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In our increasingly eco-conscious world, cycling is more popular than ever. Some people have even taken to cycling to and from work, using that wasted commute time to get fit and spend some extra time outdoors. And although cycling is much slower than traveling by car, speeding past gridlocked rush hour traffic with the wind in your face can be pretty satisfying. What’s more, bike share schemes are making it easier than ever to take to the road on two wheels—and not just in California. All across the United States, more of us are biking than ever before. Sadly, with this uptick in cycling comes an increase in cycling accidents and even fatalities.
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Cyclists are among the most vulnerable road users. Unlike cars, trucks and vans—which are fitted with extensive safety technology as well as providing passengers and drivers with a protective metal cage—bicycles are fairly simple contraptions with minimal safety equipment.
Even motorcyclists, who make up another vulnerable road user group, often wear protective leathers and high-tech helmets as the speeds at which motorbikes travel are associated with very serious injuries. They can also rely on high-tech solutions like anti-locking brakes. In contrast, cyclists can and do take to the roads in shorts and a T-shirt, so have very little to protect them from injuries. But is riding a bike anywhere near as dangerous as riding a motorcycle?
Although motorbikes travel at much higher speeds compared to the average cyclist (who may travel at 10 to 25 miles per hour), they are also harder to overlook. After all, motorbikes are larger and much, much louder than bicycles. A driver in a car with an open window and no music playing is almost certain to hear a motorbike coming, even if they can’t see it at first. Even pedestrians are more likely to overlook bikes, darting out into the cycle lane or road without much notice, resulting in a potentially serious collision. Then you have the fact that injury severity and impact force increase when there is a greater difference between the speeds of the two vehicles involved. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour will cause greater damage to a slower-moving object than one also moving at 30 miles per hour. So, even if you are enjoying a leisurely bike ride and taking things extra slowly, a collision could easily have serious consequences.
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Between 2015 and 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 4,219 fatal accidents involving cyclists. During the same time period, there were 253,641 injury-only cycling-related accidents and just 20,347 accidents involving cyclists where the only damage was to property. Cyclists are therefore more likely to be injured or killed in a collision than motorists riding in vehicles with cages: a 2007 study led by a CDC epidemiologist established that you are “twice as likely to die while riding a bike than riding in a car per trip”. The Washington Post has also reported that cycling is around 500 times more fatal than riding a bus. In fact, cycling is considered the second most dangerous method of transportation after riding a motorcycle.
There are, of course, lots of pros when it comes to riding a bike too. As your speed is much lower when riding a bicycle, you have more time and distance to react. It can take a car driver a whole second to react to a hazard on the road. During this time, a vehicle traveling at 50 miles per hour can cover 73 feet. The driver then has to brake, traveling another 125 feet. This makes for a total stopping distance of 14 car lengths. This can increase to 29 car lengths (or 439 feet in total) for a vehicle traveling at 80 miles per hour. As cyclists travel at much slower speeds, reaction and stopping distances are greatly reduced. What’s more, bicycles are much lighter and easier to maneuver so you can dart out of the way of danger much more easily and quickly. The turning circle of a car, van, bus or even a large motorbike means that evasive maneuvers take up valuable time and space, even after the stopping distance. Bicycles are nimble and can make a relatively sharp turn with little space.
With all this in mind, you might be tempted to just ride your bike on the sidewalk. But there are certain things you need to keep in mind if you try to do so. It may be legal to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk in California, depending on where you are in the state. There is no state-wide law in California rendering this illegal, but local governments are permitted to enact their own regulations, so always make sure to check what is and is not allowed locally to you before riding on the sidewalk.
If you do choose to cycle on the sidewalk, you’ll need to keep your speed down and your eyes open. Pedestrians may not expect to see cyclists on the sidewalk, so don’t take them into account when moving around the space. Even though cyclists are usually the slowest moving objects on a public road, they tend to be the fastest on a sidewalk. This comes with a completely different set of risks. People of all ages, dogs on leashes and even unexpected obstacles such as signs outside coffee shops, stores and delis can block huge sections of the sidewalk, leaving you with a relatively small width to work with. And even if car drivers and passengers are conscientious enough to look out for cyclists on the road side when opening vehicle doors and exiting vehicles, they may not think to check the sidewalk for unexpected cyclists.
