Bicycling provides enjoyment and health benefits that other modes of transportation do not. However, if the drivers of motor vehicles are negligent in how they drive around bicycles, it can result in serious injury or even death. According to an article from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, there are more than 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths from bicycle accidents each year. In 2015, Florida had the highest number of bicyclist fatalities in the nation, with 139. Here is a look at four common types of driver negligence that cause bicycle accidents.
One common type of bicycle accident is one where the bicycle is rear-ended by a motor vehicle. This generally happens when the motorist is following the bicycle too closely.
According to statistics compiled by Driving-Tests.org, following too closely—also known as tailgating—is a contributing factor in a third of all traffic crashes. Tailgating a bicycle is particularly dangerous, as bikes lack the size, number of wheels, and protective equipment available to cars, leaving the bicycle rider vulnerable to serious injuries.
Florida law prohibits following another vehicle more closely than is reasonable or prudent. A bicycle is considered a vehicle, and bicycle riders have the same rights as other drivers. Drivers who hit the back of another vehicle because they have followed too closely are held legally negligent for the accident in Florida courts.
According to an article in the Concord Monitor, a 41-year-old woman was recently charged for a September 2018 collision in which she was allegedly following a bicycle too closely. The bicyclist moved into the road to avoid a UPS truck that was parked in the bike lane. Upon moving into the traffic lane, the rider’s back tire was allegedly struck by the woman’s car. This caused the rider to fall off his bike, at which point he was struck by another vehicle and killed. His death marked the first fatal bicycle accident in Concord in a decade.
Tailgating is a major problem with all vehicle types, including bicycles. To avoid a tailgating accident, drivers should follow the three second rule, which simply calls for three seconds of space between themselves and the vehicle ahead of them. In inclement weather conditions, such as rain or fog, the amount of space between vehicles should be doubled in order to allow the driver of the following car enough space to stop safely, even on slippery roadways or with less visibility.
Bicycle riders are sometimes placed in a dilemma regarding two potentially dangerous situations. If they ride too close to the right side of the roadway or the bicycle lane, they face the risk of a situation in which the occupant of a car parked on the side of the road exits the car and causes the bicyclist to collide with their door. However, if they move farther to the left of the lane, they run the risk of a sideswipe accident with a car that may be passing too closely.
One of the two major causes of sideswipe bicycle accidents is motorists passing the bicycle too closely. The other major cause of this type of crash is drivers turning right without noticing that there is a bicycle to the right of them. The issue of motorists passing too quickly not only places the bicyclist at risk of being injured or killed from being struck by the passing vehicle, but also offers the risk of the bicyclist overcorrecting in an attempt to avoid the vehicle and subsequently falling off his or her bike or striking another vehicle or object.
As explained by the Florida Bicycle Association, Florida law states that bicyclists should ride as far to the right as practicable, meaning as far to the right as one can get given the means and circumstances present. In a wide lane, the rider should operate no more than two feet from the edge of the lane, provided there are no vehicles parked in the lane. In an extra-wide lane, riders should keep themselves about 4 feet from the flow of traffic. If a lane is too narrow for a car and a bike to share safely, the bicyclist is permitted to use the entire lane.
According to a report from ABC7NY, friends and family came together to mourn a 25-year-old Brooklyn bicycle courier who was struck and killed in a sideswipe bicycle accident involving a tanker truck. Video of the accident revealed that the tanker truck left the scene after striking the courier, but police believe they know who the driver of that truck was. Friends of the courier expressed anger at the vigil at the slow pace in which changes are being made that will make Brooklyn streets safer for bicyclists who travel them. The street in which the accident occurred was prioritized four years ago for the addition of a bike lane, but so far, that has not yet happened.
