The five most common types of bicycle accident.
According to the NHTSA, there were 846 fatal bicycle accidents in The United States in 2019.
That doesn’t include all the non-fatal accidents that are reported to police, nor all of the serious accidents that go unreported for one reason or another. So the number of people hurt by the careless, reckless, or illegal actions of a motor vehicle operator while riding a two-wheeled, pedal-powered machine, is likely well into the thousands.
The true number of people who are seriously injured in common bicycle accidents every year will never be known. However, statistics show that five types of bicycle accident are more common than any others. In fact, these types of accidents can be so dangerous that every rider owes it to themselves to learn what they are and what they can do to help avoid them.
Incoming Right Turn Collisions
Sometimes called “Right Cross Accidents,” these crashes occur when a car turns into the path of an oncoming bicycle from a cross street, parking lot, or driveway on the same side of the road as the cyclist’s travel lane. Sometimes these types of crashes result in the rider being struck as the car pulls out, but far more often the cyclist actually strikes the car because they aren’t able to stop in time.
Regardless of whether the bike hits the car or the car hits the bike, this most common of bicycle accidents is the driver’s fault. Indeed, almost every state in the nation has a Vehicle Code section that mandates drivers turning into a roadway give other vehicles (including bicycles) the right of way, and only begin the turn when the way is clear.
As a cyclist, you can minimize the risk of this common accident scenario by being as visible as possible. Wear bright and / or reflective clothing, affix lights to your bicycle and / or clothing, and use them regardless of the time of day.
It’s also important to slow down when approaching cross streets and driveways. Always be on the lookout for a car that might cross in front of you, and make sure your bike’s brakes are in top working order so you can skid to a stop if a car does pull out in front of you.
In-Line Right Turn Accidents
This common bicycle accident is sometimes called the “Right Hook” by cyclists. While it’s similar to a Right Cross accident, this type of accident typically occurs when a cyclist and automobile are traveling in the same direction.
Most states have laws on the books that require cyclists to travel as far to the right of the roadway as physically (and safely) possible, unless there is a dedicated bike lane. Cyclists are often only allowed to “take the lane” if there is a hazard in the bike lane (or at the edge of the road), or when they can easily maintain the same speed as the prevailing traffic.
Right hook accidents occur when drivers turn right (with or without signaling) but fail to check their mirrors and blind spots for bikes which may be right beside or just behind them.
This type of accident is legally considered a failure to yield accident. Drivers must always look before they turn – which includes checking for bicyclists. If a bike is present, the driver must always slow or stop, allowing the cyclist to travel out of harm’s way before beginning a turn.
Again, bicyclists can help avoid these types of common bicycle accidents by becoming more visible to drivers. Also, don’t be afraid to get vocal if you see you’re about to be cut off. Wise riders can take a tip from avid motorcyclists and “always have an out” – always be thinking of an escape plan that will take you quickly out of the path of a turning automobile.
Nationwide, dooring (being struck by, or unable to avoid striking, an opened or opening door) is a less common type of bicycle accident than the focus it receives may suggest. Indeed, dooring accounts for roughly .02% of all bicycle accidents in the United States.
However, in urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, dooring is a much more prevalent risk, with some studies showing that this type of bicycle accident accounts for at least 12% (and possibly up to 27%) of bicycle accidents in cities.
Usually, dooring happens when a car is parallel parked along a city street, and the driver opens the door without looking to see if there are any cyclists traveling at the side of the street. Many times, victims of dooring accidents find it difficult to prove liability on the part of the driver, because police reports and eyewitness statements will often indicate that the cyclist hit the door, rather than the other way around.
Cyclists can try to avoid this type of predominantly urban bicycle accident by keeping their head on a swivel and their hand on a brake. Always look through the window of parked cars you may be forced to ride close to, and see if there happens to be anyone inside. If there is, slow down and be ready to brake quickly if necessary. However, avoid the temptation to simply jerk your bike to the left as there may be another vehicle in your own blind spot.
These common bicycle accidents happen for the same reason as rear-end car collisions: either the vehicle in the front stopped too quickly without signaling, or the vehicle to the rear failed to stop in time.
These collisions often occur because the driver following the cyclist didn’t see them, was distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or failed to judge the distance between their grille and the bike in front of them.
Tragically, this type of collision accounts for some of the most deadly bicycle accidents, because cars are often traveling at high rates of speed when they strike cyclists.
While some states (like California) have specific Vehicle Code sections that require cyclists to signal if they intend to turn or decelerate, it’s a good idea to follow these rules no matter where you’re riding.
Left Turn Accidents
Similar to right turn accidents, left turn accidents happen when an automobile operator fails to yield the right of way to a cyclist traveling in the opposite direction. A driver will often tell responding police officers that they never even saw the cyclist until it was too late. However, this does not absolve them of their legal liability.
Indeed, failure to yield accidents are crimes. While they’re not often prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, victims of this type of bicycle accident have a much easier time collecting financial compensation (in the form of insurance settlements or lawsuit awards) because the very circumstances of the crash place the fault squarely on the driver.
As a cyclist, you can minimize the risk of a left turn accident by staying as visible as possible, and never assuming that the driver of an oncoming vehicle sees you.
Driver Error and Distraction—Two Potentially Deadly Causes of Common Bicycle Accidents
A majority of bicycle accidents involving automobiles in the United States are the fault of the driver, not the cyclist. But if every driver has a “duty of care” to protect bicyclists as they would pedestrians, what causes so many serious accidents?
There are as many causes as there are accidents, but most of them boil down to two simple (and avoidable) hazards: driver error, and distraction or impairment.
It’s estimated that only 60% or so of drivers strictly follow the rules of the road. Some drivers may not even know it’s their legal duty to yield the right of way to cyclists. .
Distractions inside our automobiles, especially smartphones, have contributed to an increase in bicycle accidents. A whopping 16% of all police-reported motor vehicle accidents in 2013 were caused by distracted drivers. The CDC estimates that 9 people are killed and 1,000 more are injured every day by distracted drivers.
But distracted cycling is a problem too. When you’re riding a bike on a public roadway, you have a duty to be aware of your surroundings. In fact, many states have laws that make it illegal to ride a bike while engaging in other activities (such as listening to music, or using a cell phone with dual headphones or earbuds).
So try to avoid distractions as a cyclist, but don’t assume the drivers you’re sharing the street with have done the same.
Intoxication (of drivers and cyclists) is also one of the largest contributing factors to serious bicycle accidents in the US. In 2017, almost 1,200 cyclists were killed by intoxicated drivers.
However, that doesn’t mean that impaired cyclists do not shoulder some responsibility of their own. Indeed, 22% of adult bicyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2017 were found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.
Your Protection is Your Responsibility
As a cyclist, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to avoid the most common bicycle accidents. Always be aware, avoid distractions, and never ride impaired.
However, if you have been injured in a crash, chances are that the driver is at fault, and not you. Injured cyclists can often seek financial compensation for the monetary impact, pain and suffering, and other consequences of a bicycle accident if they can demonstrate that the driver is liable for their losses.
However, to get the full compensation you deserve, you may need professional legal assistance.