Causes of Cycling Accidents
It’s safe to say that a fair proportion of bicycle injuries are caused by another road user (or pedestrian) failing to take cyclists into consideration. As a silent, engineless vehicle, the bicycle is even harder to spot on the road than the motorbike, whose telltale revving is often the first clue to any driver about to make a maneuver. Whether you are hit by a van pulling out of a junction or a car changing lanes, even a minor collision can throw you from your bike and cause serious injuries. Let’s take a look at some of the situations that may lead to a personal injury.
Uneven road surfaces
As cyclists tend to use the shoulder of the lane when riding in traffic, there is less space to dodge various defects in the road surface when they appear unexpectedly. Potholes might be an irritating nuisance to cars and other large vehicles, but they can be disastrous for bicycles. As you only have one wheel at the front, there is nothing else to stabilize the bike if you are unbalanced by a bulge or hole in the asphalt.
Obstacles on the road may range from small pieces of litter to parked cars or trucks. No matter the size, each can pose a risk. A small piece of plastic packaging can be very slippery, especially when wet, so can easily unbalance your wheel.
Even when a road has a designated cycle lane for your use, you still can’t let your guard down. Cycle lanes on less frequented roads may accumulate litter that is batted around on the road by various other vehicles before settling in the relative peace and quiet of the cycle lane. Cars looking for parking spots may also not be as respectful of cycle lanes as we might like, and coffee shops and stores may even encroach onto our precious silvers of safety with their A-boards and signage.
One of the most dangerous obstacles a cyclist can be faced with is a suddenly open car door. This huge, heavy chunk of metal and glass can appear without any notice at all, making it a serious issue for cyclists.
Even the most conscientious driver cannot see 360 degrees around their vehicle at all times. While smaller, compact cars have relatively small blind spots, larger vehicles have much larger blind spots. Trucks have the largest, which may not be located where you would expect. For example, cyclists riding just ahead of a truck—at the sides or directly in front—cannot be seen from the raised driver’s seat. The general rule is that if you cannot see the driver in a mirror or a window, they cannot see you. Sadly, many drivers are also simply not trained in how to position their mirrors to spot cyclists, which exacerbates the issue of blind spots.
Even professionally trained drivers, such as truck drivers, are still only human. There are so many hazards to keep in mind when using the roads, so things do go unnoticed at times. When making a turn in a large vehicle, the driver has to consider their road position, signal, check their mirrors, watch out for parked cars, work out the perfect angle and brake at the right speed. All of this brain activity means that something less obvious could be overlooked. As bicycles take up less space and may only be partially visible in a mirror, they are less conspicuous to the driver’s already potentially overwhelmed eyes.
Distracted driving is becoming a major issue of our times. Drivers have access to so much portable technology, and it can be easy to lose concentration momentarily if a phone rings or a notification pops up on a screen. Even just checking a navigation app can cause a driver to remove their eyes from the road for a few seconds.
Sadly, there are also some road users that simply do not routinely check for bicycles. These drivers may have never ridden a bike on a public road before, so may be unaware of the risks facing cyclists, or they may simply be careless. There is little cyclists can do about these road users apart from presuming that every driver hasn’t spotted them before undertaking or performing any maneuver.
In the same way that larger vehicles fail to look out for bicycles in favor of focussing on larger objects that could hurt them, cyclists often forget that pedestrians are also hazards on roads, sidewalks and cycle lanes. Accidents involving bicycles and pedestrians are often less serious with less severe consequences than those involving motor vehicles but the consequences can still be painful and long-lasting. Head injuries, for example, depend greatly on the angle of impact, so a bad collision with a pedestrian could have lasting repercussions.
