Most people assume that when a bicycle and a vehicle collide, the cyclist darted out in traffic or caused the accident somehow. This happens on occasion, but every agency that collects data on bicycle accidents, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reports that motorists cause most bicycle accidents.
Specific negligent driving behaviors cause most bicycle accidents in New York and throughout the United States. Below, we take a closer look at the most common causes of bicycle accidents, followed by some tips on what to do if you have suffered injuries in a New York bicycle accident.
The faster a driver operates their vehicle, the higher the chance of losing control. Additionally, speeding increases the distance drivers need to slow or stop their vehicles.
If a speeding driver attempts to slow down for a cyclist, they have a higher chance of hitting the cyclist if they do not allow the extra stopping distance. Speeding motorists are especially dangerous to cyclists on hills and curves when they don’t have full visibility. By the time a driver sees a child or adult on a bike, they might not have the space to avoid a collision.
Cyclists in New York also face devastating injuries when involved in an accident with a speeding motorist. Bicycle accident injuries are typically severe because cyclists have no protection, but speed increases the force of impact in a collision, greatly increasing the likelihood that the cyclist could walk away with minor injuries. The higher impact of a speeding vehicle also increases the chance of fatal injuries.
New York was the first state to ban hand-held cell phone use in 2001 and later banned texting and driving in 2009. Today, drivers can only use phones while driving if they use a hands-free device. These regulations have curbed distracted driving in New York, but they cannot eliminate inattentive driving.
Cell phones are the first culprit that comes to mind when people think of distracted drivers, but many other distractions can cause a driver to strike a cyclist. Any activity that takes a driver’s mind off the task of driving, hands off the wheel, or eyes off the road, puts cyclists at risk for accident and injury.
Other common driving distractions that interfere with the safe operation of a vehicle include:
- Makeup application and other personal grooming
- Eating and drinking
- Reaching for dropped items
- Tending to children in the backseat
- Heated discussions with occupants
- Watching an event outside the vehicle
- Adjusting vehicle features like climate control, seats, radio, etc.
Driving Without a Buffer
Motorists have a responsibility to drive carefully around children and adults on bicycles. This includes allowing enough space for them to ride on the side of the road, which may or may not be in a bicycle lane, depending on the location.
Whether drivers aren’t paying attention, choose to drive too close to a bicycle, or do not adjust their position if a cyclist is too close to their vehicle, they risk hitting or clipping the bike and causing a dangerous accident.
Failing to leave a buffer between a vehicle and a cyclist is not a large problem in New York’s rural areas. However, cyclists in New York City, Buffalo, Albany, and other large cities run into this issue frequently. Heavy traffic, especially during rush hour, makes it difficult for vehicles to always leave an adequate buffer, forcing motorists to take special care around cyclists.
Unfortunately, some drivers are so focused on other aspects of city driving that they do not use the care they need when bicycles are present.
Improper Lane Changes
The NHTSA reports that 75 percent of bicycle accidents occur in urban areas due to more people and more traffic. Improper lane changes account for many New York bicycle accidents in high-traffic urban areas. Cyclists in urban areas often travel faster than the average bicycle rider going for a joy ride. They ride in bike lines and stop-and-go traffic.
Cyclists depend on drivers following the road rules so they can ride their bikes safely to and from their destination. When careless drivers dart in and out of traffic lanes or make quick lane changes without giving any warning to others who share the road, they risk running into cyclists.
In some cases, a quick lane change requires a vehicle to cross over a bicycle lane, potentially causing a bicycle accident with any cyclists riding in the lane. Careless motorists can also cut off cyclists, causing them to run into the vehicle or quickly apply their brakes and eject themselves from their bicycle.
Ignoring Traffic Control Devices
Stoplights, stop signs, crosswalk signals, and various other devices control traffic at intersections to ensure a smooth flow of traffic that eliminates accidents. Impaired, inattentive, aggressive, and careless drivers sometimes ignore traffic control devices purposefully and accidentally. Either way, they put cyclists at risk for accidents and severe injuries.
Failure to comply with traffic control devices is often a common secondary cause of New York bicycle accidents. Distracted drivers do not see signs and signals; the same is true of those driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Speeding drivers sometimes try to beat yellow lights or go too fast to properly slow their vehicle at an intersection or crosswalk, where cyclists might be present.
Failure to Check Blind Spots
Every vehicle has blind spots. A vehicle’s blind spot increases with the size of a vehicle, making SUVs and trucks especially dangerous when drivers do not check them.
Although more experienced drivers are guilty of maneuvering their vehicles without checking blind spots, inexperienced drivers are typically the culprits when blindspot collisions occur. It’s common for new drivers to only focus on the road ahead of them, even when turning or changing lanes.
