Car-Bicycle Accidents


Although it is not uncommon for drivers to find themselves sharing a road with bicycles, many drivers give little thought to the presence of bicyclists beyond thinking of them as an annoyance. A bicyclist is extremely vulnerable to injury when struck by a car. It is important for cars and bicycles to respect each others' presence on the road, and to follow the rules of the road so as to avoid accidents.

Dangerous Conduct By Cars

While any act of driver negligence can result in an accident between a bicycle and a car, some driver conduct will significantly increase the chance of an accident. Dangerous conduct by drivers includes:

  • Dangerous Turning: When a bicycle is present at an intersection, drivers may try to complete a turn in front of the cyclist instead of waiting for the bicycle to pass. For a left-hand turn, an impatient driver can cut off the bicyclist's path and create a substantial risk of an accident and injury. For a right-hand turn, the bicyclist may be knocked over or collide with the side of the turning vehicle. Drivers should a bicyclist with right-of-way the time to clear the intersection before attempting a turn.

  • Dangerous Passing: Sometimes a driver won't give a bicyclist enough space while passing the bicycle, potentially forcing the bicyclist off of the road or striking the cyclist with the side of the car or the side-view mirror.

  • Disregard of Bike Paths: When there is a bicycle path along a roadway, whether on the shoulder of the road or on the sidewalk, drivers should take note of the presence of the bike path. When drivers fail to respect the presence of a bike path, driveways and intersections become points of particular danger as bicyclists with the right-of-way may be cut off or struck by drivers who aren't even watching for their presence.

  • Opening Car Doors: After parking a vehicle, sometimes a motorist will open its door into the path of an oncoming bicyclist. Accidents between bicyclists and car doors can be particularly dangerous, as bicyclists are often propelled over the car door. Drivers should pay attention to the presence of bicycles before opening a car door.

  • Overestimating Bicyclists' Braking Ability: While bicycle brakes have improved in recent years, they are nowhere near as effective as car brakes. Further, sudden braking may cause bicyclists to be carried over the handlebars of the bicycle by their own momentum. Drivers should not assume that a bicycle is capable of a sudden stop.

  • Underestimating Bicycle Speed: Drivers are not used to estimating the speed of bicycles and, whether the bicycle is approaching from the head or rear, as a result may underestimate the ability of the bicyclist to catch up with them or pass them. Thus, even knowing a bicyclist is on the road, sometimes a driver will make a turn or open a car door without giving sufficient regard to the bicyclist's speed, causing an accident.

Dangerous Conduct By Bicyclists

Sometimes bicyclists argue that the rules of the road are designed for cars, and shouldn't always apply to bicycles. Unfortunately, casual obedience of traffic laws may result in the failure of a bicyclist to yield right of way, or to surprise a driver who expects based upon the rules of the road that the bicycle is going to stop, yield or turn from the proper lane.

  • Ignoring Traffic Signals - Although it can add a lot of effort to a bike trip for a bicyclist to come to a full stop at an obviously empty intersection, some bicyclists are notorious for disregarding stop signs and red lights even when cars are present.

  • Passing A Line Of Stopped Cars - If a bicyclist is approaching a busy intersection, with a number of cars lined up at a light or stop sign, the bicyclist may be tempted to pass the cars on the right. Passing on the right can create a significant risk of accident when the cyclist reaches the intersection, if the frontmost car makes an unexpected right turn as the bicyclist attempts to pass. It is important for cyclists to pay attention to turn signals, and to take particular care that it is safe to pass a car before attempting to sneak past it on the right.

  • Riding At An Unsafe Speed - It can be exhilarating to reach maximum speed while going downhill, and can be refreshing to bicycle on a straight road at the maximum possible speed. But bicyclists should attempt maintain sufficient control of their bicycles at all times, such that they will be able to come to a controlled stop in the event of an emergency. Bicyclists should take care that their speed is not excessive, taking into consideration the number of intersections and driveways along the roadway and the condition of the road. When roadside hazards are present that could cause bicyclists to lose control of their bicycles, such as poorly designed sewer grates or roadside debris, bicyclists must care that they won't end up accidentally veering into traffic when avoiding those hazards. Although it's not usually an issue, when it is possible to reach a high speed bicyclists should remember that speed limits apply to bicycles as well as to cars.

Bicyclists should be sure to properly maintain their bicycles, and should perform regular safety checks. For example:

  • Brake pads should be clean and not unduly worn.

  • Handlebars and wheels should be tightly secured.

  • The chain and derailleurs should be checked to try to ensure that a chain won't come off at an inopportune moment.

Poor Design of Bike Paths

The poor design of bike paths, or designation of sidewalks as bike paths, can contribute to accidents between cars and bicycles, as well as between bicycles and pedestrians. Both bicyclists and drivers need to exercise additional caution when a bike path is frequently crossed by driveways, or where a bike path on the shoulder of a roadway crosses sewer grates or is littered with debris. Drivers should exercise particular care when turning at intersections involving sidewalk bike paths, and bicyclists may have the right of way, but may be approaching out of the driver's blind spot at a high rate of speed. Bicyclists should not assume that drivers will see them or will necessarily follow the rules of the road - and when in doubt, should attempt to make eye contact with a driver before passing or cutting in front of them at a potential point of danger.

Children and Bicycle Accidents

The risk of negligent or even reckless conduct by a bicyclist increases enormously when the bicyclist is a child. Children may not appreciate the risks associated with their bike riding conduct, and may not understand either the rules of the road or the manner in which a two thousand pound vehicle can injure them in a collision. Children are also more likely to be showboating for their friends, riding without hands, or engaged in similar bicycling conduct that increases the risk of accident. Drivers should exercise particular caution when driving in the vicinity of children on bicycles.

The Importance of Bicycle Helmets

A significant majority of permanent injuries which result from bicycle accidents are head injuries. Studies indicate that use of a bicycle helmet significantly reduces the risk of serious head injury from a bicycle accident.

Modern bicycle helmets tend to be light and adequately ventilated, such that they're reasonably comfortable to use. Helmet hair is a small price to pay to avoid a potential brain injury.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was first published on , and was last reviewed or amended on Jul 20, 2016.