The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly 900 cyclists die in traffic accidents each year. The majority of motor vehicle collisions involving bikes occur in urban areas between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Intoxication contributes to nearly 40 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes, as does driver negligence. Distracted driving, speeding, reckless endangerment, and turning accidents all cause road bike crashes.
A driver’s refusal to patiently share the road often leads to life-changing bicycle accidents. Safety organizations recommend utilizing designated bike lanes or avoiding all traffic to minimize cycling accident risks, but it isn’t possible for many bikers. Understanding the most common traffic violations leading to road bike accidents may prevent serious cycling injuries. When injuries do occur, local bicycle accident attorneys may help claimants demand compensation from negligent drivers.
Leading Causes of Bicycle Accidents in the United States
Avid cyclists, especially road and mountain bikers, often expose themselves to serious injuries. While helmets and protective gear can prevent painful friction burns and brain trauma, they cannot protect cyclists from careless drivers.
In addition to traffic crashes, cycling risk factors include:
- Wrong-sized bicycles
- Low visibility
- Alcohol consumption
- Gender (men are eight times more likely to die in fatal bike crashes)
- Equipment failure
- Falls due to roadway hazards and debris
Loose debris and broken chains often contribute to falls, but these common cycling accidents rarely result in life-threatening injuries. The most common bike accident injuries include broken wrists and ankles, dislocated shoulders, mild concussions, slipped discs, friction burns, shoulder strains, knee damage, and chest contusions.
Lawyers might help injured cyclists recover financial compensation if defective equipment or roadway neglect contributed to their injuries. However, most fatal and disabling cycling injuries occur during traffic accidents. While vehicle occupants may leave the accident unscathed, cyclists frequently suffer from life-changing physical trauma after traffic crashes.
Vehicle and Traffic Regulations Protecting Cyclists
Biking has numerous benefits. From reducing carbon emissions to improving physical health, cities increasingly encourage cycling. Many urban areas even provide bike-sharing services to tourists and residents. However, many urban areas seldom provide cyclists with designed bike paths despite increased car accident risks. Drivers seldom yield the right of way to road bikers, especially in heavy traffic during frustrating commutes. These factors frequently contribute to bicycle crashes and fatalities in the United States.
Experts recommend speed limits based on numerous factors, including traffic flow, foot traffic, and roadway design. Low residential and local speed limits are scientifically proven to save lives and prevent fatal cycling injuries. Studies estimate that slowing down reduces pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by six percent for every one mile per hour. Likewise, following local speed limits can drastically reduce the frequency and seriousness of road bike injuries.
Drivers frequently tailgate slower vehicle operators, especially cyclists, to encourage speeding or demand unsafe lane changes. This behavior, including harassment such as honking and yelling, can startle amateur cyclists causing falls and mistakes. Following bicycles too closely often leads to life-altering bike injuries after rear-end collisions, falls, or sudden slowdowns.
Anti-tailgating laws assume natural interruptions to traffic flow and driver errors, including:
- Wildlife crossings
- Playing children
- Crashes and other driver mistakes
- Roadway debris
- Vehicle breakdowns
- Sudden traffic
- Emergency vehicle movement
- Driver medical emergencies
- Falling cyclists
- Driver distraction
Drivers drastically reduce serious injury risks by keeping a safe distance between their vehicles and local cyclists. This distance gives vehicle operators the time needed to stop or drastically slow down in emergencies. The faster you’re traveling, the greater distance you should keep between vehicles, including cyclists operating in parallel bicycle lanes.
Right of Way and Road Sharing Requirements
The mistaken belief that bigger, faster vehicles always have the right of way contributes to many serious cycling injuries. While bike riders must utilize designated bike paths and lanes when available, many roads do not accommodate cyclists. Road bikers typically have the same rights as drivers in these cases, and motor vehicle operators must treat cyclists as they would fellow drivers.
Unfortunately, despite their lawful and safe presence on local roads, slower-moving bikes often frustrate drivers. These road sharing requirements frequently lead dangerous drivers to unlawfully pass, intimate, or tailgate cyclists. Mistakes about cyclists’ rights do not excuse driver negligence, especially when this carelessness contributes to fatal intersection accidents.
Bike Lane and Turning Regulations
Turning accidents frequently cause serious bicycle crashes, especially when drivers illegally turn over and through designated bike lanes. Many drivers mistake bike lanes for shoulders and unlawfully turn through them without looking for cyclists. For riders, this mistake mirrors situations when motor vehicles suddenly turn left or right from the center lane. Drivers cannot treat bike lanes like shoulders or turning lanes. Instead, they must follow designated traffic signs, check for bikers, and turn only when permitted by local laws.
Drunk Driving Laws
Even when drivers understand local traffic laws, alcohol impairs all inhibitions. One drink slows drivers’ processing and reaction times, and blurry vision often prevents motor vehicle operators from clearly seeing cyclists. Impaired drivers have clipped or run over cyclists without realizing the accident occurred. They have also used bicycle lanes as travel lanes and even driven onto bike paths. Happy hour accidents cause a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities and serious injuries in the United States.
Risk Factors Associated With Serious Bicycle Traffic Crashes
The primary factors leading to traffic accidents include low visibility, heavy traffic patterns, alcohol impairment, and lack of designated bike lanes. Impaired drivers frequently clip riders in low visibility conditions, and many vehicle operators neglect cyclists’ rights when sharing the road.
Cyclists reduce the risk of traffic-related injuries by assuming drivers will violate one or more of the above traffic laws. Further, urban cyclists are at risk due to out-of-town drivers. Many inexperienced drivers are unaccustomed to sharing the road or driving next to designated bike paths. They frequently demand the right of way in all cases, leading to sudden traffic accidents.
