How Safe Is Cycling on the Road?

While not as popular in the U.S. as in European countries, riding a bicycle is an important transportation option and an enjoyable pass-time in every state in the nation. In most states, bicyclists are prohibited from riding on the sidewalk, as it poses pedestrian hazards. Instead, they are required to use their bicycle on designated trails or public roadways. Most non-interstate roads are available for bicyclists to use. However, many riders are unsure about the safety of operating a bicycle on such roads. Reach out to a bicycle accident lawyer.

Public Roadways Are Designed for Motor Vehicles

While the vast majority of any type of traffic-related accidents result from human error, the organization Smart Growth America notes that many roadways throughout the nation are dangerous by design for bicyclists and pedestrians. The organization states that road design has more impact on driver behavior than a posted speed limit.

Many roads—particularly in urban areas, specifically lower-income urban areas—were designed to move motor vehicles through the area as quickly as possible. Features that help to protect vulnerable roadway users, such as bicycle lanes and sidewalks, are commonly intermittent or missing altogether, placing pedestrians and bicyclists directly into the same travel lanes as fast-moving, motorized vehicles.

Drivers of Motor Vehicles Commonly Cause Accidents That Injure Bicyclists

How Safe Is Cycling on the Road?According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the past decade has seen a 44 percent increase in bicycle accident fatalities. It is interesting to note, however, that during the same time frame, the number of nonfatal injuries sustained by bicyclists has declined by 39 percent.

Possible reasons for a dramatic increase in fatal bicycle accidents include:

  • The higher rates of speed on roads lead to more severe accidents.
  • The growing popularity of larger vehicles that feature a higher impact point with the rider.
  • An overall increase in traffic in many metropolitan areas.

The decrease in nonfatal injuries could be attributed, at least in part, to the use of bicycle helmets and other riding gear and laws in many states that require bicyclists to use lighting on their bicycle when riding at dark to increase their visibility for other roadway users.

As previously noted, most accidents occurring on U.S. roadways—including those involving bicycles—result from human error. The drivers of motor vehicles are commonly the source of the errors that cause serious injury and fatal bicycle accidents.

Types of Driver Behavior That Lead to Bicycle Accidents

Many negligent driving behaviors can lead to bicycle accidents, including:

  • Alcohol-impaired driving: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that around one-third of all fatal bicycle accidents involve alcohol impairment. Alcohol impairs many skills a driver needs to operate their vehicle safely. The loss of some of these skills—such as the ability to maintain a single lane of travel, multitask, and respond appropriately to obstacles in the roadway—can be disastrous for bicyclists.
  • Distracted driving: Driving distractions involve anything that causes the driver to look away from the road, take their hands from the wheel, or take their thoughts from driving safely. Many driving distractions involve all three of these hazards. Distracted drivers are risky for bicyclists because they are often unaware that a bicycle is in a designated bicycle lane alongside them.
  • Speeding: Speeding reduces the time the driver has to notice a bicyclist in their path and respond by braking and increases the distance their vehicle will travel after they’ve slammed on the brakes. Additionally, speeding results in a significantly higher likelihood that the driver will lose control of their vehicle.
  • Failure to yield: All roadway users are required to yield to other traffic on the roadway at certain times, such as at signaled intersections. Bicycle riders are generally expected to follow the same traffic laws as the drivers of motor vehicles. Unfortunately, many drivers are unaware that they must yield to bicyclists and will turn in their path or enter an intersection when the cyclist has the right of way. A typical location where failure to yield causes a lot of bicycle accidents is at an intersection where a driver is making a left turn on a solid green light. The driver must generally yield to traffic proceeding through the same intersection on a green light. Often, the driver will yield to other motor vehicles but fail to notice someone cycling through the intersection.
  • Tailgating: Following too closely is the most common cause of rear-end accidents involving two motor vehicles, as the following driver is not providing enough time to notice if the driver ahead of them stops or slows, nor allowing their vehicle the space it needs for the brakes to come to a complete stop. When a motor vehicle tailgates a bicycle, the same hazards are present. Still, they’re much more likely to result in severe injury or death for the bicyclist, who will likely be ejected from the bicycle if rear-ended.
  • Dooring: This term refers to an accident where an occupant of a motor vehicle parked on the side of the road opens their door into the path of a bicyclist, causing the cyclist to either collide with the door or swerve into other travel lanes to avoid it. As noted by Cycling Savvy, road design again plays a crucial role in the safety of bicycle lanes. Many lanes are located near or share a space with on-the-road parking for motor vehicles. While crash statistics commonly understate the number of dooring crashes that result in fatal or serious accidents—as those statistics commonly measure accidents involving motor vehicles in transport, a group that excludes both parked vehicles and non-motorized bicycles—studies indicate that dooring may cause 27 percent of car-bike collisions in urban areas.

