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Liability When Bikes and Cars Collide

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On November 5, 2013, the KSBW Santa Cruz News reported that a bicyclist riding with fellow bicyclists on Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Davenport was hit by a car and died. The victim was identified as 40-year-old Joshua Alper, and the driver as 63-year-old man who said he fell asleep at the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2011, nearly 700 bicyclists were killed and an additional 48,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. The number of fatalities was nine percent higher than it was in 2010. “Bicyclists” are defined as riders of two-wheel nonmotorized vehicles, tricycles, and unicycles.

Potential Causes of Bike/Motor Vehicle Accidents

The NHTSA notes that over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in the average age of bicyclists killed and injured, with the average being 43 years old. Those between ages 45-54 had the highest fatality rate, but the highest injury rate went to the 16-20 year old age group.

What causes these accidents? Here are some examples:

  • Alcohol: In 37 percent of the crashes that resulted in cyclist fatalities, alcohol was a factor either for the driver of the motor vehicle or the cyclist.
  • Intersections: Cyclists may be killed or seriously injured in collisions at, or near, an intersection, with T-junctions and roundabouts particularly dangerous.
  • Failure to look: Either the driver or the rider failed to look properly, particularly before proceeding through an intersection or junction.
  • Speeding: Accidents between motor vehicles and bicyclists are more common if one or both is traveling at unsafe speeds.
  • Negligence/recklessness: Driver or rider was reckless or operating the vehicle in a negligent manner. Examples include drifting into the wrong lane or running a stop sign. A rider can also be negligent if she rides the wrong way on a one-way street or turns abruptly into traffic.
  • Improper turning: The driver or rider turns too quickly from one road to the other, or fails to look before turning. Drivers often make turns without looking and cut off a bicyclist.
  • Road hazards: Potholes, shoddy road repairs, sewer grates, abandoned rail tracks, and more may present particular hazards to bicyclists. If they cause the rider to be off balance and collide with a driver, liability claims could be brought against the city or construction company.
  • Improper following: Cars may fail to give bicycles the proper space on the road, and end up bumping into them from behind.

Biker Killed in Chicago Accident

In May 2013, the Huffington Post reported on cyclist Robert “Bobby” Cann, who was killed while biking home from work in Chicago. He was apparently riding home on a Wednesday evening when he was rear-ended by a silver Mercedes that had seconds earlier collided with an Infiniti sedan. Though Cann was wearing a helmet, he was thrown from the bike and died an hour later at the hospital.

The driver was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence.