Accidents involving bicycles, especially when automobiles also are involved, can result in serious injuries and death. Sometimes bicyclists are to blame, but motorists should take extra precautions because bicyclists are much less protected. As with other types of accidents, liability for bicycle accidents is based on negligence. Determining fault in negligence cases such as bicycle accidents can often be difficult, but the articles below should help. This subsection includes an overview of liability basics, tips and suggestions for how to stay safe on the roads, an in-depth piece about accident liability for child bicyclists, and other resources pertaining to bicycle accidents and the law.
Sadly, children are involved in the majority of auto accidents involving a bicyclist. Although drivers must always exercise reasonable care respecting others on the road, motorists have an increased duty of care toward children on bicycles. Children's standard of care when operating a bicycle is lower than that applied to adults in the same situation. This is especially the case when the driver knows or should reasonably expect that children may be present. If the driver sees children or is driving through a place frequented by children, such as a school, park, or residential neighborhood, they are expected to exercise "unusual care."
Not all accidents involving children will be found to be the fault of the driver; however the increased responsibility for the adult driver does effect what behavior might be considered negligent on their part. Some jurisdictions have even implemented a "tender years" doctrine that makes very young children incapable of contributory negligence because they are thought to be incapable of exercising care for their own safety or that of others. Other jurisdictions have a presumption that a child is incapable of contributory negligence until the mid-teens. In those states a driver may still prove that the bicyclist's negligence contributed to the accident, but must establish that the child was capable of exercising care for their own safety before they can do so.
Driver vs. Cyclist Negligence
Most accidents between a car and a bicycle are the result of negligence or recklessness. If a cyclist sues for injuries the court is likely to examine whether the driver's negligence caused the accident. The court will also hear evidence about whether the cyclist's negligence caused or contributed to the accident.
Drivers may be found negligent if they are speeding, drifting into a bike lane, or otherwise failing to follow the rules of the road. Traffic violations are considered "negligence per se" and proving that a car was speeding, for example, would be enough to show negligence on the part of the driver. Evidence may come from eyewitnesses or evidence such as cameras or skid marks at the site of the accident.
Evidence of the cyclist's negligence may be introduced to show contributory or comparative negligence on their part, which would bar them from recovering damages. It may also be introduced where the cyclist caused injury to someone else. As with driver negligence, the bicyclist's failure to follow the rules of the road will typically prove negligence on their part.
In comparing the negligence of the parties it is important to remember the different standards applied to child bicyclists previously mentioned. A child who is too young to exercise caution will not be found negligent, since they are not held to the same standards of reasonableness as adults.