Bicycling is on the rise! More people than ever are bicycling, both as a means of transportation and for a healthy and fun workout. Unless you’re one of the very lucky folks that have access to a protected, car-free bicycle path very nearby your home, some of the time you will be riding on streets and sharing them with cars and drivers. And if you are using your bike for transportation on a regular basis, you’ll definitely be riding on the roads and streets.
Motorists are required to use care and caution while sharing the roads with bicyclists. Bicyclists, likewise are required to follow all traffic laws while using common roadways where cycling is permitted. This includes stopping at all red lights, stop signs and following signage directions. By the same token, bicyclists may also utilize turning lanes like autos when traveling on roadways, and are only required to ride as far to the right as safety and road conditions permit. If there are hazards at the right side of the road that would make riding there unsafe, a bicyclist is permitted to use the entire lane until it becomes safe to move right again.
Most states have what are called “Safe Passing” laws that dictate how much room a motorist must give a bicycling when passing or overtaking them on the road. Pennsylvania requires 4 feet between the bicycle and car, and the driver must drive at “a prudent and reduced speed” while overtaking the bike. New York’s law does not specify a distance but states a driver must pass the” bicycle at a safe distance until safely clear.” New Jersey, sadly, doesn’t have a safe passing law at all.
So if you’re in a collision with a car while riding your bike, what should you do? Assuming you don’t need emergent medical care and transportation to a hospital, here are steps you can take to preserve your rights:
Call the police. The police may not always come, especially if you say you are not hurt, and do not require medical assistance. While you may feel fine, except for being a bit shaken up, there is really no way you can tell you are completely unhurt. Injuries may take days to exhibit symptoms. Rather than saying you are completely unhurt, tell them that you were stuck hard and don’t know if you need a medical exam. Be aware that it is never right to fake an injury—that is fraud.
Get the following information: driver’s insurance, license, and contact information. If you have your cell with you take a picture of these documents. Take a picture of his car and the license plates. Be sure to get the driver’s cell phone number, and call him to verify it. Take photos of the accident scene, your bike and anything else you think may be important. Your helmet, cell phone and a state issued ID are the three things you should always have with you when riding!
Witnesses Information: Did anyone see the accident or come to your aid? Get their names and contact information in case you need to have someone verify the facts.
Preserve the evidence. If your bike was damaged, it’s understandable that you’ll want to get it fixed right away: but don’t! Keep it in exactly the same condition it was after the collision. If you haven’t already taken pictures of it, do so. Take a lot of photos, from every angle and showing all damage, as well as the whole bike. Take the bike to your local bike shop (LBS) and have it checked out by the mechanic. Have him write you up a list of what was damaged, what it will take to fix it and how much it will cost. Be sure to keep the bike in that condition until you settle with the insurance company and have been paid.
Go to your doctor after the accident. If your doctor clears you and finds you’re OK, great. But if injuries show up later, after you’ve told everyone you are OK and you didn’t go to a doctor, you may have a hard time convincing others and the insurance company that your injuries are real and they were caused by the accident.
Finally, do not ever volunteer that you are OK. If a real injury develops after you assure everyone you are “OK” it will look like you are lying and the insurance company may not take you seriously, or even accuse you of fraud. If you must say something at the scene, say you were hit hard and feel that you need to go to a doctor for a medical evaluation.
Bicycling is a great way to get from one place to another in an eco-friendly, “green” way. It is also a fun workout that can be done by anyone! So be safe and get out there and ride! And keep the rubber side down!