Bike accidents can be frightening and dangerous, especially when cars are involved. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011, 677 cyclists were killed and 48,000 cyclists were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Biking deaths accounted for 2% of all traffic fatalities that year. While many communities in Georgia are trying to encourage cycling as a healthy form of exercise and a great alternative to driving, people who take to the road on their bikes need to be aware of their rights. In Georgia, there were more than a dozen bicyclist fatalities in 2011. If you are a bicyclist, here are some important things to know about biking accidents.
You Have to Know the Rules of the Road
Under Georgia law, a bike is a "vehicle" and, with some exceptions, general traffic rules apply to bicyclists. Just like the driver of a car, a bicyclist is expected to know and follow the rules of the road. These rules include cycling with traffic (never against it), coming to a complete stop at a stop sign or stoplight, and knowing who has the right of way at an intersection. Most accidents between bicyclists and cars occur at intersections - either because the driver does not see the cyclist, or because either party fails to observe the right of way. Knowing and obeying traffic laws can help keep you safe.
Whose Fault Is It?
Many accidents, including cycling accidents, are the result of someone's negligence. Negligence is the failure to exercise caution and care, and it includes (but is not limited to) failing to follow the law. In a bicycling accident, the person responsible could be the cyclist, the driver, or even the city or county that maintains (or fails to maintain) the road or bike path . Sometimes, a combination of negligence results in an accident. If you are injured as a result of someone else's negligence, you are entitled to compensation for your injuries, including medical bills, missed work, property damage, and pain and suffering. Even if you are partly responsible for the accident, you can still file suit, although you may be able to recover less in damages. This is called comparative fault or comparative negligence. In Georgia, if you are injured, you can only recover if you are less than 50% responsible for the accident. The court determines the percentage of fault. If the plaintiff is 50% or more responsible, then any recovery is prohibited. If the plaintiff is 49% (or less) responsible, then the damages are reduced proportionally. So, a cyclist who is 10% responsible for an accident would have his or her damages reduced by 10%.
Treat it Like a Car Accident
Just like a car accident, if you are in a bicycle accident, call the police. Stay at the scene and give a statement. Get the officer's name so that you can obtain a copy of the accident report. Get the name of the driver of the car, and that person's contact information, and insurance information, and the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. Take photos of any injuries you suffer, and document any damage to your bike, helmet, or clothes. Do not get your bike fixed until you have taken photos and talked to an attorney.
Go to the Emergency Room
Whenever you are in an accident, your first priority should be getting whatever medical help you need. Bicyclists that are hit by motorists can suffer serious injuries. Sometimes, injuries are not apparent immediately, and sometimes what initially seems to be a minor injury turns into a serious or permanent medical condition. If you are hit by a motor vehicle on your bicycle, go to the emergency room. The stress of an accident can make it difficult to determine if you are actually injured or just overwhelmed. An emergency room visit and the resulting medical records will not only ensure that you receive whatever sort of medical attention you need, but will also serve as proof of your injuries.
What if the Driver is Uninsured?
Do you have underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage? If you do, your own policy may pay the difference between your medical bills and the other driver's policy limits, even though you were on your bicycle and not your car. There are two types of uninsured and underinsured coverage. Underinsured is an excess policy. It provides coverage on top of the other driver's policy limit. An add-on policy will cover the difference between the other driver's insurance, if any, and your damages, up to the policy limit. An add-on policy will usually leave you in a better position.
Keep Yourself Safe
We cannot control how others behave, but we can control our own behavior. Keep yourself safe. Wear a helmet. (Under Georgia law, people under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets.) If you ride at night, make sure you have light and reflectors on your bike. Many bike accidents occur at night, when drivers have a harder time seeing cyclists. Under Georgia, law, anyone operating a bike at night is required to have a light on the front of the bike, as well as a light or reflectors on the rear of the bike. Do not drink and ride. Like other types of motor vehicle accidents, alcohol is involved in many bike accidents that result in injury, either on the part of the cyclist or the car driver. In 2011, more than one-third of bike crashes that resulted in fatalities involved alcohol.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you are in a bicycle accident, you should talk to a personal injury attorney who has experience handling such cases. Many cyclists who are in accidents find that police officers and drivers think the cyclist is to blame and that cycling is simply "too dangerous," no matter who caused the accident. You need an attorney to protect your interests. A good personal injury attorney will meet with you for free and tell you what steps you need to take to the get the help and compensation that you deserve. In the meantime, do not speak to the driver or the driver's insurance company without an attorney present. Insurance adjusters are trained to try to get people to admit fault in accidents.