Bicycling has been popular for hundreds of years in the United States, including in Illinois. Today, children are not the only bicyclists that a driver of an automobile may see near a road. In fact, the number of adults cycling for pleasure or sport is increasing every year, as is the number of Illinois workers who chose to commute by bike.
Indeed, Illinois can be dangerous if you’re in a car or a bicycle. In the state, 26 bicyclists were killed in the last year for which statistics were available, and 2,663 were injured, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Car crashes were responsible for 700 deaths that year, and 93,517 injuries.
Collisions between the two can be especially dangerous. Bicyclists, even if helmeted, are relatively unprotected if they are struck by a car. They can be thrown immense distances or knocked off the bike into oncoming traffic. Even a minor accident can result in broken bones and spinal or head injuries for the bicyclist. Car drivers tend not to register the presence of bicycles as much as they do cars, and can turn in front of them, sideswipe them, or even rear-end them.
In fact, a common bicycle accident is caused by car drivers opening their doors and getting out directly in the path of an oncoming bicycle. The bicyclist, in a “dooring” accident, can be thrown over the door or crash as a result of having to brake or swerve to avoid the door.
Car and bike accidents may be on the rise, especially in Chicago. Unfortunately, the climb stems in part from the Windy City’s success as a bike city. Chicago have created bicycle-only lanes of traffic, protected bike lanes, bike-sharing programs, as well as increased availability of bike parking and space for bikes on public transit. We won tenth place in BikingExpert.com’s list of the top bike-friendly cities in America—and that’s on top of winning Bicycling magazine’s top honor for Best Bike City in America in 2016. These awards stem from the number of bike paths and trails in the city—more than 200 miles worth, including the 20-mile trail on the side of Lake Michigan. And by next year, the city is estimated to have a whopping 600 miles of dedicated bike lanes.
The city has invested heavily in increasing bike paths and lanes over the three decades. People have responded. Many Illinois residents bike to work in Chicago and other cities, and many bike for leisure as well.
Despite these safety increases, bicycle accidents remain an extremely serious form of personal injury. The very nature of an unprotected cyclist vs a car leads to a situation in which the cyclists is almost surely going to suffer severe injuries or worse. And with more bike riding and ubiquity, especially on city streets, comes more potential for accidents causing fatalities and injuries.
Even a Chicago Sun-Times columnist wondered if great bike city awards were entirely accurate, given the city’s reputation for unsafe car drivers and roads under construction. Both can prove fatal to bicyclists.
What Should I Do if I’m in a Car-Bicycle Accident?
If you are in a car-bicycle accident, follow the same procedure as a car accident. If you are injured, call 911. They will alert emergency responders and police. The police will issue a police report, which can be used as evidence of what happened, who was injured, and what caused the accident.
If you are not injured seriously enough to need immediate medical attention, call the police. Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s). Do not leave the scene of the accident unless you need to go to an emergency room via ambulance.
Take pictures of the accident scene with your smartphone, if you are carrying one. Pictures can be very helpful in determining the causes of the accident, via the trajectory of the vehicles, any skid marks, and other environmental markers. If you don’t have a smartphone with you, take notes on what happened, what you remember, and similar facts.
It’s also a good idea to take pictures of your injuries, your bicycle or car, and any other personal or property damage. Be sure to get a copy of the police report. Police reports are evidence of what happened.
Even if you don’t believe you are seriously injured, see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident. A doctor can examine you to make sure you do not have serious injuries, and can treat any injuries you did sustain.
Determining Who Is at Fault for the Accident
Determining who is at fault for a car-bicycle accident is the same as determining fault in all accidents involving vehicles. The person or other entity whose actions (or failure to act appropriately) caused the accident to occur is usually considered at fault. In other words, even if the bicyclist is much more injured than occupants of the car, or the bicyclist is the sole person injured, the injuries have no bearing on the fault. The law looks at behavior that was a causal factor in the crash.
Causal factors can include driving unsafely or not obeying traffic laws. If a car and a bicycle approach an intersection, for example, and the car is facing a yield sign, it should yield to the bicyclist. If it does not, the car’s driver will likely be considered at fault. Bicyclists have many of the same rights that cars do. But conversely, a bicyclist riding outside of a designated bike lane may be considered partially at fault, because safe driving practices recommend staying in a designated lane. Please note that being partially at fault is not bar recovery for a bicyclist, but it could reduce the amount of damages awarded.