Aggressive drivers who feel like they own the road sometimes also operate their vehicles without any awareness about what’s going on to the side or rear of their vehicle.
Bicycles are small, making them difficult to see. When cyclists ride in traffic, even in an adjacent bike lane, they may ride in the blind spot of a passenger vehicle. Drivers who do not use their mirrors or glance over their shoulders to clear their blind spots before changing lanes or turning can sideswipe or collide with a cyclist.
Failure to Yield
Cyclists in New York must follow the same road rules as those in motor vehicles, including complying with traffic devices and signaling their intentions. However, drivers in motor vehicles have an elevated duty to drive carefully around pedestrians and cyclists. This is especially crucial when yielding the right-of-way. Some drivers always take the right-of-way, even when it isn’t theirs, leading to dangerous traffic accidents.
Drivers who fail to yield to other motorists are also unlikely to yield to cyclists, even though they should. Sometimes the failure to yield is also related to other causes of New York bicycle accidents. Distracted, fatigued, and impaired drivers might not yield because they fail to see a cyclist, a yield sign, or other indication they should yield the right-of-way to a cyclist.
Driving Under the Influence
Like every other state, New York has strict laws about using drugs or consuming alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. The state legally refers to driving under the influence as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). The dangers of drunk driving are common knowledge, yet drivers get behind the wheel and put themselves and others at risk all the time.
It’s not a mystery that impaired driving is a common cause of New York bicycle accidents. Alcohol and drugs can increase a driver’s propensity to take risks behind the wheel, but they also impact their ability to safely operate a vehicle. Drunk/drugged drivers struggle to control their vehicles, have delayed reaction time, and have difficulty judging space and distance, creating the perfect storm for a dangerous and deadly accident.
Drunk and drugged drivers also struggle with vision, making it more difficult to spot cyclists, especially in the dark.
Driver fatigue is another common cause of New York bicycle accidents. Drowsy drivers are behind the wheel day and night, putting cyclists and others who share the road at risk for an accident. Many assume that falling asleep at the wheel is the biggest danger associated with drowsy driving.
Nodding off can lead to a dangerous collision, and drivers might even leave the road and end up on the shoulder or sidewalk. However, the impairment that comes with drowsy driving is at least as dangerous as falling asleep while driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—the agency that regulates the trucking industry—has devoted resources to studying the relationship between sleep and driving. Their research shows that a person who goes without sleep for 18 hours suffers the same level of impairment behind the wheel as a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08, the legal limit for driving in New York.
People suffer fatigue for various reasons, including untreated medical conditions, medication, and diet. They might struggle to get the rest they need because of multiple jobs, odd work shifts, kids, etc. Whether falling asleep or simply operating their vehicle while impaired, drowsy drivers are likelier to strike a cyclist.
Dooring accidents are among the most common causes of New York bicycle accidents, especially those in urban areas. A dooring accident is special because it’s the only bicycle accident a motorist is responsible for when the vehicle isn’t moving.
Drivers and their passengers are responsible for checking that no other vehicles or bicycles are coming before they exit their vehicle. Dooring accidents refer to collisions when a driver or passenger opens the door of their vehicle into the path of a cyclist. The cyclist crashes into the door, often suffering serious injuries.
Experienced cyclists know the dangers of dooring accidents and often move to the left to avoid these painful crashes. Yet, children, adolescents, and less experienced bicyclists might never see a door open and suffer severe injuries.
What to Do After a New York Bicycle Accident
If you have suffered injuries in a New York bicycle accident, you could potentially recover damages related to the accident and your injuries. New York law permits you to take legal action against the driver responsible for the accident and your injuries once you exhaust all insurance options. New York drivers must carry $50,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to comply with the state’s no-fault laws. Bicycle accident injuries are often severe and quickly exceed the $50,000 PIP coverage limit.
Until you have the chance to meet with an attorney, take the following steps to preserve the value of your claim.
- Keep all doctor appointments and follow your doctor’s instructions. This also includes going to physical therapy, occupational therapy, or any other specialized treatment your doctor includes in your treatment plan.
- Keep records of all economic losses related to your New York bicycle accident. This includes medical bills, pay stubs, transportation receipts, and receipts for anything else that might apply to your claim.
- Keep a daily journal to document how your injuries have impacted your life. Your medical records have some information, but a journal helps you better convey your physical and emotional struggles related to your injuries to your doctor and allows your lawyer to place a more accurate value on your claim.
Bring all your information to your initial consultation and learn more about the best way forward after suffering New York bicycle accident injuries.
Contact an experienced New York bicycle accident attorney to guide you through the claims process and help you seek additional compensation.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.