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What’s Up in the Law of Bicycling

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Chuck Geerhart

You’re riding along, feeling great, and all of a sudden a car pulls out from a parking place in front of you and knocks you over.  You’re hurt.  Badly.  What do you do?

First of all, take care of yourself. Summon an ambulance and go to the ER or urgent care.  Also, make sure the police come to the scene and take a report (they will only come if there is a personal injury). That will be important for insurance purposes. Get the names and numbers of any witnesses (if the police come, they will get this information, but sometimes witnesses leave, so you should get the info too).  

Witnesses are important because after the fact, many drivers lie to their insurance carriers and will say that you slammed into them and were speeding.

The most common bike cases I have handled involve dooring, cars turning into bicycles, bikes in crosswalks, and bikes traveling too close behind a car that stops suddenly.

Bicyclists are considered a “vehicle” under California law (the Vehicle Code, or VC) and have most of the same rights and responsibilities as cars. VC 21200  spells out the rules as regards bicycles. Cars are supposed to stay at least 3 feet away from bicyclists when passing (VC sec. 21760).

Where there is no bike lane, you are allowed to share the road with cars, but you should ride to the right to allow cars to get past you, assuming it is safe to do so.  Don’t ride so close to the right that you get doored!  Drivers do have an obligation to look before opening their doors (VC sec. 22517).

Don’t enter a crosswalk at speed (technically, you are supposed to walk your bike in a crosswalk, since you are a vehicle). A car may have assumed the crosswalk was vacant and then turn and hit you.

Wear a helmet.  I have handled very sad brain injury cases where the rider did not have a helmet on. If you bike at night, be well lit. Even if the car is at fault for the resulting accident, you could be held comparatively at fault for the lack of a helmet or lights. This reduces or bars your right to recover money damages.

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