Bicycling is a popular choice for many Americans, serving as a means of transportation, exercise, sport, and recreation. It promotes an active and social lifestyle while contributing to environmental well-being. However, alongside its numerous benefits, bicycling carries the significant drawback of accidents and potential injuries caused by interactions with motor vehicles.
Individuals caught in such accidents often face substantial medical bills, enduring pain and suffering, along with other challenges and financial hardships. A vigorous fight is often necessary to secure rightful compensation for their injuries. Engaging the services of a skilled New Jersey bicycle accident lawyer is crucial for navigating this challenging process and ensuring a fair financial recovery.
Laws for Safe Biking Equipment
When cycling during nighttime hours, specific equipment requirements must be met, including the following (NJSA 39:4-10):
- A front white-light headlamp is visible from at least 600 feet to the front.
- A rear red-light lamp that is visible from a distance of at least 600 feet to the rear.
Additionally, a red reflector may be affixed to the rear of the bicycle.
Other requirements for equipment included:
- A bell or other audible device capable of being heard at least 100 feet away is mandatory, excluding sirens or whistles (NJSA 39:4-11).
- Bicycles must have brakes capable of causing the wheels to skid while stopping on dry, level, clean pavements (NJSA 39:4-12).
- Helmets are required for individuals under 17, including those using roller skates, inline skates, and skateboards (NJSA 39:4-10.1). These regulations aim to ensure the safety of bicyclists and others sharing the road.
Laws for Safe Biking Practices
New Jersey bicycle laws also address the following safe biking practices:
- Bicyclists are prohibited from biking with feet off the pedals or having both hands off the handlebars, and engaging in tricks or fancy maneuvers on the street is not allowed (NJSA 39:4-12).
- The number of passengers on a bicycle must not exceed the available seats (NJSA 39:4-12).
- Bicyclists cannot attach themselves to any streetcar or vehicle (NJSA 39:4-14).
These regulations are in place to promote safe biking practices and ensure the well-being of both cyclists and others sharing the road.
Laws for Bicycling on Roadways
Individuals riding bicycles on roadways have all the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicle drivers, as outlined by NJSA 39:4-14.1. This includes adherence to New Jersey's Stop and Stay Stopped Law and other statutes safeguarding vulnerable users like pedestrians.
In April 2010, New Jersey enacted legislation (NJSA 39:4-36) requiring motorists to adhere to the following rules to ensure pedestrian safety:
- Motorists must come to a complete stop and remain stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the roadway within a marked crosswalk. This applies when the pedestrian is either upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway that the vehicle is traveling or turning.
- Motorists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the roadway within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. This is unless movement is directed by law enforcement, a traffic control signal, or is otherwise prohibited by municipal, county, or State regulation. The exception also applies when there is a pedestrian tunnel or overhead crossing.
- Every intersection lacking a marked crosswalk is automatically considered an unmarked crosswalk.
Bicyclists on roadways must adhere to these laws just like drivers.
Violations of this law carry the following consequences:
- Accumulation of 2 points on the driver's record.
- Imposition of a $200 fine, in addition to court costs.
- Requirement of 15 days of community service.
- Potential insurance surcharges.
These measures aim to enhance pedestrian safety and encourage responsible driving behavior within the state.
When biking on a roadway, cyclists must generally stay as near to the right roadside as practicable, demonstrating due care when passing a stationary or same-direction moving vehicle. NJSA 39:4-14.2 specifies conditions under which a bicyclist may move left:
- Making a left turn from a designated left turn lane or pocket.
- Avoiding debris, drains, or other hazardous conditions on the right.
- Passing a slower-moving vehicle.
- Occupying any available lane while moving at the same speed as other traffic.
- Riding two abreast when traffic flow is unimpeded; otherwise, riding in single file.
Furthermore, the New Jersey Safe Passing Law requires drivers to exercise caution, change lanes, provide at least 4 feet of space when passing vulnerable road users, or reduce speed to 25 mph and be prepared to stop.
It's also advisable for bicyclists to familiarize themselves with any local ordinances that may impact biking within the specific municipality or county they are riding in. Staying informed can ensure a safe and compliant biking experience.
Causes of Bicycle Accidents
Many different scenarios, including the following, can cause bicycle accidents:
Distracted Driving Hazards
Distracted driving is a serious and common issue and a significant contributor to various motor vehicle collisions, including those involving bicycles. When drivers divert their attention from the road to focus on activities like using their phones or attending to other matters, the risk of preventable accidents significantly rises. Typical forms of driver distraction include:
- Adjusting the car's infotainment system
- Eating and drinking
- Engaging in personal hygiene tasks
- Conversing with passengers
- Managing children or pets within the vehicle
- Paying attention to external events, such as recent accidents
- Reading and responding to text messages
- Dialing phone numbers
- Talking on the phone
- Using social media
Inadequate Buffer Distances
Maintaining a sufficient distance between a vehicle and a bicycle is crucial for the safety of bicyclists. Unfortunately, many motorists neglect to leave adequate buffers between their vehicles and the bikes in their vicinity. Drivers who tailgate cyclists or pass within less than three feet create hazardous situations, increasing the likelihood of collisions with cyclists and limiting the options available to both parties to avoid potential accidents.