Riders might reduce their crash risks by increasing visibility with reflective vests and safety lights. They should also avoid high-speed freeways and dark roadways when possible. Wearing certified helmets, getting road bikes property sized, and keeping up with bike maintenance can also decrease the risk of cycling injuries. While you can take all of these precautions, you can still never prevent the negligence of drivers and accidents they may cause.
Disabling Injuries Caused by Bike Crashes
Most road bikers travel between 10 and 20 miles per hour. Their low rate of speed compared to motor vehicles naturally decreases the severity of injuries associated with falls and mechanical difficulties. However, motor vehicle collisions often cause life-altering injuries as cyclists’ bodies directly absorb the crash force.
Both the primary and secondary impact may result in:
- Paralysis – Large SUVs and trucks are often level with cyclists’ heads and necks. As such, direct impacts over 30 mph may result in broken necks causing quadriplegia or sudden death. Run-over accidents and secondary impacts with pavement may also result in severed spinal cords and disabling spinal damage. Disabling spinal cord injuries frequently result in six-figure medical costs and lost wages.
- Brain trauma – Helmets can prevent sudden skull fractures but even protected cyclists still suffer from primary and secondary traumatic brain injuries after motor vehicle collisions. The vehicle weight and force of impact generally propel cyclists into the roadway, causing the brain to impact the skull internally. This head trauma often results in sudden brain bleeding, swelling, and oxygen loss. Cyclists often suffer from concussions, hypoxic brain injuries, and spinal cord damage after traffic accidents.
- Compression fractures – Cycling accidents account for many bone-crushing injuries leading to infections, severe pain, and potential amputations. Run-over accidents frequently crush cyclists’ arms, legs, and rib cages. Damage to blood vessels and nerves can also accompany compression fractures. Doctors sometimes amputate severely damaged limbs to prevent necrosis, leaving claimants who can’t perform daily activities, work, and exercise.
- Punctured lungs – Rear-end collisions may propel cyclists into their bike’s handlebars. This force often results in chest contusions and punctured lungs. Without immediate medical intervention, lung damage greatly reduces the brain’s oxygen supply causing additional brain trauma following bike crashes.
Cyclists commonly suffer from both vehicle impact trauma, such as fractures and contusions, and secondary falling trauma. Subsequent falls onto hard pavement frequently cause additional serious injuries, including fractured hips, dislocated shoulders, and traumatic brain injuries.
The vehicle’s weight and impact force often propel cyclists directly into the rough pavement, whereas the bicycle itself can buffer some of the initial crash force. Distracted drivers and those tailgating cyclists may also run over bikers after the initial crash. Experienced bicycle accident attorneys may help road bikers and their families recover financial compensation for all injuries caused by the vehicle impact. These conditions include any direct impact trauma, falling injuries, and subsequent trauma caused by other driver negligence.
Holding Drivers Accountable for Violating Bicycle Safety Laws
Vehicle and traffic violations resulting in bicycle crashes often support negligence per se claims. This legal principle allows courts to assume a driver operated their vehicle carelessly if traffic violations caused bike crashes. Bicycle accident attorneys frequently invoke negligence per se if police officers ticketed or arrested drivers following bicycle accidents.
Evidence of traffic tickets and related criminal convictions may expedite the insurance claims and settlement process. Drunk and reckless driving cases often involve criminal charges. Attorneys may search for video and related evidence showing vehicle and traffic violations and demand financial compensation even without associated criminal charges. Expert witnesses can often estimate the vehicle’s speed and positioning based on the cyclist’s injuries, tread marks, and bicycle damage. In most viable bicycle accident cases, dedicated bicycle accident lawyers can link the crash to traffic violations.
Over 90 percent of all qualifying cycling injury cases settle with liable auto insurers.
During the claims process, bike accident victims might demand economic damages for the following past and anticipated losses:
- Ambulance and emergency room bills
- Hospital, surgical, and nursing costs
- Doctor and rehabilitation expenses
- Specialized medical equipment
- Pain medication and pharmaceuticals
- Long-term nursing care
- Household help and companionship care
- Counseling and mental health treatment
- Lost salary and income
- Lost career opportunities (promotions and raises) and employment benefits (healthcare and retirement)
- Damaged bicycle and equipment
Life-changing accident injuries truly change lives, not just physical conditions. As such, bike accident lawyers can also demand compensation for the pain, frustration, and social impact of disabling injuries.
These pain and suffering (non-economic) damages may include money for lost enjoyment of previous activities, including biking, and the emotional impact of these injuries on family dynamics. Injured cyclists might also demand damages for their physical pain and associated mental frustrations, such as the inability to provide for their children, walk without pain, and shower without help.
Claimants should discuss the value of their pain and suffering damages with their bicycle accident lawyer.
The Benefits of Connecting With the Best Bicycle Accident Lawyer Near You
Liable auto insurance companies generally cover injury claims after bike crashes. However, most private car insurance policies cannot adequately compensate claimants for life-altering injuries. Road bikers may need to demand underinsured motorist coverage through their personal auto insurance policies (when permitted by state law) or apply for public benefits. Bicycle accident attorneys might also sue negligent drivers directly or demand compensation from public entities for creating dangerous biking conditions.
Cyclists injured in traffic crashes should consider contacting local lawyers with experience handling car, pedestrian, and bicycle accident cases. Cyclists seldom recover needed compensation without legal assistance, even in viable cases. Most bicycle accident attorneys provide free case consolations and represent qualified claimants without any upfront or out-of-pocket costs. If you or your loved one sustained serious cycling injuries following a traffic accident, you might recover needed damages with a bicycle accident attorney’s help.