Types of Bicycle Accidents

When bicycles and vehicles collide, it's often in fairly predictable traffic scenarios.

While bicyclists and vehicle drivers are required to share the road, it's inevitable that riders and drivers will end up in traffic accidents with one another. Let's look at some of the most common types of bicycle accidents involving other vehicles (whether cars, trucks, motorcycles, or even electric scooters).

Accidents at Intersections

One of the most common intersection accident scenarios is where a cyclist has a stop sign and a driver does not. After stopping, the cyclist rides out into the intersection in front of a car that has the right-of-way. Absent other factors, the cyclist is at fault for the crash. Most of these accidents may be attributable to the bicyclist's inability to accurately judge the distance and speed of approaching cars.

In another scenario, the cyclist has the right-of-way on a street without a stop sign, and the car approaches from a street that does have a stop sign. After stopping, the car drives out into the intersection, in front of the cyclist. Absent other factors, the accident will be attributed to the driver. If, however, the cyclist is riding against traffic (as happens in many of these sorts of collisions; more on this below), both the cyclist and the driver may be at fault.

The best way to avoid intersection accidents is to:

  • maximize your visibility
  • keep a proper lookout when approaching an intersection
  • adjust your lane position to the left as you approach an intersection so that you are more visible to drivers, and
  • obey all atop signs and traffic signals.

Learn more about bicycle-car accidents at intersections.

The "Idaho Stop"

A few states (including Idaho) give some leniency to bicycle riders at intersections, by allowing them to treat a stop sign as a "yield" sign, for example. But in many states, if a cyclist doesn't come to a complete stop at a stop sign or red light, the cyclist could be barred from recovering full compensation for his or her losses (damages), even if the motorist is mostly responsible for the accident.

Never Ride Against Traffic

Because bicycles are considered "vehicles" and must obey traffic laws, cyclists who ride against traffic are breaking the law. Not only that, riding against traffic is dangerous and accounts for a large portion of bike accidents. Drivers don't expect to see bikes coming toward them, and there is often little time to maneuver away from an imminent collision. Finally, wrong-way cyclists pose a risk to the cyclists riding with traffic. Avoiding accidents caused by wrong-way cycling is easy: don't do it.

Car Turning Left: The "Left Cross"

In this type of accident, the motorist and bicyclist approach the intersection from opposite directions, and the motorist turns left, colliding with the cyclist. Usually the motorist doesn't see the cyclist or misjudges the cyclist's speed. In most cases, the driver of the car will be liable to the cyclist.

The cyclist can take safety measures to reduce the risk of these accidents:

  • maximize your visibility
  • adjust your speed at the intersection so that you can brake quickly if necessary
  • consider taking the entire lane through the intersection to increase your visibility to cars (the trade-off of this approach is that you may annoy motorists behind you), and
  • don't attempt to cross the intersection by riding into the crosswalk from the sidewalk—this makes it even more difficult for the motorist to see you.

Car Turning Right: The "Right Hook"

There are several ways that accidents can happen when cars make right turns:

  • The car passes a bike as both approach an intersection, and then the car turns right at the intersection, cutting the cyclist off.
  • The bike passes a slower car on the right, and the car makes a right turn into the bike.
  • The car and bike are waiting at a light. The car turns right when the light changes, cutting off or perhaps hitting the bike.

In most of these situations, the vehicle driver will be at fault. But again, regardless of fault, a cyclist can take measures to reduce the chance of such an accident.

  • Keep a proper lookout—use a mirror, and check it as you approach the intersection.
  • Be prepared to brake suddenly in case a car cuts you off.
  • Adjust your lane position by riding closer to the car lane or taking the entire right lane as you cross the intersection.
  • Consider crossing at the crosswalk—but note that riding into the crosswalk from the sidewalk puts you at risk of being hit by both left and right-turning drivers, who won't be expecting a cyclist to suddenly enter the crosswalk. You can reduce your chances of being hit in the crosswalk by walking your bike across, as a pedestrian.
  • Never pass a car on the right at intersections or driveways. Either slow down to match the pace of the car or take the lane and pass on the left.
  • Avoid a car's blind spot while approaching from behind or while waiting at traffic lights.

Why Liability Matters

The ultimate goal of safe cycling is to avoid accidents altogether. But cyclists who violate right-of-way rules also face another potential hardship—if an accident occurs, they might be found at fault. This means if the motorist is hurt or the car is damaged, the cyclist could face a personal injury lawsuit. And if the cyclist is hurt, he or she might not be able to recover for injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering.

To learn more about proving fault when bike accidents are caused by road hazards, including how to request the appropriate information from public entities, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). This easy-to-use guide covers all types of vehicle accidents.

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