Top Safety Tips to Avoid Deadly Bicycle-Car Accidents

Get important safety tips every cyclist should know to avoid bicycle-car accidents. Learn common causes of bicycle-car crashes and how to protect yourself.

An increasing number of adults enjoy riding bicycles for health, sport, and basic transportation. More bicyclists traveling on American roadways means an increased risk of traffic accidents, especially in busy urban areas.

Every day in the United States, at least two cyclists die in traffic accidents involving motor vehicles.¹

Cyclists have very little physical protection when they collide with a moving car or truck. The best defense against severe, potentially fatal injuries is to avoid bicycle-car accidents as best you can.

Here’s where we unpack the top common-sense safety tips for bicycle riders to help avoid dangerous automobile accidents.

Bicycle Safety Starts Before You Ride

Bicyclists of every age and ability should be using a safe, well-maintained bicycle and appropriate safety equipment.

No matter if you are riding a multi-speed bike, a coaster-brake bike (where you back-pedal to stop), or an adult tricycle, follow these tips for starting safely:

  • The bicycle should fit the rider’s size and abilities – Oversized bikes are hard to control
  • Find and take a class on bicycle traffic skills to learn road safety and accident-avoidance maneuvers
  • Be familiar with your bike, especially the braking system, before riding on the road
  • Wear a safety-rated helmet
  • Wear reflective clothing for street riding, even in the daytime
  • Have working front headlights and rear flashing red lights so motor vehicle operators can see you
  • Be sure tires are properly inflated
  • Use a mirror so you can see what’s coming up behind you
  • Never ride your bike while intoxicated

Avoiding Bicycle-Car Accidents on the Road

Most states require cyclists to follow the same rules of the road as motorists. Violating traffic laws can result in the same citations and penalties for cyclists as any other vehicle operator.

Depending on where you live, there can be additional state and local laws regulating bicycle travel on public roads. You can find your local bike laws online, at your local courthouse, or your public library.

Knowing your local bicycle law is not just important for safety but will serve you well if you’re injured in an accident. If you’re unable to avoid a bicycle-car collision, you’ll be better able to prove the driver’s fault if you understand the law.

Common Bicycle Laws in the United States

Bicycle safety in traffic depends on following the rules of the road. It’s up to you to know the specific traffic laws for cyclists in your state or city. For example, your state may require you to register your bicycle and mount tags on it, like a smaller version of license plates on cars.

Remember, if you are cycling on a roadway, you have the same rights as a motorist. You also have the same duty to abide by the applicable traffic laws.

Traffic rules most common across the United States include:

  • Ride your bicycle with, not against, the flow of traffic
  • Obey all traffic signs and signals
  • If cycling while intoxicated or otherwise impaired, you’re subject to arrest and impoundment of your bicycle
  • Your bicycle must have a braking system
  • While cycling at night, the bike must have lights or reflectors bright enough for motorists and other cyclists to see
  • It’s illegal for a bike to be towed from the back of a car, streetcar, bus, or other motorized vehicle
  • Each person riding on the bike with you must have a separate seat
  • Don’t carry any package or another object that impairs your ability to brake, turn, or stop the bicycle
  • Depending on your age, you may be required by law to wear a helmet.
  • Most states restrict cycling on highways or major roadways which pose an unreasonable safety risk
  • Cyclists aren’t allowed to wear headphones that inhibit the ability to hear emergency sirens and other vehicles
  • Bicycles should travel in the far-right side of the lane unless there isn’t enough room for a bike and car to share the lane
  • Cyclists are required to use proper hand signals before turning or changing lanes

Tips for Avoiding Bicycle-Car Accidents in Traffic

More bicycle-car collisions happen in urban areas on busy, crowded streets. Whenever possible, plan your route to avoid roads with the heaviest traffic, and try not to ride your bicycle on public roads at night.

Some of the most common bicycle accidents are caused by motorists who:

No matter when you ride your bicycle, or how heavy the traffic is on that road, practicing “defensive biking” skills can help you avoid bicycle-car accidents and lower your risk of injuries.

Tips for defensive bike riding:

  • Staying Alert: Don’t get distracted by electronic devices. Keep an eye out for potential dangers. For example, if you must ride near a line of parked cars, try to notice if a car is occupied in case the occupant opens the car door in your path.
  • Stop and Look: Before entering a roadway from a driveway, parking area, or side street, be sure to stop and look for oncoming traffic or cars trying to enter the roadway from the other side of the street.
  • Stay off Sidewalks: It’s probably illegal in your town to ride on the sidewalks, and motorists are not expecting a bicycle to come zipping through a pedestrian crossing.
  • Take the Lane: Bicyclists should generally stay to the right side of the lane so long as there is room to share the lane with a passing car. If the lane is not wide enough or is narrowed by parked cars or other hazards, cyclists are safer traveling in the middle of the lane. Also take the lane when preparing to turn, so motorists behind you can clearly see your signals.
  • Be Seen: Wear highly reflective clothing and have lights and reflectors on your bicycle. The most common excuse given by motorists after a crash is, “I didn’t see the bicycle!”  Yes, other drivers should watch out, but you enhance your safety by being as noticeable as possible.
  • Watch Your Back: As many as 40 percent of cyclist fatalities are caused by cars rear-ending a bicycle. Use a rear-view mirror, look behind you before changing lanes or turning, and make sure motorists can see you.
  • Be Wary of Intersections: Serious bike-car accidents happen at intersections. Avoid potential collisions by slowing down and watching for turning cars. If a car just passed you, be mindful it might make a right turn into your path.

What if I’m Still in an Accident?

Despite taking every precaution to avoid a bicycle-car accident, you might still become the victim of a negligent motorist.

If you’re injured in a traffic accident while riding your bike, you have the right to seek fair injury compensation from the at-fault driver, just as if you’d been injured in your car.

Most injury claims are paid through the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company.

A fair injury settlement includes payment for all your damages, including:

  • Medical and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Wages you lost or will lose due to your injuries
  • The cost to repair or replace your bicycle, helmet, clothes, glasses, or other personal property
  • Present and future pain and suffering

When you file an injury claim, the insurance company won’t pay you a dime unless you can prove their insured did something wrong or failed to act like any reasonable driver would in the same circumstances.

There are several ways you or your attorney can show that the car driver is liable, meaning financially responsible, for your damages from the accident.

If you were fortunate enough to survive a bicycle-car accident with minor injuries, you could probably negotiate a fair injury settlement directly with the insurance adjuster.

Serious injury cases require an experienced personal injury attorney to make the insurance company pay the amount of compensation you deserve.

You don’t need money to consult with a reputable attorney. Most attorneys don’t charge accident victims for their initial consultation.

Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Find out what a good attorney can do for you.

Video: Rights and Duties of Cyclists-Bicycle Safety

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>