Even cyclists aren’t perfect, and some accidents are caused by the cyclist failing to signal correctly or failing to uphold proper cycling procedure, such as riding in a poor position on the road. Just as other road users can endanger cyclists by failing to check a mirror or signal where appropriate, cyclists can also drop the ball and forget.
As California law applies comparative negligence, you may still be able to gain a settlement if you are partially at fault. This may also be the case if your behavior or conduct worsened your injuries, e.g. if the other party was at fault but you were not wearing a helmet, contributing to the severity of your head injury.
Most experienced cyclists will at least have been confronted with a near-miss “dooring” incident during their cycling lifetimes. There are so many hazards to look out for on your bike: faulty road surfaces, litter, obstacles in cycle lanes, other cyclists, pedestrians and other, much larger and faster vehicles. You might therefore be forgiven for thinking you’re safe with stationary objects like parked cars. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many drivers park on the street then immediately get out of their vehicles, swinging their car doors fully open with wild abandon. This is not just dangerous for cyclists but also for other road traffic and even the person opening the door.
Thankfully, most vehicle users will at least check if there are any large oncoming vehicles that could injure them if they exit their vehicle. This means that the driver or passenger has at least glanced around them to spot any obstacles that are immediately visible. However, smaller vehicles such as bicycles and motorbikes are easier to overlook.
A vehicle door opening unexpectedly can cause a dangerous chain reaction. If the person opening the door simply flings their door open without checking for oncoming traffic at all, this could cause another vehicle to swerve to avoid a collision. This vehicle may be forced to swerve onto the other side of the road. In the worst case scenario, this can cause multiple collisions and several different injuries as well as property damage. If this vehicle is a bicycle, the rider may not have enough distance to brake in time to avoid a collision. The resulting contact with the stationary door could cause a number of injuries, especially if the cyclist is thrown from the bike over the door. Common consequences include cuts, bruises, broken bones, fractures, whiplash and “road rash”—injuries to the skin and soft tissues caused by skidding along the ground. Even if the cyclist has enough time to react, they must be very careful with their split-second choices. Swerving into the road may result in a much more serious injury than simply colliding with the door: there may be large vehicles moving at great speed in the rest of the lane, which could pose greater danger than colliding with the obstacle in front of them. Sadly, any cyclist faced with an open car door is facing a lose-lose situation. So, how can we as a society keep cyclists safe from dooring?
- Dooring-safe cycling
- Driver safety
- The Dutch reach
Cyclists can employ some tips and tricks to keep themselves safe from the dangers of dooring. The easiest way to keep yourself safe is to allow plenty of room around parked cars just in case somebody is about to open a door. Remember the saying “door and a little more”.
It’s best to assume that any parked car could open its doors at any time but there are some signs to look out for: recently parked vehicles, taxis and delivery vans are much more likely to cause a hazard. And don’t presume you’re safe in cycle lanes or on sidewalks either—people opening doors on the sidewalk-facing side of the car may not be quite as cautious. After all, they expect pedestrians, dogs and stationary obstacles on the sidewalk but may not be familiar with cyclists using the sidewalk. And as you’re traveling considerably faster than the hazards they might be expecting, they may not look far back enough to spot you.
There is only so much that cyclists can do to protect themselves from dooring. The onus should be on drivers and passengers to ensure that they open their vehicle doors only after checking it’s safe to do so. A vehicle door is a huge, heavy piece of metal and glass that could cause serious damage and injuries, so it’s essential to check that the path is clear before flinging it out into the road or sidewalk.
Drivers should first check their rear view and side mirrors to ensure there is no immediate danger, then carefully open the door slowly while looking backwards into the flow of traffic to ensure there are no dangers to their safety as well as ensuring they won’t cause a hazard. Better yet, drivers can employ a maneuver known as the “Dutch reach”.
The Dutch Reach
The Netherlands is a country known for its cycling. So much so that Amsterdam’s rush hour is more likely to be accompanied by the dinging of bells rather than honking car horns. As bicycles are so common on Dutch roads, the country has established a safety protocol to help prevent dooring.