Where Do Most U.S. Bicycle Accidents Occur, and Who Is Most Commonly Injured?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), around 61 percent of all fatal bicycle accidents occur on major roadways that are not interstates or freeways. These are often busy arterial roads in areas with many shops and other attractions that cause motorists to travel in the area.

In recent years, nearly eight of every ten bicycle accidents occurred in urban areas, whereas the division between urban and rural accidents was about equal for several decades.

Bicycle accidents most commonly occur in summer and between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

While fatal accidents involving riders who are 20 years old or younger have declined by 88 percent since 1975, deaths among riders older than 20 have more than quadrupled. Every year since 1975, more male bicycle riders have been killed on U.S. roadways than females, and the decline in fatal accidents since 1975 has been greater for female riders than males, the IIHS reported.

What to Do If You’ve Been Injured in a Bicycle Accident

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, there are several actions you can take to increase your chances of seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury.

Get the Driver’s Information, If Possible

When any type of traffic accident results in significant property damage, serious injury, or death, most state laws require all parties involved to stop, exchange information, and summon the police and emergency medical responders to the scene.

The types of information that drivers are required to exchange with others involved in the accident include name, contact information, and insurance information. While a bicyclist is not required to purchase and maintain an insurance policy on their bike, if the driver stops after the accident and the bicyclist is able to obtain contact and insurance information, it can be useful if they later wish to file a claim against the driver’s liability insurance policy.

Unfortunately, as the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety noted, more than 737,000 hit-and-run crashes occur in the U.S. in a year, and most of those crashes involve vulnerable roadway users such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

In hit-and-run bicycle accidents, where the at-fault driver leaves the scene without exchanging information or rendering aid or calling for help, for the injured cyclist, the cyclist must rely of other motorists, mitnesses, or area residents or business employees to gather information about the vehicle involved and to for medical assistance for the bicyclist.

Get a Prompt Medical Evaluation

The CDC reports that around 130,000 people are injured due to bicycle accidents each year in the U.S. The severity of these injuries depends on several factors, not the least of which include the bicycle’s speed when the accident occurred.

Higher speeds increase the energy of the collision, causing more serious injuries. The injuries associated with bicycle crashes can be severe, though the severity of the injury is not always immediately apparent to the sufferer.

These injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries: These injuries involve damage to the brain that can result in permanent deficits that impair the person’s ability to move in a balanced or coordinated manner, recall important people and events, control behaviors and impulses, and a variety of other impacts.
  • Spinal cord injuries: Like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries are often referred to as catastrophic as they produce permanent disabilities that can cause the loss of the sufferer’s ability to earn an income or live independently. The most common disability associated with spinal cord injuries is paralysis, which involves the loss of sensation and function in parts of the body below the injury site.
  • Road rash: Road rash refers to a deep skin abrasion caused by contact between the skin and a rough surface, such as an asphalt road. While this injury is generally considered less serious than other injuries associated with cycling accidents, it carries risks of permanent scarring and infection, both of which can produce adverse health outcomes for the cyclist.
  • Broken bones: Most bicycle accidents feature an ejection of the rider from the bike, which increases the risk of more complex bone fractures that can occur in any part of the body.
  • Internal injuries: These injuries commonly produce a high level of blood loss that is not visible to the naked eye. If left untreated, injuries to the body’s internal organs can result in loss of function of that organ, organ failure, or even death.

Contact an Experienced Bicycle Attorney

Andrew Finkelstein Attorney

Andrew Finkelstein personal injury lawyer in New York

Another important step to take if you have been injured in a bicycle accident is to speak with an experienced bicycle accident lawyer who can help you understand the personal injury claims process and also determine—based on the facts of your case—if you can seek compensation through this process for your injury.

The out-of-pocket expenses commonly incurred due to a bicycle accident include medical expenses, income loss, lost earning capacity, and damage to the bicycle, gear, and other personal property. The impacts that can be compensated through a personal injury claim include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and much more.

An personal injury attorney and their legal team can gather the evidence and documentation needed to prove your claim. Your attorney can also handle settlement negotiations and even present your case in court if the at-fault party’s insurance provider fails to compensate the claim.