Did you know that in New York State a bicyclist riding on the roadway has to follow the same rules of the road as the driver of an automobile? In fact, there are some additional rules that need to be followed too. The main problem for bicyclists riding the roadways of New York State, however, is not obeying the rules of the road, but rather hoping that when they do, motorists are watching and properly sharing the roadway with them.
In 2013, the most recent year for which there are published statistics, there were 6,328 bicycle versus motor vehicle accidents in New York State in which 40 bicyclists were killed. In upstate New York in 2013, Monroe County alone had 257 bicycle versus motor vehicle accidents; Erie County had 285 and Onondaga County 123. Needless to say, the motor vehicle operators came out better for wear than did the bicyclists.
At Faraci Lange, not only do we represent bicyclists injured in crashes caused by motorists but we also understand cycling because we too are bicycle riders. Whether for exercise and recreation or in amateur competition, we understand what it’s like to be on the roadway with motorists. When looking for a bicycle accident attorney, it is important to work with someone who understands a bicyclist’s point of view.
Remember that almost all jurors drive cars, but far fewer ride bicycles on a regular basis. That means that most jurors have more in common with fellow motorists than they do with bicyclists and are more likely to identify with the motorist in a bicycle versus automobile accident. The bias against bicyclists is very real. Often, bicyclists feed that bias by failing to follow the rules of the road. Not only will obeying the rules of the road be critical in a bicycle injury case, but more importantly, following the rules of the road will help keep you safer. In particular, it’s important that bicyclists be familiar with the Vehicle & Traffic Law which contains rules of the road specifically directed to bicycles. We have summarized what we believe are the most significant rules below:
Traffic Laws Applicable to Persons Riding Bicycles
The most important of all the rules that apply to bicycles is this: Bicyclists are granted all rights and are subject to all duties applicable to the operator of a motor vehicle. In other words, if you’re riding on the roadway, you have to respond to traffic situations as you would when driving a car.
Clinging to vehicles
We see it all the time in professional cycling, but it is illegal (and potentially dangerous) to hold onto a car and be pulled along the roadway. Remember that when professional cyclists hold onto moving vehicles, they are doing it on a closed course and they are getting pulled by team cars with trained drivers. That’s not the rest of us.
Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes and bicycle paths
Bicycles must be ridden on the right side of the roadway and as far to the right as it is safe for the cyclist to do. While we do see the occasional cyclist riding against traffic, motorists tend to find it much more upsetting to have a bicyclist riding against them in traffic than to overtake a cyclist on the right side of the road. So be safe and stay on the right side of the road. Remember, the law views a bicyclist riding against traffic the same as if you drove your car against traffic. Should you be injured riding against traffic, you’re likely to be the one that the law blames for the accident.
In addition, the law commands that bicyclists ride no more than two bicyclists side by side. When being overtaken by a car, bicyclists are required to get into single file in order to afford the passing vehicle more room. We’re fortunate in Upstate New York to have so much open roadway that many times motorists are able to overtake cyclists riding two side by side without difficulty. However, the rule obviously favors motorists and was written to facilitate faster moving cars in overtaking generally slower moving cyclists in a safe manner. We are sharing the roadway too and that means sometimes cyclists have to get into a single file.
Lamps and other equipment
One of the things that many cyclists do when they get a new bike is to pull off the reflectors. It is a given that cyclists are always looking for a lighter and faster bike. However, the law is more interested in your safety than in your speed. Reflective tires and / or other reflective devices are required by law. In addition, a white headlight and red taillight must be used from dusk to dawn. Not surprisingly, a bicycle must have working brakes. Finally, (and don’t laugh) a bell or other audible signal is also required under the law. We are not saying that a bell or other audible signal is going to help you avoid a crash or that you will be to blame for a crash if your bicycle does not have a bell. We’re just putting it out there.
Hand and arm signals
Bicyclists are required to use hand signals to indicate left and right turns and to indicate a stop or when decreasing speed. Remember, we don’t have rear light indicators or brake lights, yet we’re supposed to behave like cars when we’re on the road. Use your left hand and arm extended horizontally to indicate a left turn. For a right turn, you can either: use your left hand and arm extended upward or use your right hand and arm extended horizontally. Both are permissible to show a right turn. To show that you are stopping or decreasing your speed, position the left hand and arm downward.
Helmets and carrying children
The Vehicle & Traffic Law does not mandate wearing protective helmets for individuals above the age of 14. On a personal note however, riding without a helmet is hazardous to your health. A helmet can save your life. Please wear one.
Failing to comply with any of the Vehicle & Traffic Law provisions above does not mean that if you are in an accident, you have no case — far from it. However, it is imperative that you contact a law office used to dealing with bicycle accident cases with attorneys who understand a bicyclist’s point of view. At Faraci Lange, we have the experience you need.