Some drivers don’t watch for bicyclists and don’t give them the space they need (and that they have a right to) on the roads. But there are also precautions you can take as a cyclist to stay safe.
People of all generations like to joke about “Millennial culture” and how older and younger Americans often have very different lifestyles. But there’s one aspect to “Millennial culture” that’s changing how we view transportation, especially in larger cities: bicycling.
To be clear, Millennials (adults born between 1981 and 1996) aren’t the only ones who’ve embraced biking. Americans have been riding bikes for both transportation and leisure since the 1890s. In fact, bicycles were the primary form of transportation for several decades until cars became more popular and accessible in the 1920s. Today, about 95% of Americans own a car and 85% use it as their primary transportation to and from work.
Both millennials and older adults are creating a surge in popularity for bicycling, however.
Strongtowns.org says that bikes have out-sold cars in the U.S. most years since 2003. Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans make up the majority of the bicycling population. More and more, biking is seen as a healthy and eco-friendly alternative to cars or other transportation.
Researchers say these are the main 4 reasons why Millennials are embracing bikes as a mode of transportation:
- Lower costs than cars, including maintenance, fuel, parking, etc.
- Convenience, such as no driver’s license requirement, storage in an apartment or other small space, and efficiency in cities where there’s a lot of traffic.
- Infrastructure improvements mean more choice for people who like to ride bicycles. Many consider it part of their daily exercise.
- Environmental considerations like no fuel consumption or pollution.
A 2019 Rutgers University study shows that more cyclists on the road means safer cycling. Although the number of riders increased between 2008 and 2017, the number of injuries didn’t — with the exception of older riders.
New York bicycle crash data
The New York State Department of Health provides statistics related to motor vehicle crashes from 2012 to 2014.
During that time, the following averages were reported for collisions between motorists and bicyclists:
Below is the most recent data released by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles:
|Crashes involving a bicycle and motor vehicle(s)|
|Bicycle/pedestrian/motor vehicle crashes||5|
|Crash severity in police-reported crashes|
|Total police-reported crashes||5,819|
|Serious personal injury||607|
|Moderate personal injury||1,760|
|Minor personal injury||3,057|
Source: New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Summary of Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Crashes
New York State bike laws
There’s always a risk of an accident, but knowing New York state bike laws (for bicyclists and motorists) can help to reduce your chances of being involved in a collision.
In New York, a bicyclist must follow the same rules of the road as a motorist. A cyclist can receive a traffic ticket, and parents are responsible for children’s traffic violations.
Below are 12 important laws for New York bicyclists:
- A child under 14 years old is required to wear a bicycle helmet. Some communities have implemented local laws with additional helmet requirements.
- A bicyclist must obey traffic lights and signs. You must also signal turns whether riding on a road, bike lane, or shared-use path.
- Some municipalities prohibit bicycling on sidewalks, though it isn’t a state law. However, the Department of Transportation is clear that sidewalks are intended for pedestrians — not bicyclists — unless they are very young children.
- Bicyclists are entitled to share the road with motor vehicles, except for interstate highways and expressways.
- NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law requires that bicyclists ride with (not against) traffic.
- A bicyclist must use a bike lane where one is available. If there isn’t an available bike lane, a bicyclist may ride on the right shoulder or near the right edge of the road. A cyclist may move left to avoid hazards like parked cards, but they’re required to avoid interfering with traffic where possible.
- A driver must provide “due care” to a cyclist and is responsible for avoiding a collision, allowing sufficient clearance when passing, and giving the right-of-way when necessary.
- A bicyclist must use appropriate hand signals to indicate turns and stopping or slowing.
- Bicyclists may ride two abreast only if there is no other traffic, and they are not permitted to ride more than two abreast even if there’s no traffic. If there are other cars or pedestrians, they must ride single-file.
- Bicyclists may use the same turn lanes as motorists. If you’re turning left, you may use the whole turn lane in order to turn safely.
- If a lane is very narrow (10 feet or fewer), you may “take the lane,” or ride in the center of the lane so cars won’t try to pass where it’s too narrow to do so safely.
- A bicyclist must yield the right of way to a pedestrian.
Required bicycle safety equipment
Before you head out, make sure your bike has the following equipment:
- Good brakes that can make tires skid on dry, level pavement.
- Bell or horn that can be heard at least 100 feet away.
- Headlight and taillight. The white front headlight must be visible for at least 500 feet in the dark, and red tail light must be visible from at least 300 feet. One of these lights must also be visible from at least 200 feet on both sides.
- Wheel reflectors that are colorless or amber on the front wheels, and colorless or red on rear wheels.
Required bicycle behavior
In addition, you’re required to do these things when you ride:
- Sit on the bike seat (not the fender or handlebars) and keep your feet on the pedals.
- Hold the handlebars with at least one hand at all times.
- Only wear one earphone or earbud at a time. One ear must be “open” to listen for traffic and other sounds.
Common causes of bike accidents
It’s important to know the laws, but it’s also crucial to understand what causes bicycle accidents so that you can avoid a crash.
- 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 fall to 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.
Liability in New York bicycle injury lawsuits
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.
Negligence is when a person fails to meet a duty or obligation. You don’t need to be acquainted with someone in order to owe them a duty. Anyone who uses a roadway, sidewalk, or is out in public, owes a duty to the people around them.
Any driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist has a duty to act with due care to those around them in order to reduce the likelihood of anyone else being injured.
Comparative fault law in New York
The New York legal system maintains that most accidents are not completely the fault of just one person. Rather, the plaintiff might have added a contributing factor to the accident. Perhaps they were not at fault, but something could’ve been done differently to prevent injury.
If that happens, the court would reduce the amount of damages the plaintiff is awarded by the percentage for which they’re at fault.
Bicycle accidents caused by poor road conditions
A bicycle accident doesn’t always involve a motor vehicle. Sometimes, bicyclists crash because they must maneuver to avoid a pedestrian or obstacles. In other circumstances, the bike veers or goes off course because it hit a rut in the pavement, debris, or another hazard. Those accidents can result in serious injuries as well.
Who’s responsible in these cases? The cyclist, the property owner, the government?
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 is usually 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.
What to do after a NY bike accident
All New York 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.
If you’re a bicyclist who’s been in an accident with a motor vehicle, take these steps if you’re in a physical condition to do so:
- 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. It also satisfies the DMV reporting requirements because a police report is automatically filed with the DMV.
- Get a medical evaluation. There are 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.
If you think there’s a possibility that the accident was captured on video, ask about reviewing the footage. But do it quickly — most video surveillance footage isn’t saved longer than a few days (or even a few hours).
- 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.
Finally, call a New York bicycle accident lawyer.
The driver’s PIP insurance should cover your medical treatment associated with the accident, but it won’t cover property damage (like replacement of your bicycle, if necessary). It’s also designed to cover immediate expenses so you can receive treatment quickly.
But if your injuries will result in ongoing care, physical or other therapies, emotional distress, continued time off from work, or other expenses, you’ll probably need more compensation than what PIP provides.
Contact a bicycle accident lawyer who has the resources, skills, and experience to get the compensation you need to fully financially recover from your injuries. The Enjuris personal injury lawyer directory can help you find an attorney near you.