A friend of mine who is 72 and rides his bicycle all over the city of Buffalo, was peddling along Richmond Avenue one afternoon when — bam!— he hit something and toppled head first over the handle bars of his bike. He didn’t realize until he had recovered enough to sit up and found a worried driver standing over him, what he had hit. It was a car door. The driver had just parked and was getting out of his car and did not check to see there was a cyclist in the bike lane right next to him. Thankfully my friend follows the first rule of cycling; he was wearing a helmet.
Inadvertently, my friend had entered what is called, “The Door Zone,” the space right next to parked cars, which often takes up at least part of the bicycling lane. Car doors range from three feet to four and a half feet wide, so if possible, cyclists need to leave five feet of clearance. If you can’t do that, be constantly watching for drivers who might be getting out of their cars.
Fortunately, my friend was not seriously injured, although he was bruised and shaken up. The personal injury department of our law firm sees many cyclists who haven’t fared as well in similar situations. As cycling becomes more popular, the rate of bicycle vs. car accidents is also rising. According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center website, in the U.S. in 2015, 818 people were killed in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes — more than two people every day. There was a 6 percent increase in bicyclist fatalities between 2006 and 2015, and a 12.2 percent increase from the previous year (2014).
The mayor of Buffalo, who is a cyclist himself, is working diligently to create bike lanes on as many of our Buffalo streets as possible, however, it’s up to us — both bikers and drivers — to learn the rules about bike lanes, and bicycles as vehicles, in general.
- Bike lanes are meant to keep cars out, not to keep bikes in. Sometimes it’s safer to keep to the left side of the cycling lane as much as possible, particularly if parked cars present a “door zone” threat, or there’s potholes or other obstacles in the way.
- Always ride on the right, with the traffic and in the right direction on one-way streets. Wrong-way cycling is a leading cause of car-bike crashes, often because drivers turning right, look right, not left, before they turn.
- Cyclists have the same right to the roads as cars (sorry drivers, this is the law), however, cyclists are required to stick to the same rules that apply to cars. This means yielding to drivers already on the road; yielding at busy intersections; stopping at traffic lights and stop signs; and yielding and using hand signals before moving laterally or turning.
- Have the right equipment: helmet, rear-view mirror, and reflectors. When cycling in darkness, be sure to use a white front headlamp and a red rear lamp and/or rear reflector, as the law requires.
Most important is awareness. Cycling is not a time for sightseeing. You must constantly be aware of side streets, road conditions, cars on the road, and what’s happening in the door zone. Keep an eye on your speed and only go fast enough to be able to react to surprises.
In most bicycle vs. automobile crashes, it’s the cyclist who loses. If you should happen to be unfortunate and be injured in a bike/car collision or if you know someone who has been, call our personal injury attorneys for a free consultation. Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC, has been handling claims on behalf of individuals who have been seriously injured in all types of vehicle accidents since 1980. To contact us email email@example.com or, call 1-800-343-8537 for a free consultation.