Who’s At Fault in a Bicycle Car Accident? Protect Your Rights in a Crash

See who’s to blame for common bicycle-car accident scenarios. Depending on who’s at fault, you may have multiple compensation options.

Deaths from bicycling accidents have increased 37% in the last 10 years, from 793 in 2010 to 1,089 in 2019. Roughly two out of three cycling fatalities were from motor-vehicle crashes.¹

The fault for bicycle-car crashes is close to evenly split, with 51 percent of crashes caused by a negligent motorist and 49 percent caused by careless bike riders.²

Many vehicle drivers don’t realize that cyclists have just as much of a right to be on the road as they do. Some motorists can be downright antagonistic towards cyclists. On the other hand, bicycle riders also cause accidents by ignoring traffic laws.

If you’ve been injured in a bicycle-car accident, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages from the at-fault party.

When Negligent Motorists are At Fault

Driver negligence is a common cause of serious vehicle and bicycle collisions. Not surprisingly, most car and bicycle accidents happen in urban areas.

Busy city streets set the stage for bicyclist injuries caused by:

  • Hitting the open door of a parked car
  • Being sideswiped by a passing motor vehicle
  • Colliding with a motor vehicle turning right
  • A driver turning left into the path of an oncoming bicycle
  • Motorists rear-ending a bicycle

Establishing Motorist Fault for Bicycle Accidents

Cyclists enjoy the same legal rights as those who drive passenger and commercial vehicles. Getting compensation from an at-fault driver’s insurance carrier works the same way when you’re a bicycle rider.

After an accident, the burden is on the injured cyclist to prove the motorist is responsible for their damages. Fault is established by proving the motorist did something wrong, or failed to do what any reasonable driver would do under similar circumstances. In other words, proving the driver was negligent.

There are four parts needed to establish motorist liability:

  1. The driver owed the cyclist a duty of care
  2. The driver breached their duty of care by doing something wrong or not doing what they should have done
  3. The driver’s breach of duty caused the accident
  4. The accident resulted in the cyclist’s injuries and property damage

An injured cyclist may also need to show they did nothing to contribute to the accident before the insurance company will accept liability on behalf of the motorist.

Four Common Ways Drivers Cause Bicycle Accidents

1. Left Turns in Oncoming Traffic 

When left-turning drivers fail to yield to oncoming bicycles, the vehicle either hits the cyclist while making the turn, or turns so quickly into the path of the bicycle that the cyclist has no time to stop, and slams into the passenger side of the vehicle. Left turns into oncoming traffic are always the fault of the motorist.

2. Improper Right Turns 

When a car driver passes on the left of a moving bicycle approaching an intersection, then abruptly makes a right turn into the path of the bike without signaling, the driver is generally at fault for the collision.

3. Disregarding Stop Signs or Red Lights 

When drivers run red lights or stop signs, the results can be deadly for a bicyclist who is broadsided in the intersection, or who collides with the side of a vehicle that suddenly crosses their path. Drivers who disregard traffic signs or signals are responsible for resulting accidents.

4. Following or Passing Too Closely

Bicycles moving in traffic should be allowed the same amount of space when following or passing as any other motor vehicle. For example, drivers must only pass a cyclist when it’s safe to move into another lane of traffic while passing. Drivers who rear-end or sideswipe a cyclist by failing to allow a safe amount of space are liable for the injured cyclist’s damages.

Compensation for Bicycle Riders Injured by Motorists

If you’re lucky enough to walk away from a bicycle accident with only minor injuries, you can probably settle your insurance claim without an attorney.

When bicycles are hit by cars or trucks, the unprotected cyclist all too often suffers severe, potentially permanent injuries. Serious injuries lead to high-dollar insurance claims.

Don’t trust the insurance company to treat you fairly when you’ve been seriously injured in a bike accident. You’ll need a bicycle accident attorney to get anywhere near the amount of compensation you deserve.

Auto policies that may come into play include:

  • The at-fault driver’s personal policy
  • The vehicle owner’s personal insurance, if the driver isn’t the owner
  • A commercial auto policy if you’re hit by a work vehicle
  • Auto policies carried by one or both parents, if you were hit by a teen driver

Injured bike riders who are covered by auto insurance may have access to:

  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medpay coverage
  • Uninsured Motorist Coverage: for a hit-and-run or uninsured driver
  • Underinsured Motorist Coverage: when the driver’s liability limits aren’t enough to cover your damages

When Careless Cyclists are At Fault

Bicycle riders have the same duty to obey traffic laws as any other vehicle operator. Just like car drivers, cyclists can violate traffic laws or fail to do what any reasonable cyclist would do.