This “Dutch reach” involves vehicle drivers not using the hand closest to the door to open it, but their far hand. This simple change forces the person’s torso to swivel in the seat, so they automatically look backwards for a continuous view of oncoming traffic. This not only allows the person to spot cyclists but also other road users such as car and van drivers, preventing the “dooring” of cyclists as well as sudden braking and swerving. A car driver employing the Dutch reach can therefore help out cyclists and other vehicle drivers while also ensuring their door is not damaged in any accidents.
Can Cyclists Wear Headphones or Ear Buds while Cycling in California?
A long bike ride or commute might sound like the perfect time to listen to some music or catch up on the latest episode of your favorite podcast. But is it legal in California? Find out more here.
The Future of Cycling in America
As cycling becomes more and more popular, it is inevitable that cities will continue to invest in cycling infrastructure. Bike lanes and bicycle-friendly sidewalks may become the norm as we ditch four wheels for two. More communities may invest in cycle sharing systems to encourage zero-emissions commuting, making cyclists a more common sight on our roads. As users of these schemes don’t necessarily need any cycling experience or proficiency to hire or borrow a bike, we could experience an influx of unsteady, inexperienced cyclists on our cycle lanes and roads.
Electric cars are also set to increase in popularity as gas prices rise and charging infrastructure becomes more readily available. E-mobility has a huge overlap with autonomous driving—or driverless cars—so our roads may also play host to more vehicles being guided by artificial intelligence. The latest updates for Tesla, for example, feature cyclist identification that, in some cases, may warn drivers of an upcoming cyclist before they can even spot them themselves. However, the technology is currently not consistent enough to make a major contribution to cyclist safety. Moving forwards, we may see the arrival of driverless delivery vehicles and buses with cameras and sensors to identify cyclists and allow plenty of space.
Currently, air pollution from cars, delivery vans and trucks is making the air around roads, cycle lanes and even some urban sidewalks unsafe to breathe. A study conducted in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2015 found that cyclists are exposed to much more air pollution than other road users, including black carbon and carbon monoxide. However, another study carried out in 2010 established that cycling comes with benefits to cardiovascular and mental health that can add 3 to 14 months to your life, far outweighing the up to 40 days subtracted by air pollution.
So although accident and injury statistics have been rising as increasing numbers take up cycling across the United States, we will hopefully see a shift towards more safety infrastructure for bicycles on our roads and a more cycling-focussed society in general. Until then, it’s essential that cyclists do as much as possible to keep themselves safe on California’s roads.
Cycling Safety Tips
1. Make sure your bike is roadworthy
California law requires that your bike is kept in a certain condition before it can be legally used on the state’s public roads and sidewalks. Your bicycle must have a brake on at least one wheel, and must have all of the following if used in darkness:
– A white front light visible from 300 feet (this may be attached to the bicycle or the rider)
– A red safety reflector at the back visible from 300 feet when lit up by car lights
– White or yellow reflectors at the pedals (on the pedals or on the cyclist’s feet/ankles)
– White or yellow reflectors at the sides of the front and back (four in total)
Cyclists are road users as much as any car driver, motorcyclist or truck driver. You must signal to other road users if you plan on turning or making any maneuver. Hand signals involve simply sticking one hand out in the direction you plan on moving into.
3. Learn basic safety maneuvers
It’s a good idea to learn how to safely swerve and brake quickly so you are prepared in case of an emergency.
4. Check your road position
Although it’s understandable to want to stay as far away from the flow of traffic as possible when riding on a road without a bike lane, it’s never a good idea to ride along the gutter. Even if there are no foreseeable hazards coming up, a drain or imperfection in the asphalt can crop up at the last second, forcing you to either suddenly swerve further into the road or ride over a dangerous surface without preparation. The Three Feet for Safety Act applies in California, so motorists are required to give you 3 feet when passing, and can be fined $220 if a cyclist is injured as a result of any failure to uphold this law. This means that it is the vehicle driver’s responsibility to allow you plenty of room as they pass, so you do not need to restrict yourself to a potentially dangerous road position to make passing easier for other road users. However, California law does require cyclists to keep as far right as is “practicable”, and certainly on “the right half of the roadway”, so position yourself as far right as you deem safe without taking any unnecessary risks.
