Biking experienced a rise in popularity last year: According to NPD, bicycle sales from April to July 2020 were up 81% compared to the year before. Although we can’t know whether all these bikes will be used or doomed to storage as the world tries to reach a post-pandemic normal, we should expect more bicyclists on the road than ever before.
There is data to support biking was on the rise even before COVID-19 drove more people to invest in the activity. According to Statista, the number of bike riders in the U.S. increased by 10.5% between 2014 and 2017. This is partially due to social campaigns promoting both healthy and sustainable living—biking is good for you and good for the Earth.
But biking for leisure or transportation has its risks. Accident fatalities have become more common, with 846 occurring in 2019. Riders are extremely vulnerable on the road, with little protection from vehicles and other dangerous conditions.
Ensuring the safety of bicyclists on our roads is a responsibility we all share: bicyclists, drivers, cities and towns, and road construction companies.
A bicyclist must acknowledge the risks they are taking when they start biking, especially on trafficked public roads. They are responsible for following all the rules of the road and obeying traffic signs. In many states, bicyclists are legally considered “vulnerable users” on the road, meaning they are afforded special protections. But it is still their responsibility to take safety measures to protect themselves and try to avoid life-threatening injury in the event of an accident.
The first obvious step for cyclists is to wear a helmet and other proper safety gear, including reflectors if riding during darker hours. They should also ensure their equipment (the bicycle) fits them and all parts are working properly, particularly brakes.
Bicyclists, like drivers, also need to avoid distraction. This means no texting or other cell phone use while cycling. Even listening to music on headphones can prevent a cyclist from hearing an approaching vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers many additional tips to help bicyclists stay safe on the road.
Cars, trucks, and other vehicles are the biggest things on the road, but they do not own it. It is important for every driver to be ready and willing to share the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. The most important thing for drivers to do is to be aware of cyclists around them and give them a reasonable and safe amount of space. Thirty percent of all bicycle accident injuries occur from a car striking a cyclist.
Many accidents happen when a driver fails to yield to a bike or fails to notice the cyclist due to distracted driving. Even when parked, a driver should first make sure a bicycle isn’t approaching before opening a car door.
When passing a bicycle, drivers need to keep their distance. Although it varies by state, many require at least three feet of distance for passing. Per New Hampshire Rev Stat § 265:143-a, “The distance shall be presumed to be reasonable and prudent if it is at least three (3) feet when the vehicle is traveling at 30 miles per hour or less, with one additional foot of clearance required for every 10 miles per hour above 30 miles per hour.”
Many accidents between bicyclists and vehicles can ultimately be avoided if motor vehicle operators follow safety guidelines.
Cities and Towns
Not every bicycle accident is the result of a collision with a vehicle. Dangerous road conditions, such as potholes, account for 13% of all injury-causing accidents. And it cannot be overstated that, although these types of accidents may seem less serious, they can cause catastrophic injuries to bicyclists, including brain damage.
Cities are responsible for maintaining roads and are paid taxes to do so. When a road has been poorly fixed or neglected for an extended period, it creates an unjustified danger for cyclists.
In addition to maintaining roads, there are many actions a city can take to make its infrastructure safe for bicyclists. Portland, OR is considered one of the safest cities for cyclists. In 1980, they instituted a bicycle program that included efforts such as bicycle route maps, bike parking codes, and the first street improvements (known as bicycle boulevards). Today, Portland is still working to improve its bicycle safety with the Bicycle Plan for 2030.
Justice When an Accident Occurs
Safety measures are the first and most important step in protecting bicyclists. But if an accident occurs, the injured party or their dependent(s) should always consult an attorney to determine if they can file a legal claim against a liable party.
The attorneys at Shaheen & Gordon, P.A. have experience representing victims against insurance companies, businesses, and municipalities. We take up the fight for injury victims and their families to provide some relief during a stressful and tragic time. If you ever need an advocate in New Hampshire or Maine, contact us online or call us at (888) 801-9916 for a free consultation.