When a car collides with a bicycle, occupants of the car are rarely injured. Bicycle riders, on the other hand, typically suffer serious — and sometimes fatal — injuries.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of fatal crashes with bicyclists in the United States increased every year between 2007 and 2016. Nationwide, traffic accidents involving cars and bicycles account for 2.2% of all crash fatalities in 2016, up from 1.7% in 2007.
One explanation for the increase in crashes involving bicyclists may be an increase in the number of bicycle riders. As gas prices rise and cities try to become more “bicycle friendly,” more people are choosing to commute to work on bicycles. Bicycling commuters in bike-friendly communities increased by more than 100% between 2000 and 2013.
Recreational bicycle riding has also increased steadily in recent years. While about 47 million people regularly rode bicycles in 2008, about 67 million people were riding bicycles in 2016. Unfortunately, more bicyclists means more bicycle accidents.
Bicycle Road Safety Plans
Most cities want to encourage bicycle riding to ease traffic congestion and to reduce wear on roads. Yet riding in an urban environment can be dangerous when drivers and bicyclists share city streets.
Some municipalities have worked with urban planners and traffic engineers to develop Bicycle Road Safety Plans. Designating a lane for bicyclists can be helpful, but painting a stripe on the road won’t guarantee a rider’s safety when cars enter a bicycle lane in anticipation of making a right turn, or when drivers use a bicycle lane as if it were a passing lane. The best bicycle lanes are separated from traffic by a median, but most cities have been unwilling to invest substantial sums in protected bicycle lanes.
Causes of Bicycle Accidents
With or without bicycle lanes, when bicycles share a roadway with cars and trucks, bicyclists are at risk from drivers who fail to watch for bicyclists. Drivers who change lanes, stray from a lane, or execute turns too often fail to see bicyclists who are riding on the same road. About a quarter of bicycle accidents are caused by drivers who do not share the road with bicyclists.
Another quarter of bicycle accidents occur when a driver is backing out of a driveway, backing out of a spot in a parking lot, or exiting an alley without looking for bicyclists. Bicycles are not as visible as cars, and drivers who rely on rearview mirrors when backing often fail to see an approaching bicycle.
Half of all bicycle accidents take place in intersections. While the same right-of-way rules that govern cars in intersections also apply to bicycles, many drivers simply assume that a bicycle should always yield to a car. Drivers who would yield to a car while making a right turn on red will often ignore bicyclists.
Bicycles are less visible than cars. Coupled with the increasing problem of drivers who read texts or fiddle with their smartphones when they should be watching the road, the fact that bicycles do not stand out on roads contributes to the increasing accident rate. We urge bicycle riders to wear bright clothing, to fly a bicycle flag, and to follow other safe riding tips to avoid becoming a traffic accident casualty statistic.
Bicycle Accident Injuries
When bicycle riders survive a collision with a car, they too often suffer from catastrophic injuries. The two most devastating nonfatal injuries that result from bicycle crashes are paralysis caused by a spinal injury and a traumatic brain injury that occurs when the rider’s head hits a car or the pavement.
Whether bicycle helmets significantly reduce the risk of head injury is unclear. Unlike motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets are not made to withstand the forces generated by collisions. Some experts suggest that bicycle helmets give bicycle riders (and the parents of young riders) a false sense of security, when their focus should be on avoiding dangerous encounters with traffic. Whatever the truth might be, donning a helmet might reflect a sensible preference to be safe rather than sorry.
Since riders often throw out their arms to break a fall, broken wrists and elbows are a common outcome of bicycle crashes. Road rash from sliding along the pavement is also common, particularly when riders are not wearing jackets or jeans. A variety of other injuries can also occur in a bicycle crash, including broken bones, nerve damage, and torn or stretched muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
When a bicycle crash is caused, at least in part, by a careless driver, the injured bicycle rider should seek legal advice. Insurance settlements negotiated by a skilled bicycle accident lawyer, like a bicycle accident lawyer Atlanta, GA relies on, can help injured bicyclists cope with wage loss and medical expenses, while providing appropriate compensation for pain, suffering, and disabilities.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Tobin for their insight into bicycle accident cases.