5. Stay out of blind spots
Familiarize yourself with the blind spots of common vehicles such as compact cars, SUVs, trucks and buses. These can vary greatly across different vehicle classes, with trucks having huge blind spots that may not cover the areas you might expect. While you may not be able to avoid temporarily traveling through these blind spots, you must try to leave them as quickly as possible and avoid lingering anywhere that other road users will struggle to see you.
6. Always look behind you
Unlike other vehicles, such as family cars, bicycles don’t come with mirrors as standard. It’s a good idea to invest in some bicycle mirrors so you can easily see what’s going on behind you without having to turn your head fully. It’s important to check if there are any approaching cars before making any maneuvers or turns. California road law also requires that slow-moving traffic (including bicycles) must turn off the roadway if they are causing a queue of more than five vehicles behind them. You should therefore check whether you have caused a queue of more than five vehicles, then signal before moving off the roadway and stopping to let these vehicles pass.
7. Control your speed
Even though you as a cyclist will be traveling much more slowly than other road users around you, you are also much more exposed. A car driver can expect to walk away from a collision at 40mph with a couple of bruises and maybe some whiplash, but even a minor collision can have grave consequences for a cyclist. The faster you were going at the time of an accident, the more likely you are to be seriously injured.
8. Wear safety gear
As cyclists are so exposed on the roads, it’s a good idea to invest in some good-quality safety gear. This may include simple gear such as a cycling helmet and gloves or fancier kit like face shields. Even the clothes you wear while cycling can offer some protection. “Road rash” is a common injury among cyclists, encompassing scrapes and cuts on the skin and even down into deeper tissue layers if contact with the ground is extensive or if there is great force involved. As many people put their hands out to protect themselves during a fall, thick leather gloves can offer brilliant protection by giving the asphalt something else to burn through other than your precious skin. As head injuries are often the cause of serious cycling injuries, helmets are considered the most important piece of safety kit a cyclist can invest in.
Although California law does not require that cyclists aged 18 and over wear bike helmets, children and minors are legally required to wear an approved, fastened bicycle helmet that fits properly. This means that the helmet must conform with the standards issued by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This requirement also applies if the child is a bicycle passenger, e.g. in a trailer being towed by the bicycle or in a child seat secured to the back of the bike. However, these rules do not apply if the bicycle is being ridden on private property. If you or your child fails to uphold this requirement, you may be punished with a $25 fine payable by the parent or legal guardian or—in some cases—the cyclist. In practice, however, such fines are treated as “fix-it tickets”, allowing the parent or legal guardian 120 days to prove to law enforcement that the issue has been solved. This may involve the purchase of an approved helmet or taking a bicycle safety course if this is required by the local authorities. As helmets are legally required for under-18s in California, the lack of a helmet has a clear impact on personal injury cases involving minors. As we are subject to comparative negligence in this state, the cyclist’s failure to uphold helmet laws will definitely count against them when settlement payments are being negotiated. But what about adults?
Even though adults in California are not subject to mandatory helmet laws when riding a bicycle, comparative negligence does mean that they could be penalized if their lack of a helmet is seen as a contribution to the severity of their injuries. Cycling helmets have been proven time and again to reduce the severity of head injuries in all kinds of accidents involving bicycles. One large international study established that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of serious head injuries by nearly 70%, and fatal head injuries by 65%. Even facial injuries were reduced by 33%. With this in mind, it is fairly obvious that any cycling-related personal injury case involving a head injury will greatly suffer if the cyclist was not wearing a helmet at the time. For example, the other party’s legal representation could argue that any facial injuries would have been a third less severe if the cyclist was hearing a helmet. Comparative negligence could therefore be applied and your final settlement sum drastically reduced. That’s why we always advise that cyclists wear a helmet.
There are, of course, some situations where wearing a helmet may be impractical. With the increase in bike share rental systems, it’s becoming more and more likely that you might end up riding a bike home from work without any prior planning. Nobody can reasonably be expected to carry a bike helmet with them at all times just in case they decide to use a bike sharing service at the last minute. However, if you do suffer a personal injury in a crash while riding one of these bicycles without a helmet, your lack of a helmet could still be used against you when calculating your final settlement.
Even if you discount all of the safety benefits associated with wearing a bicycle helmet, the impact that not wearing a helmet could have on your personal injury case if you are injured is argument enough to wear one whenever you cycle. If you do decide to wear a bicycle helmet, you will be spoilt for choice. With so many options out there, how can you possibly make the right decision? That’s where our helmet buyer’s guide comes in:
Modern bicycle helmets are made from high-tech materials such as carbon fiber. It’s important to invest in a good-quality lightweight helmet, as these are easier to carry around with you, meaning you’re much more likely to take your helmet out on your ride or commute with you. These lightweight materials also reduce strain on your neck, and are generally more breathable for a more comfortable experience.
2. The right fit
In order to offer the right level of protection—and to meet legal requirements if the rider is under 18 years of age—a helmet must fit properly. A good bike helmet should strike the balance between snug and secure yet comfortable and not too tight. For this reason, it’s always worth heading to your local cycling store to try on multiple helmets to get an idea of fit rather than ordering online.
3. The right type
There are different helmets for different types of cycling, just as there are road bikes for on-road cycling and mountain bikes for more challenging terrains. Road bike helmets are designed to provide an aerodynamic feel as well as good ventilation, while mountain bike helmets offer additional features such as visors or more coverage at the back of the head. Downhill riders often even wear full face helmets to provide protection from all angles, and BMXers shell out for special BMX helmets that can really take a beating before having to be replaced. There’s no point paying extra for these additional add-ons if you only ride your bike to and from work on well-maintained roads.
Some studies have shown that MIPS-equipped bicycle helmets can offer high levels of protection.
MIPS Bicycle Helmets
MIPS-equipped bicycle helmets feature a multi-directional impact protection system. This means that they move more freely around the head to absorb rotational force. But surely bike helmets aren’t supposed to move around? It does seem counterintuitive: even though we spend so much time and effort ensuring the right, snug fit so that our bike helmet never wobbles around while on the head, some movement in the case of certain types of impact is actually a good thing.
So, where did MIPS technology come from? The fathers of MIPS technology are Hans von Holst, a Swedish neurosurgeon, and Peter Halldin, a researcher at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. Through his work, von Holst observed that injuries to the human brain were less severe when impact was direct rather than at an angle. The two scientists also discovered that cyclists, skiers and horseback riders tend to suffer the kinds of accidents that expose the brain to these angled, rotational forces. The result of their research was the multi-directional impact protection system, which they designed to protect the brain from these more dangerous rotational forces: the system includes two low-friction layers inside the helmet that create motion between the head and the helmet, lessening the impact of rotational forces on the human brain.
The system is now available in helmets for cycling, winter sports, motorbiking, horseback riding, climbing, occupational hazards, motocross and even ice hockey. You can generally spot a MIPS helmet by a tell-tale yellow sticker on the product.
Common Bicycle Accident Injuries
Even with all the safety equipment in the world, accidents still happen. As cyclists are very exposed to the mercies of the road without the protection of a cage, the injuries suffered by cyclists in a collision are different to those expected in a car crash.
Even cyclists that use clip-in pedal systems are not attached to their bikes very securely. It doesn’t take much impact or shock to separate the cyclist from their bicycle, so the rider is in an incredibly vulnerable position with no metal “armor” to protect them like a car driver has. This often means that the bicyclist is thrown from the bike and skids along the road surface or other ground cover. Ideally, this would be a grassy verge. Less ideally, gravel. Depending on the surface and the speed at which the cyclist is traveling, the road surface creates friction and effectively tears through the person’s skin and potentially down into deeper layers of tissue. In the worst case scenario, the almost flippantly named “road rash” can amount to serious muscle tissue damage and extensive skin damage requiring skin grafts.
