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How to handle bike crash injuries in the Garden State
On March 9, 2020, both a driver and a cyclist died in a crash on Route 9 in Berkeley, New Jersey. The driver was traveling southbound on Route 9 when his vehicle crossed the center lane and collided with a bicyclist on the shoulder of the northbound lane just south of Sylvan Lakes Boulevard.
Bicycle fatalities don’t happen every day, but they are far too common. There were 82 total bicycle fatalities in New Jersey from 2014 to 2018.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Those numbers might seem lower than you’d expect, but the numbers of injuries are far higher than the number of fatalities.
Here’s the number of bicycle injuries in the U.S. in an average year, broken down by the type of medical treatment needed:
Source: American Family Physician
Common bicycle accident injuries
American Family Physician reports that most acute trauma bicycle injuries are to the upper or lower extremities, head, face, abdomen, thorax, and neck. Often, the superficial trauma includes abrasions, contusions, and lacerations (in other words, scrapes, bruises, and cuts).
A bicyclist in a serious accident might also suffer strains, fractures, or dislocations.
|Common bicycle-related injuries|
|Face and eye||Contusions
Corneal foreign bodies (things in your eye)
Trauma to the pancreas
|Genitourinary||Urethral and vulvar trauma
|Skin and soft tissue||Abrasion (road rash)
Road rules: New Jersey laws for bicyclists
A bicyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as any motor vehicle driver on the road. They must also follow right-of-way laws.
The following laws are specific to New Jersey bicyclists:
A bicyclist is required to yield to:
- Emergency vehicles with sirens or flashing lights
- Traffic when changing lanes (the bicyclist must yield in the lane they’re entering)
- Buses and postal vehicles, when they reenter the flow of traffic
- School buses, when red lights are flashing
- Pedestrians in a crosswalk or when crossing the road
- Motorized or mobility-assistance devices in a crosswalk or when trying to cross the road
- Other vehicles already in an intersection
- Driver on the left at an uncontrolled intersection yields to driver on right; turning traffic yields to through traffic
Sidewalks are for pedestrians
New Jersey state law doesn’t specifically prohibit bicycle riding on sidewalks, but it’s prohibited in many municipalities. Young children are permitted to ride bicycles on sidewalks with adult supervision, but other bicyclists should avoid riding on sidewalks when possible.
Ride single file
New Jersey permits 3 bicyclists to ride side-by-side if it’s not impeding traffic. You may not ride 3 or more across. If riding 2 or 3 abreast begins to impede the flow of traffic, you’re required to move to single-file riding.
In a normal-width lane (13 feet wide or less), a bicyclist should “take the lane” and avoid moving too close to the right. Often, if a bicyclist rides too close to the right, a driver might be tempted to squeeze past in the lane, or share the lane with the cyclist. This usually leads to problems where the bicyclist could get run off the road or collide with parked cars or other roadside hazards.
In an extra-wide lane, a bicyclist can share the lane with a car traveling in the same direction.
If you’re riding in a narrow lane (10 feet wide or less), a bicyclist should take the lane and travel in the center of the lane so that an overtaking vehicle (one traveling the same direction as the bicyclist) must move left in order to pass.
If you come up to slower-moving traffic, you’re permitted to move left to pass. Even if you’re a bicyclist passing a car, drivers don’t expect to be passed on the right so you’re safer passing on the left. The same goes for passing another bicyclist. It’s safest to shout “on your left” or ring a bell if you have one before passing another bicyclist. You should always allow at least 3 feet of clearance when passing.
Intersections and turns
When you approach an intersection, move to the part of the lane that corresponds to the direction you intend to travel. If there’s more than 1 lane, use the lane for the direction you wish to turn. Still, check in front and to your rear in order to be aware of other vehicles’ movements, speed, and signals.
New Jersey laws for bicycle helmets and equipment
New Jersey law requires any bicyclist under 17 years old to wear a helmet that is properly fastened and fitted, and that meets federal safety standards. The exception is if the road is closed to traffic (like a bike path or trail).
If you’re riding at night, your bicycle must be equipped with a:
- Front headlamp that has a white light visible for 500 feet to the front,
- Rear lamp that has a red light visible for 500 feet to the rear, and
- Rear red reflector.
Every bicycle must also have a bell or other audible signal that can be heard from 100 feet away and that isn’t a whistle or siren.
A bicycle must have brakes that cause wheels to skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
Common causes of bike accidents
It’s important to be aware of how bicycle accidents happen because that’s the best way to keep yourself safe.
- Speeding. You might not be able to match the speed of a car on your bike, but you should only ride as fast as is responsible based on road conditions, weather, and how many cars or pedestrians are in the area.
- Distracted riding. Like distracted driving, bicyclists also face the temptation of looking at their phones or other devices when they ride. It’s never safe to text or use your device for any reason while riding a bike.
- Riding too close to traffic. A driver should leave at least 3 feet between their vehicle and a bicycle. However, not everyone does and a cyclist should always try to stay as far away from motor vehicles as possible.
