What You Should Do After a Bike Accident

If you get into a traffic accident as a bicyclist, what you do at the scene and immediately after is crucial.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

When bicyclists get into accidents with cars, it can be a scary situation. If you're the one riding the bike, it's important to keep your wits about you after the crash. Here's what to know at the outset:

  • Protecting yourself, and any injury claim you might end up making, starts at the scene of the accident.
  • What you do in the immediate aftermath of the accident may have a big impact on how much you recover for your injuries, and for damage to your bike.
  • The tips we cover here apply to accidents involving traditional bicycles, as well as those involving e-bikes.

Wait for the Police to Arrive

It's vital that you wait for police to arrive at the accident scene so that they can take and file a police report—even if you think you're not injured.

Some cyclists don't realize they've been injured until several hours, or even days after the accident. And sometimes seemingly minor injuries later develop into serious and permanent problems. If you leave the accident scene assuming you're not hurt, and later it turns out that's not the case, you may never be able to identify the at-fault driver. Learn more about what happens when accident injuries don't show up right away.

Another advantage of waiting for the police: They may ticket the driver, which may be useful in settling the case with the insurance company.

Don't Argue or Attempt to Negotiate With the Driver

Many drivers initially apologize and accept blame for a bike-motor vehicle traffic accident, only to later deny their negligence, or even deny they were present at the accident.

Don't engage with the driver, or anyone else involved with the accident, beyond asking for their driver's license and insurance information (more on this later on). Learn more about why it's important to watch what you say at the scene of an accident.

Get Your Version of Events into the Accident Report

Sometimes, the police officer will take a statement from the motorist and not bother to talk to the cyclist. Do everything you can to get your side of the story into the police report. And by all means, report all of your injuries, no matter how minor. Remember, those minor injuries may later become more serious.

If, despite your efforts, the police refuse to include your statement in the accident report, you can later have the report amended.

Obtain Driver and Witness Contact Information After the Accident

If possible, get the name of the automobile driver, as well as his or her address, phone number, driver's license number, vehicle license number, and insurance information.

In addition, try to get names and contact information for everyone who witnessed the traffic accident. Don't assume the police report will include all of this information—it might not. If you're injured and can't get this information yourself, ask a bystander to do it for you.

Document How the Bike-Car Accident Happened

If you can, make mental notes about the accident: what happened; how it happened; where it occurred; when it occurred; and road, traffic, and weather conditions. Then, as soon as you're able, write all this information down. Learn more about the importance of taking notes after an accident or injury.)

Document Your Bike Accident Injuries

Seek immediate medical attention for your accident-related injuries, even if they're minor. The fact that you sought medical attention will serve as proof that you were injured, and medical records will document the extent of those injuries. Have several photos taken of your injuries as soon as possible after the accident. Start a journal of your physical symptoms and make entries every few days.

Preserve Evidence of the Bike Accident

Leave your bike and other damaged property in the same state as after the accident—don't attempt to fix anything or have anything inspected. Don't wash your clothing. And don't send your bike, helmet, or any other equipment to anyone other than your attorney. Take photos of your damaged equipment. Learn more about preserving evidence in a personal injury case.)

Understand How Insurance Might Cover Your Bike Accident

Understanding your options for pursuing a claim over your bike accident injuries means first figuring out the specific insurance coverage that's carried by the people involved in the accident (including you and anyone whose car insurance policy might cover you).

Here are a few possible options:

  • You can file a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance carrier, under their liability coverage (this is called a "third party" car insurance claim).
  • You can file a claim under your own personal injury protection (PIP) coverage (if you have it) or under a family member's PIP coverage when it applies to you.
  • You can file a claim under the at-fault driver's PIP coverage, since that coverage typically applies to anyone who's injured in an accident involving the insured person's vehicle.

Note: You can use health insurance pay for treatment of your car accident injuries. If the vehicle driver or another party is at-fault, your health insurance carrier will likely turn around and seek reimbursement from that party's own insurance carrier, and/or claim a lien on any injury settlement you receive.

Get a Lawyer's Help After a Bike Accident

Many accidents between bikes and cars involve complex legal issues. You may want to consult a personal injury attorney who understands bicycling or has handled bike accident cases. An experienced legal professional can:

  • advise you on how to proceed
  • negotiate with the insurance companies to make sure you get a fair settlement, or
  • file a lawsuit on your behalf if going to court is necessary.

Don't communicate with the insurance companies before consulting an attorney. Anything you say to the insurance company could be used against you later. Sometimes a letter from an attorney to the insurance company will resolve issues while avoiding legal pitfalls. In fact, most injury cases are settled without ever going to trial.

If the case warrants it, your attorney can hire a bike accident expert to investigate the accident. That person might obtain skid mark measurements, photograph the scene, speak with additional witnesses, or measure and diagram the accident scene.

Learn more about how an attorney can help with an injury claim. And for detailed information about bike accidents, including how to avoid them, get Bicycling & The Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist, by Bob Mionske (Velo Press).

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