Learn the laws that govern the relationship between bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers in the Buckeye State
The popularity of cycling is rising rapidly in the Buckeye State. Ohio is now considered the 18th most bike-friendly state in the country, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
What’s more, the state has 7 bicycle-friendly universities that have spent time and money advocating for cycling over the last few years. One of those universities, Ohio State University, established Pelotonia, an annual bike race that has raised more than $184 million for cancer research over the last decade.
As more and more Buckeyes trade in 4-wheels for 2-wheels, it becomes even more important that you understand Ohio’s laws governing the relationship between bicycles and motor vehicles.
Bicycle accident statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 857 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in the United States in 2018.
In Ohio, 21 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in 2018. The year before, 19 bicyclists were killed. Given that Ohio is the 7th most-populated state in the country, these numbers are actually quite low comparatively. Nevertheless, any fatal crash is 1 too many.
|Ohio bicycle injuries and fatalities by age (2017)|
|Age||Fatal injury (death)||Incapacitating injury||Non-incapacitating injury||Possible injury||No injury||Total|
|76 and up||1||4||10||3||1||19|
|Source: Ohio Department of Public Safety|
Ohio bike laws
Like all other states, Ohio requires bicyclists to follow the same rules and regulations as motor vehicles. This means, for example, that you have to stop at a stop sign whether you’re in a car or on a bike.
Additionally, there are several bike-specific laws that impact cyclists. Most of these laws can be found in Chapter 4511 of the Ohio Revised Code.
Here are some of the most relevant laws:
- Bicyclists must ride as near to the right side of the road as possible when it’s safe to do so.
- Bicyclists must not ride more than 2 abreast.
- When turning left, bicyclists must extend their left hand and arm horizontally. When turning right, bicyclists must extend their right hand and arm horizontally. In both cases, turn signals must be given continuously more than 100 feet before the turn.
- Every bike in use between sunset and sunrise must be equipped with the following: a front lamp that emits a white light visible from at least 500 feet to the front and 300 feet to the sides, a red reflector on the rear that is visible from all distances from 100-600 feet, and a lamp emitting a flashing or steady red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear (if the red lamp performs as a reflector, a separate reflector isn’t required).
- Bicyclists are not allowed on freeways unless directed by a police officer.
Bicyclists who violate any of the laws found in the Ohio Revised Code will be ticketed, but will NOT have "points" assessed against their driver's license.
Ohio does NOT have a statewide law requiring bicyclists to wear helmets.
However, certain local communities have passed safety ordinances requiring bicyclists under a certain age to wear helmets. For example, Richmond Heights passed a safety ordinance requiring individuals under the age of 16 to wear a bike helmet when riding in public.
Other communities in Ohio that have passed similar bike helmet ordinances include Akron, Beachwood, Bexley, Blue Ash, Brecksville, Brooklyn, Centerville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, East Cleveland, Enon, Euclid, Glendale, Kettering, Lakewood, Madeira, Marietta, Orange Village, Pepper Pike, Shaker Heights, South Euclid, Strongsville, and Waynesville.
Regardless of whether an ordinance exists where you live, Enjuris strongly encourages all cyclists to wear a helmet, regardless of your age. Helmet use has been shown to reduce the odds of suffering a head injury by 50%. During the past few years, less than 17% of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets.
Who’s liable for a bike accident?
The vast majority of bicycle accidents are caused by the careless actions of a motor vehicle driver or a bicyclist. As a result, bike accident lawsuits generally require the motor vehicle driver or the bicyclist to prove that the other was negligent.
If you’re a bicyclist seeking to recover damages through a negligence lawsuit against a motor vehicle driver, you’ll have to prove that:
- The driver owed you a duty. All drivers owe all bicyclists (and everyone else on the road) a duty to drive with a “reasonable degree of care.”
- The driver breached their duty. To prove this, you’ll have to show that the driver failed to drive with a reasonable degree of care. For example, the driver was distracted, speeding, or driving under the influence of alcohol.
- You were injured as a result of the driver’s breach. You must show that the driver’s actions (such as texting, speeding, or driving under the influence) caused the accident. In other words, if it wasn’t for the driver’s actions, the accident wouldn’t have occurred and you wouldn’t have been injured.
If you’re a motor vehicle driver seeking to recover damages through a negligence lawsuit against a bicyclist, you’ll have to prove that:
- The bicyclists owed you a duty. All bicyclists owe all others on the road a duty to ride with a reasonable degree of care.
