More and more towns and cities are adapting their streets to be more “bicycle friendly.” Whether through the creation of curbed or painted bicycle lanes or bicycle-only roadways, local governments are encouraging citizens to use bicycles more. The hope is to help alleviate congested roads, reduce car emissions, and simply promote health.
Due to the increased amount of bicycle traffic, vehicles and bicycles are often vying for the same road space. Drivers often believe that they always have the right-of-way and that cyclists are the ones who need to move to the side. However, the fact is that drivers share the road with all vehicles, including cyclists. A cyclist is entitled to use an entire travel lane, even if there are other vehicles sharing the road. Due to differences in traveling speed, drivers often perform unsafe maneuvers in an effort to pass the slower-moving cyclist. It is not uncommon for a driver
to “clip” a cyclist when attempting to pass. Similar to pedestrian accidents, bicycle accident injuries can be very serious due to the size and weight difference between bicycles and vehicles. Further, like pedestrians, bicycles offer no protection from vehicles.
Another common example of bicycle-vehicle accidents are known as “dooring accidents.” Dooring refers to when the driver of a parked vehicle opens a car door as a cyclist approaches. Due to travel speed and limited reaction time, cyclists often strike an opened vehicle door with tremendous force. Massachusetts law requires vehicle drivers and passengers to check for cyclists before opening their doors.
There are a number of Massachusetts laws aimed at ensuring safe conditions for cyclists, including, but not limited to:
- Unlike vehicles, cyclists may pass vehicles on the right. This fact cannot be used as a legal defense for a motorist involved in an accident with a cyclist;
- Cyclists must obey all traffic laws, including the use of headlights and tail lights for night riding;
- After passing a cyclist, a driver may not make abrupt right turns at intersections and driveways, i.e., they must let the cyclist pass first;
- Drivers may not pass cyclists until there is a safe distance to do so. If there is not a safe distance, then the driver must wait;
- No more than two (2) cyclists may ride together, except on multi-lane roads where there is more than one (1) lane traveling in the same direction. In these instances, the group of cyclists must ride in a single lane; and
- When preparing to make a left turn, drivers must yield to oncoming cyclists.
Now that you know the law, and have followed it perfectly as a cyclist, what happens if I am still involved in an accident? If this happens to you, there are a couple things you should do.
- Check yourself for injuries. If you are able to do so, move yourself and bicycle out of harms way;
- Similar to a car accident, collect as much information as you can from or about the other involved parties;
- File accident reports; and
- Hire an attorney to help you navigate the insurance and possible litigation process
A quick word about accident reports. Massachusetts law requires an accident report for any motor vehicle accident that results in injury to any involved party, or property damage in excess of $1,000. Also, the report must be filed within five (5) days of the accident. The Massachusetts RMV’s website has downloaded accident report forms and you can also pick one up at any police station. It is also best practice to make at least four (4) copies of the report; 1) mail the original to the RMV; 2) submit one to the police department in the place where the accident occurred; 3) keep one to submit to the other party’s insurance company; and 4) keep one for your own records.
Given the likely severity of injuries, the presence of insurance companies, and the timelines required for a necessary accident report, it is in your interest to hire a personal injury lawyer who can help represent your best interests.