In many of the accidents that we bring to trial, both our client and the defendant they are facing bear some amount of responsibility for the events leading up to the accident. This is the case even in collisions between cars and bicyclists, as was made obvious by a recent bicycle accident near Esparto, about 30 miles west of Sacramento.
On Sunday morning, September 27th, a bicyclist was taking part in the Esparto Time Trial bicycle race when he was struck and killed by a driver traveling in the opposite direction. After police had arrived at the scene and taken witness statements, they came to the conclusion that both parties were responsible for the accident:
- The driver had moved towards the center of the road in order to pass a bicyclist, but didn’t see that another bicyclist was riding near the center of the road, in the opposite direction. The driver should have allowed more space between her car and the bicyclists ahead of her before attempting to pass. Had she backed off further, she would have likely seen the second bicyclist that she ended up colliding with. However, as Sergeant Andy Hill of the CHP told a local newspaper, while a driver is responsible for watching for others on the roadway, technically, the driver did what she was supposed to do, and that the bicyclist should not have been where he was.
- The bicyclist violated road safety laws by not riding on the right side of the lane he was traveling in. Section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code specifies that any bicyclist traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic on a two-way road must ride as close to the right-hand edge of their lane as possible, except when passing another bicyclist traveling in the same direction, preparing to make a turn, or in order to avoid obstacles in the road.
If either part had taken the necessary precautions, the accident would never have occurred. If you or a family member have been injured in a bicycle accident, we strongly encourage you to contact the experienced lawyers at Ashton & Price as soon as possible. However, the best possible outcome that any bicyclist can hope for is to never be involved in an accident in the first place. No amount of money can ever make up for permanent injuries or the death of a loved one. To keep yourself safe, keep the following in mind while riding your bike:
ALWAYS ride in the same direction as traffic, and if possible stay on the far right side of the road.
As was likely the case in the Esparto accident, many bike riders believe that they can best see vehicles by riding against traffic, or by riding in the middle of the road. However, this is not true at all, for a number of reasons:
- Any injury lawyer, accident analyst, or armchair physicist could tell you that the potential for injury or death in a collision is far less when both parties are traveling in the same direction. In Sunday’s accident, the bicyclist was traveling about 30 mph, while the car was traveling about 35 mph. In a head-on collision, the collision velocity is equivalent to the speeds of both vehicles added together. So it was as if the bicyclist crashed into a brick wall while traveling 65 mph. In a collision between two parties going in the same direction, the collision velocity is equivalent to the slower vehicle’s speed, subtracted from the faster vehicle’s speed. If the bicyclist and motor vehicle in Sunday’s crash had been heading in the same direction, the collision velocity would have been 5 mph–hardly enough to even knock you off of your bike. Always, always, always ride with traffic, and stay to the right side of the lane.
- It’s easier for a driver to see you if you are going with traffic, because they have far more time to see you. In the Esparto case, the two parties were approaching each other at 95 feet per second. From the point at which they were the length of football field (300 feet) away from each other, they had slightly more than 3 seconds to see each other and avoid a collision–this would have been especially difficult, given how easy it is to overlook a bicyclist a few hundred feet away. If they had been traveling in the same direction, when the vehicle driver had closed to within a football field’s length of the bicycle, she would have had 41 seconds to see the bike and move out of the way. It may feel scary to have drivers overtaking you from behind, but riding with traffic makes it MUCH easier for drivers to see and react to your presence.
- When you are riding with traffic, you can all the road signs that motorists can. If you are riding against traffic, a vehicle approaching you may change lanes or speed unexpectedly because they are reacting to a road sign that you can’t see.
Bicyclists are required to follow ALL traffic laws.
The California vehicle code treats bicycles the same way it does cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other motorized vehicles that use public roadways. This means that you are required to follow all laws governing public roadways. If you are involved in a serious accident with a motor vehicle, and it is found that you were solely to blame for the accident due to neglect or reckless riding, you will not be eligible to collect any damages, no matter how serious the injuries are that you suffered.
Yield to all traffic and pedestrians.
There are many instances in which the motor vehicle code requires bicyclists to yield to motor vehicles. You must always obey these requirements–not doing so is against the law, and places you at risk of serious injury. Additionally, CVC 21656 requires that any slow-moving vehicle that has five more more vehicles backed up behind it must move off of the roadway to allow them to pass. Bicycles are specifically subject to this requirement, as specified in CVC 21202. Lastly, since bicycles are considered to be vehicles, you must yield to pedestrians crossing the street. By failing to yield you may cause injury to a pedestrian, or collide with a vehicle that isn’t expecting you to ride through the intersection, due to the presence of the crosswalk.
Bicyclists are more vulnerable to poor road conditions than any other vehicle or person on the road. The pothole or patch of wet leaves that a car blithely rolls over can easily launch you from your bike, or cause you to lose control, resulting in an accident. And never wear headphones in both ears, so that you can react to any sounds warning of potential danger, such as honking horns or screeching tires.
Always look both ways before turning or moving through an intersection, and signal your turn.
Just as any driver should always look both ways before passing through an intersection or making a turn, a bicyclist should do the same. All vehicle operators on California roadways are required to not deviate from their course on a roadway without first making sure that they can do so safely, and by using appropriate signals to make their intent known. Despite the fact that most bicycles lack turn signals, bicycles are still subject to this requirement. The standard signals for bicycle riders are:
- To turn left: Extend your left arm straight out.
- To turn right: Extend your left arm out from your side, with your elbow bend at a 90 degree angle and your fingertips pointing straight up.
- Alternatively, you may extend your right arm straight out in order to signal a right turn, similar to the signal for a left turn.
- Slowing or stopping: When you are preparing to slow or stop, extend your left arm out with your elbow bent at 90 degrees, with your fingertips pointing straight down and your palm facing behind you. (You are required to signal that you are slowing or stopping, much as cars are required to have functioning brake lights at all times.)