In 2018, the National Conference of State Legislatures released information on the status of various state’s laws pertaining to safe passing distances between motor vehicles and bicycles. Florida is among 32 states whose laws require a passing distance of at least three feet. Two states, Pennsylvania and South Dakota each have laws requiring a distance greater than three feet for passing: Pennsylvania requires four feet, and South Dakota has a two-tiered law in which three feet of passing distance is required on roadways with posted speed limits under 35 miles per hour, and six feet on roads with speed limits faster than 35 miles per hour. Nine other states have laws that require a safe distance for passing. One state, North Carolina, requires two feet for passing and four feet in no-pass zones.
Distracted driving is a major risk for drivers of all types of vehicles. Teens, in particular, are prone to driving distractions, and more likely to crash because of them. Distracted driving on the part of motorists sharing the road with bicyclists can spell doom for the bicyclist.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each day in the United States, about 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in accidents caused by distracted driving. There are three types of driver distraction: visual distractions, which cause you to take your eyes off the road; manual distractions, which require the driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel; and cognitive distractions, which take the driver’s mind off the task of driving.
Because Florida legally considers a bicycle to be a vehicle, the same rights and responsibilities are conveyed to bicyclists as to motorists. One of the laws pertaining to all operators of vehicles on Florida roadways is the prohibition of headphones while driving or riding. The only exception to this rule for bicyclists on the road is that hearing aids can be worn, as well as one earbud for the purpose of cell phone use. If the cyclist is traveling on a sidewalk or a bike path, then he or she must follow the laws for pedestrians rather than motorists, meaning that headphones, headsets, and other listening devices can be used.
Distracted driving around bicyclists can be a contributing factor to nearly all of the common types of bicycle accidents, including:
There are things that both motorists and bicyclists can do to prevent accidents caused by distracted driving.
Because the bicycle is considered to be a vehicle and, therefore, given all the rights and responsibilities as all other vehicles, it is safe to assume that the bicyclist has the right-of-way some of the time. Unfortunately, some drivers either do not realize this, or do not even see the bicycle. Failing to yield to a bicycle is a recipe for an injury accident.
Failure to yield the right of way to a bicyclist is a phenomenon that generally occurs at intersections. It may happen due to the driver’s ignorance of how traffic laws apply to bicyclists, or it may be due to driver distractions, aggressive driving, or with drivers who are in a hurry. According to information from the Federal Highway Administration, failure to yield is one of the most common causes of accidents between motor vehicles and bicycles, with both riders and drivers causing accidents in this way. About 20 percent of all bicycle crashes are due to failure to yield.
When a bicycle is riding on a roadway, the rider is expected to follow the same yield laws as the drivers of other vehicles, including yielding the right of way to pedestrians, yielding to traffic when turning, and at intersections. By the same token, the rider can expect to have the right of way in the same circumstances as a motor vehicle would.
When a bicycle is riding along a bike path, on a sidewalk, or a crosswalk, then the rider has the same right of way as a pedestrian.
A guilty verdict in October 2018 shed some light on an old argument as to who bears more responsibility for traffic safety in New York City: cyclists or motorists? According to a report in the New York Times, a bus driver was found guilty of failing to yield—a misdemeanor—in a June 2017 accident in which a 36-year-old investment banker became the first death in the city’s bikeshare program. The defense had argued that the bicyclist was wearing headphones during the accident, making him both unaware of his surroundings and at fault for the accident. However, the prosecutor reminded the court that the bicyclist had the right of way. Bicycling advocates saw the verdict as a victory, stating that New York City drivers are very rarely held accountable for negligent actions that cause the deaths of bicyclists and pedestrians.
As a bicyclist, if you’re planning to use the roadway, you should familiarize yourself with the circumstances in which you should yield the right of way, as well as when the right of way should be yielded to you. However, vigilance is a must for bicycle riders, due to the realization that not all drivers understand yield laws themselves and may not yield, even when they’re legally required to.
If you were injured in a bicycle accident due to a driver’s negligence, speak to an experienced personal injury attorney about compensation that you may be eligible to receive for your injuries. Contact us at Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, online, or by calling (305) 676-8154 to schedule your free consultation and case review.
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