- The bicyclists breached their duty. To prove this, you’ll have to show that the bicyclist failed to drive with a reasonable degree of care. For example, was the cyclist distracted or did they violate a rule of the road?
- You were injured as a result of the bicyclist’s breach. You must show that the bicyclist’s action (such as running a red light) caused the accident. In other words, if it wasn’t for the bicyclist’s actions, the accident wouldn’t have occurred and you wouldn’t have been injured.
Common causes of bicycle accidents
Common examples of bicyclist and driver negligence include:
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence
- Failing to stop at a stop sign or red light
- Riding against traffic
In rare cases, the bike accident is caused by an obstruction or bad road condition. For example, a bike might crash because it runs over a pothole or it hits a piece of debris left in the road.
In these instances, premises liability law generally comes into play. Premises liability law requires owners to ensure that their property is free of dangerous conditions. If you run over a hole that the property owner failed to repair, you may be able to sue the property owner for negligence.
Keep in mind that the obstruction or bad road condition might exist on property owned by the government (such as a public road or bike trail). When suing the government, there are a host of strict laws that you must comply with. If you think the government might be responsible for your accident, reach out to an attorney who specializes in sovereign immunity law.
Goodwin v. Erb (Ohio Court of Appeals)
Defendants Craig and Kathy Erb were notified by the village of Brewster that they needed to repair several sections of the sidewalk in front of their house.
The Erb’s began repairs by removing a concrete slab from a section of the sidewalk in order to remove tree roots. Their actions resulted in a large hole in the sidewalk approximately 4 inches deep. When they removed the slab, they placed wooden stakes and caution tape around the area.
After a night of drinking at a friend's house, plaintiff Jeremy Goodwin attempted to ride a bicycle home but crashed because of the condition of the sidewalk in front of the Erb’s home.
Jeremy sued the Erb’s for his injuries.
The trial court (and later the court of appeals) found, however, that the Erb’s took reasonable steps to warn of the dangerous condition (by placing caution tape around the area).
The court also discussed the “open and obvious” defense raised by the defendants and agreed that the Erb’s had no duty to guard against “open and obvious” defects that a person, using ordinary and reasonable care, would have detected and avoided. The hole, the court ruled, was open and obvious.
As a result, the case was dismissed in favor of the defendants.
Comparative fault law in Ohio
Sometimes, both the plaintiff and the defendant are partially at fault for an accident.
Ohio is a modified comparative fault state. This means that the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover will be reduced by the percentage that reflects their degree of fault. Moreover, if that degree of fault is more than 50%, the bicyclist is prohibited from recovering any damages.
Let’s look at a hypothetical:
A court finds that the driver was 70% at fault (for texting and driving) and the bicyclist was 30% at fault (for riding 3 abreast).
In the above hypothetical, the bicyclist would only be permitted to recover a maximum of $350,000 (70% of $500,000). If the bicyclist had been found to be 51% at fault, she wouldn’t have been able to recover any damages.
What to do after a bike crash in Ohio
After a bike accident, try to remain calm and keep these 5 steps in mind:
- Seek medical attention. Your health and safety should be your first priority. Even if you don’t think you’ve been injured, it’s a good idea to see a doctor immediately after an accident. The symptoms of some injuries, including serious internal injuries, may not appear for hours or days after an accident.
- Call the police. Notifying the police right away will help keep you safe in the event of road rage, which is a serious issue among bikers and drivers. Moreover, the police will conduct an investigation and draft a police report, which will help if you decide to file an insurance claim or lawsuit down the road.
- Collect the driver’s information. Be sure to write down or take a picture of the driver’s name, contact information, insurance information, and license plate number.
- Collect witness information. Witnesses are notoriously difficult to track down after an accident. The best time to collect their contact information is immediately after the crash. Though police will often collect this information as well, they may miss witnesses or fail to add their contact information to the police report.
- Preserve evidence. Take pictures of the scene and any damages (including physical injuries). In addition, if your clothes were bloodied or your bike was damaged, preserve those objects.
Bike safety tips and resources
It’s nice to recover damages after suffering an injury in a bike accident, but it’s even better to avoid injuries in the first place.
We’ve gathered some of the best bike safety resources and listed them here:
- Safety cards created by the Ohio Bicycle Federation featuring the “Four Layers of Safety”
- Common bicycle blunders described by bicycling safety instructor Fred Oswald
- Maps and tips from Bike Cleveland to help you ride safely in Cleveland
- A 46-page booklet produced by Bicycling Street Smarts covering techniques for riding in traffic
- A guide to cycling smarter from the Ohio Department of Transportation
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