Factors other than a driver can also be at fault for an accident. Shoddy manufacture of either the car or the bicycle may result in defects that cause an accident. Manufacturers can be at fault in these accidents. Inadequately repaired or marked streets can cause an accident. The entity responsible for street maintenance can be at fault.
If you or a loved one are injured in a car-bike accident caused by another party, that party may be deemed liable. You can attempt to recover damages for your injuries from that party. There are two ways to recover damages: by going directly to the other party’s insurance company, or bringing a personal injury lawsuit.
What Damages Can I Recover?
People injured in a car-bike accident can recover both economic and non-economic damages. The following damages are possible:
- Medical bills
- Wages lost from work
- Prospective medical bills, if you will need medical treatment in the future as a result of the accident
- Prospective wages lost from work, if you’ve become unable to work or need recuperation time in the future
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of normal life
Do I Need a Lawyer if I’m Dealing With an Insurance Company?
While most people are familiar with the need to contact an attorney for a personal injury suit, it may be tempting to think you can make an insurance claim against an at-fault driver on your own. Insurance companies try, always, to mitigate any risk to themselves—and that includes trying to minimize payment to you.
An unrepresented claimant is substantially easier for an insurance company to handle than one with an attorney. They may claim you are at fault for the accident even if you bear no responsibility at all. They may claim that your injuries are less severe than they are. It’s always prudent to contact an attorney who is experienced in negotiating car-bike accidents.
Bicycle Accidents by the Numbers
One of the most prominent reporters of bicycle safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported the following bike accident facts in one recent year:
- 677 bicyclists were killed in accidents in the United States (up from 623 in 2010);
- 48,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic accidents (down from 52,000 in 2010);
- Bicyclist fatalities represented 2.1% of all traffic crash deaths, and bicyclists also represented 2% of all people injured in all traffic accidents;
- Nearly one out of ten bike riders killed were between 5 and 15 years old;
- Age 43 was the average age of a cyclist killed on the road;
- Age 32 was the average age of a cyclist injured in an accident;
- There were 66 bicyclists age 15 and under killed;
- Among bicyclists age 16 to 34, there were 174 fatalities;
- Among bicyclists ages 35-54, there were 235 fatalities;
- Among bicyclists age 55 and older, there were 198 fatalities;
- The majority of bicycle fatalities occurred in urban settings (69%) and at non-intersections (59%);
- The deadliest time to ride a bicycle was between 4:00 p.m. and 7:59 p.m., followed by 8:00 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.;
- The majority of bicycle riders who were injured (78%) or killed (85%) were males;
- Alcohol was involved in more than 37% of bicycle accident deaths.
The NHTSA further reports that more than 51,000 bicyclists have been killed in traffic crashes since 1932, the first year that bike accident fatality data was recorded.
In addition to the national statistics, the State of Illinois gathers and maintains its own facts related to bicycle accidents. The Illinois Department of Transportation reported the following statistics for the year 2011:
- There were 3,107 bicycle accidents of which 2,912 resulted in injuries;
- 27 bicyclists were killed in accidents;
- Over 40% of those killed were 65 years old or older;
- Bicycle riders under the age of 15 accounted for 14.8% of bicycle deaths and 18.7% of bicycle injuries.
Adults Increasing in Risk of Injuries from Bike Accidents
The average age of cyclist killed has been increasing over the past few decades with experts opining that the cause is the increased use of bicycles by older Americans and not a decreased use among children. While these adults are at an increased risk, unfortunately the traditional risk faced by children still exists with many kids being injured or killed on a bicycle every year.
Bicyclists have the same right to ride in Illinois roads as drivers of cars and therefore drivers must be willing to share the roads with the bikers. By paying attention, looking for bicyclists, and acknowledging the rights of bicyclists, accidents are much less likely and will be less likely to result in death or serious injury.
When an accident with a bicyclist does occur, one of the most common injuries to the cyclist is a head or face injury. These are not only common but also very serious and often deadly. The best way to prevent a head injury while riding a bike is to always wear a properly fitting helmet whenever you ride. Studies repeatedly show that helmets reduce the chance of death in an accident, and in fact, 91 percent of riders who were killed in 2010 were not wearing helmets.
Despite the benefits, only a small percentage of riders chose to wear helmets in Illinois. In most areas of the state, it is up to the rider to decide whether or not she wants to wear a helmet; unlike some other states, Illinois does not have a mandatory helmet law that covers all riders. Some cities and municipalities require helmet usage by some riders, mostly children under the age of 16, but the majority of cities have no such regulation, leaving it up to riders and parents to decide what is best.
If you need additional information or help, contact an Illinois bicycle accident attorney.