In general, bicyclists must:

  • Travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic
  • Obey all traffic signals and signs
  • Signal before turning or changing lanes
  • Yield the right of way to pedestrians
  • Yield to vehicles already on the road before pulling into traffic

Every state has laws prohibiting the operation of a vehicle or bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Most states have additional traffic laws specific to bicycles on public roads.

Depending on your state, common bicycle laws cover:

  • Helmet requirements
  • Use of hand signals before turning
  • Light and reflector requirements for riding on public roadways after dark
  • Traveling on the far-right side of the lane
  • Distance requirements when a vehicle driver is passing a bicyclist
  • Two bicycles traveling side-by-side in the same lane of traffic

Despite what many motorists believe, bicycle riders are not always required to use bike lanes or get out of the way of faster vehicles. The cyclist can legally travel in the middle of the lane, and other drivers may not pass until it is safe to move around the bicycle.

Accidents may be the bicyclist’s fault when they:

  • Fail to stop at stop signs or red lights
  • Travel on the wrong side of the street
  • Ride against traffic
  • Fail to yield
  • Turn or change lanes without signaling

Tender Years Doctrine

Even when the child might have caused the accident, most states have a version of the “tender years doctrine” that presume a child is unable to be found liable for negligence.

In some injury cases involving underage cyclists, the motorist involved in the crash may share some contributory or comparative negligence.

Compensation for Damage Caused by a Cyclist

Even if the cyclist who caused the accident is insured by an auto policy, you won’t get far making a claim. Auto insurance companies will not cover damages that weren’t caused by a motorist. You will have better luck pursuing a liability claim under the cyclist’s homeowner’s insurance policy.

If you have no-fault PIP or Medpay coverage under your own auto policy, you might be able to get your immediate medical bills covered. Unfortunately, a claim under your uninsured motorist coverage will almost certainly be denied, the operative word being “motorist.”

If you have collision or comprehensive coverage on your policy, you should be able to get your vehicle damage repaired, subject to your deductible.

If all else fails, you may decide to file a lawsuit against the at-fault bicycle rider or their parent, assuming there are any personal assets worth going after.

What to Do After a Bicycle Car Crash

1. Call 911

After a traffic accident, check for injuries and call 911. Tell the dispatcher there was a collision involving a car and a bicycle. If anyone is obviously injured, tell the dispatcher to send an ambulance.

2. Get Medical Treatment

Never say you’re “okay” or “just shaken up” and never refuse medical attention at the scene. With your adrenaline still running high, you might have potentially life-threatening brain trauma or internal injuries that are masked by the shock of the crash.

Delayed medical treatment can sink your injury claim. The insurance company will jump at the excuse to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries aren’t related to the accident.

3. Gather Evidence

Gathering evidence needed for a successful injury claim begins at the scene of the crash. If you are physically able, begin to gather evidence while waiting for police.

Evidence that can make or break your injury claim includes:

  • Photographs: Use your cell phone to take photos and video. Take close-ups and wide shots to include the position of the car, damage to the car, the bicycle, dented helmet, and torn or bloody clothing.
  • Witness Statements: Get the names and contact information of anyone who saw the accident. If you find willing witnesses, have them write down everything they saw and heard. If the witness doesn’t want to write a statement, ask to record their statement using your phone.
  • Detailed Notes: As soon as possible after the accident, make detailed notes about what happened, your injuries, and everything the at-fault person said and did. Statements like “I’m so sorry,” or “I didn’t see you,” can help you prove fault for the accident.
  • Police Report: The responding police officer will investigate the accident and prepare an official police accident report. The report will indicate the officer’s opinion of fault and list any citations issued for traffic law violations.
  • Medical Records: Your medical bills and records are crucial evidence of the injuries you suffered in the accident. Be sure to tell every medical provider who treats you when and how you were injured.

Get the help you need to get fair compensation. Most personal injury attorneys don’t charge accident victims for an initial consultation. There’s no obligation, and it costs you nothing to find out what an experienced bicycle accident lawyer can do for you.

Bicycle Car Accident Fault Questions

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 >>