Whether you bike to protect the environment, save on transportation costs, or improve your health, numerous vehicle and traffic laws protect cyclists throughout the United States. Road bikers generally enjoy the same roadway rights as motorists, but not every driver understands or respects local cyclists.
By respecting traffic laws, avoiding distractions, and taking appropriate safety precautions, drivers and cyclists can safely share the road and prevent many life-changing road bicycle accidents. When they don’t, injured cyclists will want to call a bike accident lawyer.
Most Common Causes of Road Bike Accidents
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that traffic accidents contribute to approximately 800 cyclist deaths and 50,000 road bike injures each year.
Only about one in four road bike injuries result solely from cyclist error. Instead, unsafe roadways, careless drivers, and negligent property owners cause the majority of serious road cycling accidents in the United States.
The top events causing injuries to cyclists include:
- Collisions with vehicles—Careless drivers contribute to nearly one-third of all road bike crashes and resultant personal injuries. Distracted and drowsy driving, unfamiliarity with rights of cyclists, failure to yield, speeding, drunk driving, tailgating, and left-turn accidents commonly result in severe and fatal road bike crashes.
- Unavoidable roadway debris—Litter, improperly stored construction materials, unsecured household items, vehicle debris, and fallen tree branches all obstruct bicycle lanes and result in cycling injuries. When cyclists must execute quick stops or leave their lanes to avoid colliding with roadway hazards, they frequently expose themselves to serious traffic accidents and injuries.
- Roadway disrepair—Potholes, poor lighting, loose gravel, and insufficient drainage all contribute to road bike accidents. Unlike cars, road bikes cannot absorb most roadway defects. Cyclists may assume that designed bike lanes and sidewalks are safe for their use, and cities could bear liability for road bike accidents caused by negligently maintained streets.
- Loose dogs and other animals—Many cyclists must stop short when dogs or other animals run onto the roadway or into a bike lane. Negligent dog owners cannot carelessly allow their animals to run into roadways and after bikers.
- Mechanical failures—Many high-end road bikes cost more than a used car. However, defective frames, flat tires, and malfunctioning braking systems still contribute to road bike accidents and injuries each year.
Additional factors, including inexperience, failing the following traffic laws, and executing dangerous biking maneuvers, also contribute to road bike accidents. However, careless drivers and unsafe roadway conditions commonly cause the most serious injuries to cyclists.
Rules of the Road Protecting Cyclists
Generally, road bikers have the same rights as drivers on designated roadways. Motor vehicle operators owe cyclists the same duty of care and deference to other drivers, but aggressive operators commonly overtake and endanger cyclists on local roadways. While cyclists must follow any local rules applicable to road bikes and motor vehicles in their state, including using designed bike lanes, signaling, and pulling over as necessary, specific cycling laws do not excuse driver negligence.
Motor vehicle operators must still adhere to local traffic laws designed to protect exposed cyclists and pedestrians. Speeding, tailgating, and right-of-way errors often contribute to traffic crashes involving road bikes. As such, local laws protecting cyclists commonly include statutes requiring drivers to keep a safe stopping distance between their vehicles and cyclists (both from the rear and sides), reduced speed limits on cyclist-friendly roadways, and specific yielding requirements.
Each of these laws protects cyclists from dangerous motor vehicle collisions by requiring drivers to anticipate potential accidents and leave a safe fall or stopping distance between themselves and road bikers. Further, most localities decrease speed limits in residential areas and streets with heavy bike traffic to reduce the likelihood of serious injuries if or when a direct impact occurs. Bike accident lawyers can often hold drivers accountable for any vehicle and traffic violation that caused or contributed to a cycling accident.
Injuries Frequently Sustained in Bicycle Crashes
Road cyclists inherently expose themselves to serious traffic-related injuries. Unforgiving pavement and steel vehicles mean cyclists’ bodies absorb the crash force. The National Safety Council reports that traumatic brain and head injuries account for nearly one-third of non-fatal road bike injuries and over half of all road bike fatalities.
Although wearing a helmet cuts the risk of suffering a fatal head injury by half, helmets cannot protect cyclists from all brain trauma. Traumatic brain injuries sustained in road bike crashes often result in permanent cognitive and physical disabilities necessitating long-term care.
Additional injuries cyclists frequently suffer in road bike accidents include:
- Spiral ankle fractures
- Hip and shoulder dislocations
- Upper and lower limb fractures
- Facial fractures, lacerations, and scarring
- Spine and nerve damage
- Tendon strains and sprains
- Road rash
Some states allow cyclists to recover medical compensation from their car insurance policies, if any, following a road bike accident. However, most road bike accidents resulting in serious injuries necessitate financial assistance beyond the limits available through a minor insurance policy. Negligent drivers, homeowners, bicycle manufacturers, and even municipal authorities may bear liability for conditions or actions causing or contributing to a cyclist’s injuries.
Compensation Potentially Available to Injured Road Bikers
A local plaintiff’s lawyer may help injured cyclists and their families recover needed compensation after a road bike accident. If a driver violated applicable traffic laws or town construction workers negligently left roadway debris in a bicycle lane, a bike accident attorney might request compensation from liable insurance companies or file a lawsuit in local court.
This monetary award or settlement may generally include damages for the following financial losses:
- Emergency room and ambulance expenses
- Physician’s bills and rehabilitation costs
- Medical equipment and transportation
- Damages to the bicycle
- Necessary household help
- Lost wages, job opportunities, and fringe benefits
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of spousal companionship and benefits
Pain and suffering damages may include compensation for life’s lost enjoyment. If cycling was a substantial part of your daily or recreational lifestyle, an attorney might help you obtain damages for this loss. It often costs nothing to speak with or retain a local bike accident lawyer if you were injured by another’s negligence while cycling.