When you think about it, a bicycle is a pretty miraculous invention. It’s a simple contraption that provides cost-effective transportation, exercise, recreation, and is environmentally friendly. Other than your own feet, there aren’t too many other ways to get from place to place that cover all of these bases.
Because Americans are more conscious today than ever before about our health and the environment, more of us are riding bikes as a regular part of our daily lives. However, some of our roads and infrastructure weren’t designed for bikes and cars to share the road safely — and some drivers don’t take bicyclists into consideration.
Many bike accidents can be prevented by the rider. A rider can’t control a motor vehicle driver’s behavior, but you can avoid some of the common ways that bicyclists get injured.
You’ve probably heard plenty of public awareness campaigns about texting and driving or other forms of distracted driving. But distracted biking is an issue, too. Many cyclists look at their phones or other devices while riding, and that’s always dangerous. Your eyes and attention need to be on the road at all times, whether you’re biking or driving.
Like drivers, a cyclist should ride in a way that allows them to be in control of their bike at all times. Your speed should depend on road conditions, weather, amount of travel, speed of vehicle traffic, and other factors.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia require that a motorist give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing. North Carolina doesn’t currently have a safe passing law. However, a safe practice is for a driver to allow 3 feet of clearance between the vehicle and the bike, whether it’s the law or not.
Bicyclists should follow the road rules just like motorists. Intersections, lane merges, and other situations where cars are turning or traveling outside of a single lane can be dangerous. It’s important for cyclists to be aware of not only where they’re going, but what the motorists around them are doing, too.
Some drivers (and bicyclists) think that because cars tend to move more slowly in parking lots or when backing in or out of a driveway, those areas aren’t dangerous. But because these scenarios often involve backing up and unexpected movement, they can present risks.
WalkBikeNC, a department of the North Carolina Department of Transportation that promotes walking and biking in the state, reports that in 2014 (the most recent year for reported data), there were 19 bicyclists and 162 pedestrians killed in accidents with motor vehicles.
Nationwide, North Carolina is ranked 41st when it comes to the number of bicycle commuters. However, some communities — like Carrboro, NC — are making efforts to better connect walking and bicycle networks. Approximately 5% of Carrboro commuters use bicycle transportation, which is one of the highest rates in the country.
There were 4,700 bicycle crashes in North Carolina from 2007-2011. That makes it the 7th most dangerous state for bicycling, according to the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking.
Not every crash results in a fatality. Based on the data from 2014-2018, more than half of bicycle crashes resulted in minor injuries or no injury at all. However, the majority of crashes involved people in their 50s, and the vast majority took place on local roads.
Take a look:
|Injury severity unknown|
|Suspected serious injury|
|Suspected minor injury|
|Top 10 types of bike crashes in North Carolina (2018)||Number of crashes|
|1||Motorist overtaking - other / unknown||585|
|2||Motorist drive out - sign-controlled intersection||370|
|3||Motorist left turn - opposite direction||355|
|4||Motorist drive out - commercial driveway / alley||334|
|6||Bicyclist ride through - signalized intersection||204|
|7||Bicyclist ride through - sign-controlled intersection||203|
|8||Motorist right turn - same direction||202|
|9||Motorist overtaking - undetected bicyclist||196|
|10||Bicyclist left turn - same direction||140|
|Source: NC Department of Transportation|
North Carolina is one of a very few states that uses a pure contributory negligence standard. This means a plaintiff in a personal injury claim (the injured person) cannot recover damages if they were at all liable for the accident.
In many states, a plaintiff can recover damages even if they could or should have done something differently that would have avoided the accident. In those situations, the court would look at the evidence and determine each party’s percentage of liability.
For example, if a driver caused an accident with a bicyclist because the driver rolled through a stop sign, then the driver is clearly liable. But if the bicyclist was riding and texting, they might be determined to be 20% liable because they should have been paying better attention. If they had, they might have been able to avoid being hit. In that situation (for many states), the bicyclist’s damage recovery would be reduced by 20% to account for their liability.
But not in North Carolina.
If the court finds that you’re even 1% liable for a personal injury accident, you can’t recover any damages. That’s why it’s especially important that everyone in North Carolina who rides a bike is aware of bike laws — not just for safety, but also to make a successful legal claim.
BikeWalk NC says:
Here are some of the most important North Carolina laws regarding bicyclists and drivers:
There might also be local laws or ordinances where you ride, so be sure to learn what the requirements or restrictions are in your community. Know before you go!
If you’re involved in a North Carolina bike accident, there are steps you can take to preserve your legal claim. First, get the medical treatment you need. Your physical well-being after an accident is always first priority.
If you’ve been injured, you’re entitled to recover costs for:
If you’re able to do so, take these steps after a bike accident: