Reducing injury: Bicyclists have similar rights to the road as motorists

Bicyclists are increasingly sharing the streets with motorists, riding as a means of transportation, for health benefits, for environmental purposes, or just for fun. Unfortunately, with increased traffic there is increased risk that either motorists or bicyclists fail to observe the rules of the road, with resulting injury. According to the 2011 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, there were 1,316 bicycle accidents that year and 11 fatalities. In 2012, in Allegheny County, there were 104 accidents involving a bicyclist, accounting for 102 injuries and two deaths. Numerous types of injuries can occur as a result of a car colliding with a bicycle, including broken bones, abrasions and brain injuries, among others.

A recent collision between a sports utility vehicle and a boy riding a bicycle highlights the serious harms which may result to a cyclist involved in an accident. An eight-year-old boy was riding his bike with his father and sister in April, when he was hit by an SUV. Although the bike, which the boy had just received the day before the accident, was mangled, the boy survived, according to WPXI. However, the wreck put him in the hospital for nearly two weeks, with nerve damage in one eye, permanent hearing loss in one ear, and an ankle injury. The boy was wearing a helmet and riding on a street marked as a bicycle route when the accident occurred.

Rules of the road

A person on a bicycle has the same right to use the roads as a motorist and both motorists and bicyclists are subject to the same rules of the road, unless there are specific laws to the contrary. State and local governments may also enact regulations governing the use of the roads. A violation of these rules of the road may affect who is liable for negligence in a lawsuit concerning an accident between an automobile and a bicycle.

In April 2012, a "safe passing" law meant to protect cyclists riding on public streets went into effect in Pennsylvania. The law provides that a driver passing a person riding a bicycle traveling in the same direction must give the cyclist a four-foot safety zone; the motorist may cross the center line to provide the required space, if there is no oncoming traffic.

The passage of this law was one of the factors cited by the League of American Bicyclists when it ranked Pennsylvania as the 15 th most bicycle friendly state in the country in 2013. As noted in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from May, enforcement of this law has not resulted in many tickets: Police have filed 15 offenses statewide since the law became effective, with two citations in Allegheny County and none in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, the passage of the law has promoted awareness of the issue of driving safely when sharing the road with cyclists.

What to do if you are involved in an accident

If you are involved in a bicycle accident, whether it was caused by the motorist or the bicyclist, contact a personal-injury attorney. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. If such an accident results in the death of a close family member, you may have a claim for wrongful death. In either event, an attorney may be able to help you recover medical expenses and other costs.