- Lane merges and intersection accidents. Although bicyclists are required to follow the rules of the road, including traffic lights and signals, sometimes they don’t. It’s important to use intersections safely and follow traffic signals.
- Accidents in parking lots and driveways. Drivers in parking lot lanes or pulling into or out of driveways might not be looking for bicyclists. Take your safety into your own hands by always staying aware of traffic.
Who’s liable in a New Jersey bicycle accident?
Each state follows 1 of the 4 fault systems in the U.S., which is how it determines how much you can recover in damages for a personal injury.
New Jersey follows the 51% rule of modified comparative fault.
This means that when an accident or injury happens, the person who was at fault (liable) is responsible for paying the injured person’s expenses (called “damages”) related to the injury.
If someone is negligent in a way that causes a bicycle injury, they would owe damages to the injured person. If you’re the plaintiff in a bicycle accident lawsuit, you can seek to recover costs for your medical treatment, property damage, lost wages from time off of work as a result of the injury, and associated living expenses. If you suffered severe injuries, you might also recover damages for pain and suffering and other types of emotional distress.
The modified comparative fault rule in New Jersey means that the injured person must be less than 51% at fault in order to recover any damages.
Here’s an example:
Driver Douglas is driving in the same direction, traveling the speed limit of 30 miles per hour. Douglas sees Beth ahead of him and decides to pass her because he doesn’t want to be “stuck” behind a slower-moving cyclist.
Douglas doesn’t give Beth the recommended 3 feet of clearance because he wants to pass her and still remain clear of a driver coming in the opposite direction. At the same time, Beth realizes she missed the left turn she meant to take to get to her destination. She swerves to the left as she looks over her shoulder because she wants to correct her route.
Douglas and Beth collide and Beth is seriously injured. She sues Douglas for $100,000 in damages. The court finds that Douglas was liable because he failed to pass Beth safely.
But the question remains... did Beth’s quick swerve mean that she was more than 51% at fault?
That’s what the court will need to decide in order to award damages.
If the court finds that Beth was more than 51% at fault for the crash, she won’t receive any damages. If it finds that she was 50% or less at fault, she would be awarded damages reduced by her percentage of fault.
For instance, here’s how the court could rule:
- The court finds that Beth was 52% liable = no damagesOR
- The court finds that Beth was 40% liable = damages reduced by 40%. (Beth receives $60,000.)
What to do after a NJ bicycle accident
If you’re a bicyclist and you find yourself involved in an accident with a motor vehicle, here’s what to do if your physical condition allows it:
- Call the police. Even if your injuries seem minor, an accident report will help as evidence for your case if you need to pursue a lawsuit.
- Get a medical evaluation. Some injuries that might not appear immediately. If you suffer back or neck pain, or a head injury that isn’t immediately apparent, you will need to have had a medical evaluation so your condition is documented at the time of the accident. You can visit a hospital emergency room, urgent care center, or your regular physician. Delaying a medical evaluation could make it more difficult to prove that your injuries were caused by the accident.
- Gather witnesses’ contact information. If there are witnesses like other drivers, bystanders, people at nearby businesses or homes, or anyone else who might have observed the accident or the events leading up to it, those people are important. You don’t need to ask for a statement about what they observed — the police or your lawyer or investigator can handle that — but be sure to get their names and contact information so they can be reached later.
- Obtain the driver’s information. It’s also important to get the driver’s information. Take the driver’s name, driver’s license number, license plate number, insurance card information, and registration. It’s also helpful to have the color, make, and model of the vehicle.
- Take photos at the scene. The more evidence you can gather about road conditions, signs, traffic signals, debris, or any other elements that might have been a factor in the accident, the better. Photograph damage to the vehicle, your bike, other property damage, visibility, road markings, and anything else present at the scene.
Do you need a bike injury lawyer?
There are 2 main reasons why a personal injury lawyer can help.
First, all New Jersey drivers are required to have no-fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. The purpose of PIP is to provide immediate coverage to a driver for medical treatment without first having to deal with any questions of who was at fault for the accident.
Normally, PIP only applies to the driver (policyholder) and their passengers. In an accident with a pedestrian or bicyclist, however, the coverage also extends to the injured person.
New Jersey drivers are also required to have at least $15,000 in bodily injury coverage. But if your costs related to the accident equal more than the driver’s coverage amount, you’ll need to explore other options for recovering full damages.
Second, some bicycle accidents don’t involve other vehicles. A road obstacle, debris, or other dangerous condition could cause you to crash. In general, premises liability law says that the owner or manager of a property is responsible for ensuring that it is well-maintained and that there are not dangerous conditions for people legally allowed to use it.
For bicyclists, the property in question may be owned by a city, county, or town that maintains roads or bike lanes. If that happens, your case will be more complicated than if you were to have an accident on private property. You might need to consult a personal injury lawyer who knows the specifics about filing a lawsuit against a government agency.
In either of these situations, your lawyer is the best person to advise you on what’s your best strategy for financial recovery. Let the Enjuris law firm directory be your free source to find a New Jersey bicycle accident lawyer near you who’s skilled and ready to handle your claim.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.