When a vehicle and a bicycle are in an accident with each other, the bicyclist is much more likely to get injured or die when compared to the vehicle’s driver. As recently as 2019, 843 bicyclists were killed after being involved in a collision with a vehicle.

Some other bicycle collisions with cars statistics from that year include:

  • 90% of bicyclist deaths occurred in bicyclists who were aged 20 and older;
  • 62% of those who were killed were not wearing a helmet;
  • Among those aged 16 and over and who were killed, 21% had a blood alcohol concentration at or above 0.08%;
  • 78% of bicyclists were killed in urban areas, as there is more vehicle traffic to contend with;
  • 35% of bicyclist deaths took place at an intersection; and
  • 65% of bicyclist deaths occurred on major roads that were not interstates or freeways.

It is not uncommon for either the car driver or the bicyclist to have an elevated Blood Alcohol Content (“BAC”). BAC, which is formally known as blood alcohol content, refers to the percentage of alcohol that is found in a person’s bloodstream at the time of testing.

Bicycles and cars are both considered to be vehicles according to the law. What this means is that both bicyclists and car drivers are obligated to follow all traffic laws. As such, if there is a lawsuit regarding a bicycle-car accident, both vehicle operators will be questioned as to what they were doing when the accident occurred. Both the bicyclist and the vehicle’s driver will also be questioned as to whether each party contributed in some way to the accident. This will be further discussed below.

Who Can Be Legally Liable For Bicycle Collisions With Cars?

To reiterate, both cars and bicycles are considered vehicles for purposes of the law. When two vehicles are involved in a collision, such as two cars, each party will be questioned in order to determine their fault and/or negligence. As such, in a lawsuit involving an accident between a bike and a car, this is still considered to have occurred between two vehicles, so each party’s fault or negligence will be questioned.

Both the bicyclist and car driver have a duty of ordinary care to watch out for others on the road. Additionally, both must follow all rules of the road or traffic laws. Because of this, one of the most common laws associated with a bicycle-car collision would be right of way laws.

Right-of-way refers to the order of procession, specifically at an intersection. When there are no traffic signals present, the right of way generally belongs to the first person to arrive at an intersection. Where there are traffic signals, they should be followed. Another common right-of-way issue would be when the car’s driver makes a right turn, and hits a bicyclist. This is referred to as right turn right-of-way, and would create negligence on the car driver’s part.

Because bicyclists are required to follow “side-of-road” laws, if they are not keeping up with the pace of traffic, they must move as far over to the right side of their lane as possible. Additionally, they are required to use bike lanes, when they are available. Failure to follow these rules may constitute negligence by the cyclist. In order to improve their visibility and therefore reduce their liability, especially at night, bicyclists should wear light or reflective clothing. Additionally, bicyclists should be using various lights and reflectors when they are biking.

Alternatively, car drivers are legally required to maintain a safe distance between themselves and a bicycle while they are driving. Three feet is most commonly considered to be safe for these purposes. As such, car drivers who are driving too close to bicyclists could be considered negligent and held liable for the resulting collision.

Additionally, car drivers cannot pass bicycles unless it is safe to do so; meaning, they can maintain a safe distance between the car and the bicycle. Cars brushing bicycles as they pass them is one of the most common types of car-bicycle accidents.

Car drivers may also be considered negligent for failure to obey any other traffic laws, such as those which prohibit speeding, or laws against driving while intoxicated. However, it is important to note that bicyclists can also be considered negligent for violating traffic laws. An example of this would be how if they fail to adhere to traffic signals or stop signs, and they are involved in an accident, their negligence will be considered.

Is Establishing Liability Important For Bicycle Collisions With Cars?

Establishing liability is important because it determines whether the bicyclist can recover damages for any injuries, and in what amount. The bicyclist may claim that the car driver’s negligence caused both the accident and their injuries.

Simultaneously, the car driver will attempt to defend themselves, and will likely highlight negligent behavior on the part of the bicyclist that contributed to the accident. This is known as comparative negligence, which can limit the amount of damages that the bicyclist can recover.

When a person or entity owes others a duty to act reasonably and fails to do so, the injured party may be able to pursue a lawsuit in civil court. Defenses to negligence legal cases generally involve comparative or contributory negligence.

Contributory negligence states that if the plaintiff is considered to be at all negligent in the incident, they cannot recover any damages from the defendant; this is known as a total bar. Recently, this theory has been replaced with other rules in most states.

Comparative negligence is used to determine damage reduction in negligence cases. Examples include:

  1. Pure Comparative Negligence: The amount that the plaintiff can receive in monetary damages is reduced by their fault percentage. An example of this would be how if a plaintiff sues someone for $100,000 but is found to be 80% at fault, they may still be able to receive $20,000 in damages;
  2. Modified Comparative Negligence (50% Rule): Plaintiffs are barred from recovery if they are found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident. If they are considered to be 49% percent or less negligent, they can still recover damages, although their recovery is reduced by their fault percentage; and
  3. Modified Comparative Negligence (51% Rule): The same rule applies as above, but the percentage of plaintiff negligence that bars recovery is higher. The damaged party can recover if the judge or jury rules that they are 50% (or lower) responsible. While the number difference between the two approaches is considerably small, the intention is that when the plaintiff and defendant share the blame equally, the injured party should still be able to seek reduced compensation.

Do I Need An Attorney For Bicycle Collisions With Cars?

If you were involved in an accident while riding your bicycle, you should consult with a local bicycle accident lawyer. An attorney can inform you of your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific personal injury laws and can determine whether your state will reduce any potential damages award based on comparative or contributory negligence. Additionally, your lawyer will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.