enter the roadway from a sidewalk.
        • Many, if not most, townships have a municipal ordinance code which prohibits riding a bike on the sidewalk

In short, bicyclists should be hyper-defensive when riding to minimize the risk of accidents. Remember, having the right of way will not save you from injury if you encounter an unsafe or inattentive motorist. As such, you must try to prepare yourself for other drivers being UN-aware and DIS-courteous. Be prepared for them to usurp the right-of-way. Be cautious. Be diligent. Be safe.

And, if you do get in an accident, seek out an experienced attorney who understands the cyclist perspective, the complexities of insurance coverage, and the options for injured riders.

Full Series: