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Bicycle Accidents: Who's At Fault?

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If you've recently been involved in a bicycle accident, you may wonder what your rights are. Confusion often abounds because some believe that bicycles shouldn't be on the road or that they belong solely on a path or sidewalk. And if they are on the road, do they have the same duty of care as those behind the wheel? You may be surprised to learn how liability is determined in a bike accident.

Bicyclists Rights and Duties

Bicyclists have just as much right to be on the road as those driving a car. In fact, bikes are defined as vehicles in most states. But that also means they have just as much of an obligation to follow the rules of the road as car drivers.

Every state varies in specific laws for all motorists. For instance, in Alabama, bicyclists are required to remain as far to the right of the road as possible. They are not supposed to be on sidewalks, and drivers must allow at least 3 feet when passing a bike. DUI laws also apply to cyclists. So, if you've consumed alcohol before you peddle, be prepared for stiff penalties if you get caught or have an accident and you're over the legal limit.

Driver Liability

As with any other type of accident, it's important to ask questions to determine if the driver of the car was at fault.

Were you following the rules of the road? Were you distracted by anything right before the crash occurred? If you neglect to give a bicyclist ample room when passing or you are violating any other law at the time of the accident, you could be found negligent.

For example, suppose you get a text as you're driving. You approach an intersection with a red light, so you start to slow down. But just as you begin typing a response to your friend, you sideswipe a bicycle resting in the right side of the lane, stopped at the light.

As long as the bicyclist wasn't violating any other laws, you could be found solely negligent for any damages or injuries since you were texting while driving.

Bicyclist Liability

With rare exception, bicyclists are held to the same expectations as car drivers when it comes to obeying the laws and safely operating a vehicle. The only time that drivers should use greater care is when a child is on the bike.

A lot of people assume, cyclists included, that bike riders either have more rights or they don't belong on the road at all. This simply is not true. Suppose you're riding your bike on a sidewalk and you come upon an intersection. The light is red, but since you're not behind the wheel, you assume that it's perfectly fine to ignore the red light and cross the road. If you hit a car or you're struck by a moving vehicle, liability rests with you.

If the driver of the car is breaking any laws when the accident occurs, you can both be found negligent.

Hazardous Conditions and other 3rd Party Liability

There are some situations in which neither the driver or the cyclist are at fault. For instance, suppose you're riding your bike and come upon a recent construction site. The road was paved the day before, and loose gravel awaits, causing you to lose control of your bike and be tossed to the ground. The construction company could be found liable for leaving excessive rocks and debris in the road.

In another example, a cyclist may have been unknowingly riding a defective bike when the accident occurred. If the dealer that sold the bike knew the product was defective, both the seller and the manufacturer could be sued for damages under the doctrine of product liability.

Consulting with a personal injury attorney is the best way to know how to proceed after any accident. You can also visit websites like