Broken bones tend to be simple albeit serious injuries depending on their location in the body. A broken limb can be very impractical, painful and disruptive to your quality of life, while a broken pelvis presents much more complex issues. Broken bones usually have to be set in casts to ensure they heal in the right position, rendering that part of the body immobile for several weeks. If the injury is on the skull or anywhere on the torso, the victim may be bedridden until their bones heal adequately. Even a relatively simple break in the leg can have a massive impact on your life, as you may not be able to work for many weeks, and relatively easy day-to-day activities become much harder or impossible to complete. This means you may have to rely on outside help—like expensive childcare, household help or even a temporary carer—while not being able to earn your usual income.
Bruises and cuts
Cuts and bruises may sound like minor injuries, but cuts can range from shallow grazes to serious lacerations that extend down into the deeper layers of muscle tissue. Shallow cuts tend to heal well in time but the healing process can be itchy, tender and uncomfortable. Deeper cuts may require stitches and can sometimes leave large scars on the skin, which may have an ongoing psychological effect on the patient—especially if these scars are located in a particularly visible area of the body, such as the face.
Bruising of any severity indicates a certain level of internal bleeding. While this may encompass minor bleeding from small broken capillaries in the case of small bruises close to the skin, deeper bruising indicates that larger blood vessels further down in the tissue have been damaged and blood has escaped.
Although bicycles are fairly lightweight—unlike motorcycles, which can crush riders under their weight—they do leave you exposed on the road. If a cyclist comes off their bike while riding on a busy road, other road users may not have enough time to react and take evasive maneuvers to avoid hitting the exposed, vulnerable cyclist now lying on the road. This can lead to secondary crushing injuries caused by fallen objects or the wheels of other, larger vehicles that may not have even been involved in the initial collision. In legal terms, these secondary injuries may be attributed to the party that caused the initial accident or the negligence or carelessness of another party.
Ranging from mild concussion to catastrophic brain injuries, head injuries can vary drastically in severity. Numerous studies have shown that bicycle helmets can greatly reduce the severity of head injuries, but the head is still the worst place on the human body for impact. Different types of impact also have varying effects on the brain, with rotational impact causing more severe and potentially more complex injuries. As head injuries can be more or less severe, the recovery process depends on the nature of the injury as well as how much damage has been sustained. If the brain has suffered a mild concussion after direct or indirect impact with the asphalt, recovery should not take longer than a few days—unless complications like post-concussion syndrome arise. However, catastrophic brain injuries can be immediately or eventually fatal. These can be caused by powerful jolts or blows to the head, or even foreign bodies becoming lodged in the brain. The lack of a protective cage and other safety equipment—like seatbelts and airbags—present in vehicles such as cars means that cyclists’ brains are only protected from serious injury by a helmet. Surprisingly, impact-related head injuries do not necessarily have to involve direct impact to the head. If a cyclist is thrown from their bike and lands on their hip, for example, the shock of the impact can travel up the body to the head and cause injuries such as concussion.
Like head injuries, the outcomes of injuries to the spine can differ drastically. The spinal column houses the centre of the body’s nervous system, which is responsible for bodily control and sensation. If the spine is fully severed—known as a complete spinal injury—the person will have no control or sensation below this point. So, if the spinal cord is severed entirely at the waist, the arms and upper torso will be unaffected but the person will have no control over their lower torso, legs or feet—medically, this is known as paraplegia. If the accident causes the spinal cord to be severed at the neck, the person will be quadriplegic or tetraplegic with no control or sensation from the neck down.
