Bicycle riding is one of the most popular recreational activities in the United States, and according to studies, only walking for exercise and swimming are more popular. The Bicycle Institute of America estimates that more than 4 million U.S. citizens commute to work annually. Despite its popularity, there are numerous dangers involved in riding a bicycle which lead to thousands of accidents and hundreds of fatalities on an annual basis.
The most significant risk to bicyclists is that they must share the roads with motor vehicles. Under the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, there is a statute which is not known to many motorists and not enough bicyclists, Section 1231, which states as follows:
“Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles…Every person riding a bicycle …upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title…”
Where this statute is most significant is the requirement that drivers of motor vehicles must yield the right of way and overtake bicyclists in a similar fashion to the manner in which they do so with motor vehicles. Similarly, the law mandates that bicyclists follow the rules of the road, including complying with stop signs, traffic lights or other traffic signals, and riding their bicycles with due caution for motorists and other roadway hazards.
Another key statute under the Vehicle & Traffic Law at Section 1236 (a) and (e) is unfortunately not complied with by some bicyclists, leading to many serious injuries and some fatal accidents, and requires that:
- Bicycles used between the hours of 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise be equipped with a lamp in the front emitting a white light five hundred feet to the front;
- Be equipped with a red or amber light in the rear emitting light visible to the rear for 300 feet; and
- Bicyclists should use reflective devices and wear reflective material meeting the standards of the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYDMV)
The most common reasons for fatal bicycle-motor vehicle accidents are:
- Bicyclists who exit a driveway in front of an oncoming vehicle;
- Bicyclists turning left in front of a passing vehicle; and
- Drivers of motor vehicles attempting to overtake bicyclists.
Safety measures which bicyclists should follow to avoid accidents and serious injuries include:
- Wearing a bicycle helmet, which studies have shown is 85-88% effective in preventing severe head and brain injuries;
- Following all rules of the road and comply with all traffic control devices;
- Being cognizant of roadway conditions (including debris on the road) and the weather;
- Utilizing front white lights and rear red or amber lights and wearing reflective clothing at night, to alert drivers to their presence on the road;
- Always travel in the same direction as vehicles on the roadway, not against traffic.
In 2009, 630 bicyclists were killed and another 51,000 injured in accidents with motor vehicles, based on a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA reported that bicyclists comprised 2% of all fatal crash victims in 2009, as well as 2% of those injured in crashes. 70% of all bicycle fatalities occurred in urban areas in 2009. Fatal bicycle accidents decreased from 718 in 2008 to 630 in 2009, and men are much more likely to die in bicycle accidents than women (82 % of fatal accidents and 80% of those injured involved men). The most dangerous time to ride a bicycle is between the hours of 4:00 PM and 7:59 PM, with 26 % of fatalities in 2008 and 29% in 2009 occurring during that four hour period of the day.
New York had the fourth most fatal bicycle accidents in the United States in 2009 with 29, following Florida (107), California (99) and Texas (48). Alcohol plays a significant role in fatal bicycle accidents, with 28% of bicyclists killed in 2009 having alcohol in their blood. Further, almost 25% had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher, which is the legal limit for intoxication in New York.
The most proven means of preventing fatal or other serious bicycle injuries is the use of a bicycle helmet. According to the NHTSA study, “A helmet is the most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.” NHTSA notes that bicycle helmets are 85-88% effective in mitigating head and brain injuries. 70% of fatal bicycle accidents involve head injuries, yet only 20-25% of riders wear helmets. The first bicycle helmet law was enacted in California in 1987, and as of 2008, 21 states have promulgated bicycle helmet laws, which for the most part cover bicyclists under age 16. Fourteen states have no bicycle helmet laws whatsoever.
If you are injured in a bicycle accident, particularly with the variety of factors involved and statutes that govern the duties and obligations of both drivers and bicyclists, it is vital that you retain bicycle accident attorneys with the requisite knowledge, experience and dedication to fight the insurance companies and their lawyers to maximize compensation for your injuries, lost earnings, (and lost earnings potential) and medical expenses, past and future. We represent bicycle accident victims in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and in Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange and Putnam Counties. Contact us online for your free initial consultation today.