Speeding amplifies a driver's stopping distance and time while reducing the time available to make decisions on the road. Beyond the increased risk of severe and life-threatening injuries in high-speed collisions, even accidents at relatively lower speeds pose significant hazards for cyclists.
Weaving Through Traffic
Motorists who weave through traffic face an increased likelihood of overlooking bicyclists sharing the road. These drivers also have limited maneuverability to execute evasive actions, increasing the risk of collisions. It's common for weaving drivers to unintentionally encroach upon bicycle lanes and shoulders, drifting beyond their designated traffic lanes.
Unsafe Lane Changes
Even in the absence of weaving, a solitary unsafe lane change poses a threat to bicyclists. Accidents involving bikes often stem from motorists merging into cyclists' lanes without verifying the clearance of the lane beforehand.
Neglecting to Look Before Turning
While drivers may have the right-of-way to turn at intersections, checking for bicyclists and pedestrians remains critical. Turning without ensuring the presence of bikes is a frequent and avoidable cause of bicycle accidents at intersections.
Disregarding Traffic Signals and Signs
Although prevalent in various settings such as neighborhoods, suburbs, city centers, and urban areas, running red lights and stop signs often lead to intersection accidents involving bicycles. The risks escalate when drivers fail to observe and yield to bicyclists with the right of way.
Failure to Yield
A negligent or reckless driving behavior posing substantial risks to bicyclists is the failure to yield. Various situations require drivers to yield to oncoming traffic, whether motor vehicles or bicycles. Examples include roundabouts and intersections featuring merging lanes.
Driving Under the Influence
Individuals choosing to operate a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol or drugs endanger themselves and others on the road. Alcohol and drug use significantly impair a driver's decision-making abilities, heightening the likelihood of accidents. Unfortunately, many bicycle collisions result from individuals driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Recent studies indicate that the risks associated with driving while fatigued parallel those of driving under the influence. Drivers on the road early in the morning, late at night, or after extended shifts increase the potential for serious collisions due to fatigue. Fatigue also contributes significantly to accidents involving commercial trucks, including semi-trucks.
Establishing Negligence in a Bicycle Accident
Negligence is the foundational concept for many personal injury claims, including those arising from bicycle accidents. In instances of negligence, an individual fails to act in a manner consistent with what a reasonably prudent person should have done in the same circumstances. The responsible party's negligence can render them liable for the damages they cause. Still, it's essential to prove both their negligence and the resulting injuries.
During your consultation with an attorney to assess the merits of your case, they will determine whether they can demonstrate the following key elements of negligence:
- Duty: The motorist owed you a duty of care, typically established by adherence to traffic laws. For example, drivers must stop at stop signs and yield to bicyclists in crosswalks.
- Breach of Duty: The driver responsible for the accident breached their duty, such as failing to provide adequate space or cutting you off while in the bike lane.
- Proximate Cause: The driver's breach of duty directly caused your injuries.
- Damages: Your injuries led to compensable damages, encompassing medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Failure to substantiate any of these elements diminishes the likelihood of success in your personal injury case.
Regardless of the circumstances leading to your accident, if you sustained serious injuries involving a motor vehicle, it's crucial to consult with a seasoned New Jersey bicycle accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Common Bicycle Accident Injuries
Bicyclists face extreme vulnerability in accidents, lacking the protective features found in vehicles, such as seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones. Despite helmets and other protective gear, bicyclists often sustain severe, life-threatening injuries. Common bicycle accident injuries include the following:
- Head injuries: Ranging from cuts and scrapes to concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), accidents can cause various head injuries, even with helmet use. Some injuries are life-threatening, leading to seizure disorders, personality changes, and memory and sleep problems.
- Spinal cord injuries (SCI): Trauma from a bicycle accident can result in temporary or permanent paralysis, necessitating lifelong medical care and rehabilitation due to bruising or severing of the spinal cord.
- Back and neck injuries: Fractures, whiplash, slipped discs, and other injuries affecting the back and neck may necessitate surgery and rehabilitation, causing pain and potential debilitation.
- Broken bones: Fractures in ribs, pelvis, legs, arms, ankles, wrists, and skull are common, with varying degrees of severity. Some fractures require minimal attention, while others demand surgery, rehabilitation, and extended recovery periods.
- Internal injuries: Damage to internal organs, such as bruising or punctures from broken ribs or pelvis and internal bleeding, can pose life-threatening risks to bicyclists.
- Road rash: Skin abrasions from contact with surfaces like concrete can range from superficial to deep, exposing muscle or bone. Road rash poses infection, scarring, and other complications.
- Mental and emotional injuries: Bicycle accidents are traumatic experiences, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and recurring nightmares. Victims may require medication and therapy, with no guaranteed recovery from these emotional injuries.
Contact a New Jersey Bicycle Accident Attorney Today
You don't have to and shouldn’t solely trust your own assessment to discern the circumstances and liability of your bicycle accident or to determine the validity of your claim. Arrange a free case evaluation today with a bicycle accident lawyer, and they will assess the merits of your claim. If your claim is viable, they will conduct a comprehensive investigation, evaluating all potential sources of compensation and ensuring that responsible parties are held liable for their actions. Contact a personal injury attorney today to get your claim started.