If the spinal cord is damaged or partially severed in an accident, some bodily functions and sensation will be lost from the point of injury downwards. This incomplete spinal injury could impact the patient in various ways, including loss of movement, loss of sensation or altered sensations, spasms, pain, loss of bladder control and even difficulty breathing depending on the nature of the injury.
What to Do If You Suffer a Personal Injury as a Cyclist
No matter if your bicycle injury was caused by a driver failing to give you adequate space while passing, a suddenly open van door or another road user encroaching into the cycle lane, we are always happy to review your case free of charge and give you free, impartial, no-obligation legal advice. Read more about the “dos and don’ts” of personal injury cases here.
How Do We Prove Fault in a Cycling Personal Injury Case?
In any personal injury lawsuit, there are four simple elements upon which your case hangs. We need to prove that all four of these apply to your case, and that you are the victim of the other party’s breach of duty.
First of all, we need to prove that the other party involved had a duty towards you. This applies to anybody sharing a road with you. The law stipulates that any party using a public road must strive to keep other road users safe at all times. Even a café owner that decides to put their advertising in a cycle lane, or a pedestrian carelessly tossing a coffee cup onto the side of the road without noticing the nearby cyclist has a duty to ensure their actions do not endanger others. As you can see, it is usually easy to prove that the other party had a duty of some kind towards you.
However, we then need to prove that they were in breach of this duty. This entails a detailed assessment of statements from all parties involved as well as any witnesses as we try to establish that the other party failed to uphold their duty to keep you safe as a cyclist either on the road, in a cycle lane or on the sidewalk. This breach could involve breaking a law or failing to exercise common sense and situational awareness, e.g. a van driver involved in a collision may have been illegally using their cellphone at the wheel or they may simply have failed to check the cycle lane before pulling over to make a delivery.
We then have to assess the damage caused by this breach of duty. This encompasses the injuries and any other damage—such as mental distress and suffering—caused to your person. This can be simple to establish in the case of a broken bone or spinal cord injury or more difficult in the case of complex injuries. We can also include the negative impact on your finances, e.g. if you were forced to pay for household help and childcare while suffering loss of earnings as you were unable to work due to your injuries.
Finally, we have to prove without a doubt that this damage was caused by the other party’s breach of their duty towards you. If you developed a respiratory illness at the same time as you were recovering from your broken leg, this does not denote causation as it is highly unlikely that a traffic collision could result in this illness. It is usually easier to prove that simpler injuries like dislocations and lacerations are the direct results of an accident, but proving this causation can be more difficult when it comes to mental trauma, pain and suffering, and even more complex, invisible injuries such as ongoing back pain.
Broken down into these four separate elements, personal injury cases may seem simple. Unfortunately, however, this is not the whole story in California. As we are a comparative negligence state, the final settlement amount awarded to you depends on how much you are deemed to have contributed towards your own injuries.
Let’s take a look at an example.
You were cycling along a cycle lane in downtown Concord. The cycle lane was free of litter and other debris, and the road surface was in good condition. The weather was great, so visibility was perfect. You rode your bicycle safely home from work, keeping the volume low on your headphones to ensure you could hear any hazards around you.
A car passing you veered into the cycle lane and collided with you, causing you to lose balance and fall onto the ground, suffering a broken wrist and serious grazing to your right arm, face and head. The driver was texting while driving so didn’t notice that they were straying into the cycle lane. This may seem like an open-and-shut case of negligence on the driver’s part. However, you were not wearing a helmet. Helmets have been shown to reduce facial injuries by 33%, so any claims relating to your facial injuries could be reduced by a third to reflect the fact that you failed to protect yourself from such injuries.
You were also wearing headphones covering both ears. This is against the law in California, so you will be considered at fault for not being completely aware of your surroundings and failing to uphold the vehicle code. This could increase the level of fault assigned to you considerably.
This application of comparative negligence makes your case more complicated, so it is essential to choose a personal injury law firm with knowledge and experience relating to cycling injuries specifically. Bicycle law in California can be complicated, so the average car accident or personal injury law firm may not be well equipped to handle a complex bicycle injury case.