Cycle safe in May, National Bike Month

May 12, 2014 | 9:38 am


The weather is beautiful. Gas prices are sky high. It’s all the more reason to get out in May and celebrate National Bike Month in Bakersfield. But before you hit the road, keep in mind that May is also Bicycle Safety Month.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has kicked off the “Be a Roll Model” campaign, aimed to encourage everyone to model safe behaviors to enhance the safety of all road users, including those who bicycle. The message: we can all play a part in being a “Roll Model” to decrease the risks of traffic crashes and preventable injuries and deaths.

The safety administration is inviting everyone to adopt this campaign to do the right (safe) thing when riding or driving around bicycles. Being a Role Model means:

  • Riding and driving focused, never distracted.
  • Riding and driving prepared; always expect the unexpected.
  • Putting safety first; we never know when a crash will occur, regardless of skill level or age; always wear a bicycle helmet when on a bicycle and a seat belt when in a car.
  • Following the rules of the road; a bicyclist is considered a vehicle on the road with all the rights on the roadway and responsibilities of motorized traffic.
  • Expecting law enforcement officers to monitor and address unsafe behaviors between motorists and bicyclists that put bicyclists at risk.
  • Sharing the road; both vehicle drivers (motorist and bicyclist) should look out for one another and show mutual respect.

National Bike Month is sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated in communities from coast to coast, including in Bakersfield and Kern County. Established in 1956, National Bike Month is a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling, and encourage others to giving biking a try.

The campaign is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride, whether it’s biking to work or school, riding to save money or time, pumping those pedals to preserve your health or the environment, or simply to explore your community.

Closer to home, the California Highway Patrol is aiming to educate motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians about the rules of the road in an effort to reduce bicycle-involved collisions.

As of Sept. 16, California drivers will be required to give bicyclists three feet of clearance or slow down and pass when it would not endanger a bicyclist’s safety. The campaign suggests bicyclists wear a helmet and drivers wear a seat belt.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 142 bicyclists killed in California in 2011 and they accounted for five percent of the total collision fatalities in the state, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

And in March, according to The Californian, the California Household Travel Survey found that the number of California residents walking, biking or using public transportation in a typical day has more than doubled since 2000.

Also, Bike Bakersfield, a Bakersfield nonprofit bicycle advocacy group — whose mission it is to promote bicycling as a safe, fun and environmentally friendly means of everyday transportation — is hosting a number of events during Bike Month. For a list, go HERE.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we believe in bicycle safety. In fact, several of the Bakersfield personal injury lawyers and employees at the law firm practice safety measures each time they hop on their bicycles.

Sadly, accidents still happen even after taking proper safety measures. We’ve developed a list of questions and answers related to bicycle accidents. If you are ever in a bicycle accident, be sure to keep these answers and tips in mind. And for more resources related to bicycle accidents, including more questions and answers, see our Frequently Asked Questions section HERE.

If I am injured while riding my bicycle, can I sue the driver that hit me?

Yes, as long as you can establish that the driver was at fault.

Can I still bring a lawsuit against the driver if I was doing something I was not supposed to, such as riding on the wrong side of the street, not wearing a helmet or not having proper lights or reflectors at night?

Yes. You can bring a lawsuit as long as you can prove that the driver or some other person or entity was at fault. The bicyclist has the same duties and responsibilities on roadways as a motor vehicle driver. Further, there are some additional special requirements for bicyclists. Adult bicyclists are not required by law to wear helmets, although a jury can still find you negligent for not wearing a helmet even if you are an adult. Further, not following the law by riding on the wrong side of the road or not having proper gear to ride at night can, and often will be found to be negligent behavior on your part. However, a bicyclist’s negligence does not eliminate their ability to sue another party; it simply reduces the recovery by the percentage of their fault.

 My child was injured or killed while riding his bicycle. What are our rights?

Children, particularly young children, are not held to the same standard of care for their own safety as adults. Thus, drivers must be more cautious when they know that children riding bicycles are in the area. Even if your child was negligent, you may be able to recover against anyone responsible for causing the accident, including the driver of the vehicle that hit your child.

 I was riding my bicycle when I rode over a pothole which threw me off my bike and caused a serious head injury. Do I have a case?

Yes. You have a potential case. If you can establish that public or private property was in a dangerous condition and that it was foreseeable that someone would be riding a bicycle over that property, you will be able to bring a case. However, to win the case you must prove that the possessor or owner of the property created, knew, or should have known, about the dangerous condition on the property and failed to repair or warn of the danger.

What damages are recoverable in bicycle accident cases?

A Plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss, past and future pain and suffering, and if it is deemed that conduct is bad enough, punitive damages (i.e., punishment damages against the defendant). If the bicyclist dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the bicyclist’s death as well as emotional distress damages which stem from the loss of society, care and comfort of the decedent. If the survivors can prove that the bicyclist lived for a period of time between the negligent act and death, they can also bring an action for punitive damages.

How soon do I need to bring a case after a bicycle accident?

A Bicycle Accidents and/or wrongful death action, under California law, must be brought within two years of the date of the accident, if the accident occurred on or after January 1, 2003; and one year from the date of the accident if the accident occurred prior to January 1, 2003.

In cases against public entities, a claim must be filed against the public entity within six months from the date of the accident. If the plaintiff is a minor, a minor has until their 19th birthday to bring case unless there is a government claim in which a minor should bring the claim within six months of the accident, or one year at the latest.

Will my bicycle accident case settle and does it make a difference if I hire an attorney?

It is always a good idea to consult or retain an attorney in a bicycle accident case because there usually will be some questions of comparative fault. In addition, expert witnesses may need to be retained to reconstruct the accident and help determine responsibility for the accident.