The following tips provide some general advice about how to protect yourself both before and after a bicycle accident occurs.
Tip # 1 – Know and follow the rules of the road.
Knowing the rules of the road makes you a better and safer cyclist. Bicyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road in Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland are at risk of not only being involved in an accident, but also at risk for being blamed for contributing to their own injuries after an accident when someone else is at fault (this is called the defense of contributory negligence). Here are links to some local guidelines:
- DC’s Department of Transportation Bike Laws Webpage
- Virginia’s Department of Transportation Bike Laws Webpage
- Maryland’s Department of Transportation Bike Safety Webpage
Tip # 2 – Boost your PIP or Med Pay Coverage on your automobile insurance.
An injured bicyclist can seek financial protection through her own automobile insurance if the accident involved a motor vehicle. Some types of coverage, such as Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Medical Payments Coverage (Med Pay) will pay for your medical expenses regardless of who was at fault in the accident. So if you have auto insurance, consider boosting your PIP or Med Pay coverage on your policy.
Tip # 3 – Insist on calling the police after a collision.
When you are involved in a collision, everything seems to happen at once. You will not be thinking very clearly. No matter how small the impact may seem, or despite the pleas of the other people involved, insist on calling the police. At minimum, the police can make sure you get immediate medical attention and get everyone’s contact information. But the police are also able to issue citations, take witness statements, and write police reports to document the event (see Tip # 12 below).
Tip # 4 – If riding at night, lights are required.
If you ride a bicycle after dark, the laws of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC all require bicyclists to have lights. (See my blog post on bike lights for reference.) Lights may help a bicyclist see after dark, but more importantly they allow the bicyclist to be seen by others.
Tip # 5 – Get the name, phone number, and insurance info of anyone involved in the accident.
Don’t worry about who is at fault at the scene of the accident, just get everyone’s contact and insurance information. Insist on it. Even if you think you are “ok”, still get the information. If someone refuses, let the police know when they arrive (because, as mentioned in Tip # 3, you always call the police).
Tip # 6 – Document the damage done to your bike and gear.
After a collision, the physical damage to your bicycle can be important in showing how the accident occurred. If you can, keep your wrecked bike. If you have to get rid of it or have the damage repaired, take plenty of pictures showing the damage. If questions later arise over how the accident occurred, evidence of the physical damage is often a source of answers.
Tip # 7 – Discuss facts, not fault, at the scene of an accident.
There is no reason to discuss who’s at fault at the scene of an accident. Stick to the facts. Which way were you riding? What color was the light? Which lane were you in? What was the sequence of events? Determining who is at fault can be discussed and debated at a later time. The responding officer might determine who was at fault based upon the facts presented. But the officer’s determination is not binding and is frequently disregarded by attorneys and insurance companies. Do not let someone refuse to provide you with their insurance information because, “it is not my fault.” Stay focused on the facts.
Tip # 8 – Ask witnesses for their name and phone number.
Streets and sidewalks are rarely ever deserted in the Washington, DC area, yet there are very few collisions that have witnesses! This isn’t because there aren’t witnesses, it is because witnesses don’t volunteer to get involved and usually no one asks them to. If you are in a bike accident and you notice a potential witness lingering around, ask them to write their name and phone number on a piece of paper for you. It’s as simple as that. A name and phone number is all you need to track the witness down later if you need a neutral statement about what happened in the accident.
Tip # 9 – Ride assertively, but predictably.
A bicyclist who rides assertively, but predictably, is the safest type of bicyclist. Riding assertively means knowing the rules and not being timid about using the roadways. Riding predictably means riding so that motorists, pedestrians, and other bicyclists know what you are doing, where you are going, and that you are abiding by the rules of the road.
Tip # 10 – If you ride on the road, you have the same rights as a vehicle.
Bicyclists in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC are permitted to ride on most of the roadways in the area. (For details, see this blog post on where bicyclists can ride in the DC metro area.) When you ride on the road, you have all the same rights as a vehicle. This means that other vehicles must treat you the same as if you were a motorist.
Tip # 11 – Yield to Pedestrians.
When riding on the sidewalk, or through crosswalks, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians. This means that pedestrians do not have to get out of your way while you are riding on the sidewalk. Instead, you should only pass pedestrians when it is safe to do so. In crossing situations on sidewalks or crosswalks, let the pedestrian cross your path before you proceed.
Tip # 12 – After a collision, ask the police to write an accident report.
This may come as a surprise, but police officers do not always complete an accident report when they respond to the scene of a collision. If you are injured or you bike is damaged, make sure that you let the responding police officer know. Ask that a police accident report be taken. While an accident report is not proof of what happened, it will contain important information and can be persuasive during the claims process.
Tip # 13 – If you are hurt in a bike accident, go to the hospital.
Bicyclists tend to be a hardy lot. Even if you are banged up after a collision, you might refuse immediate medical treatment. This is a bad idea. If you are in pain, request an ambulance to take you to the nearest hospital. It is difficult to make complex decisions right after an accident and many of us have a tendency to think our injuries are too minor to be concerned about. This determination is not based on evidence and good judgment. Instead, use this rule of thumb: if you are hurt or are in pain after an accident, go to the hospital and get checked out.
Tip # 14 – Save the clothing you wore from the accident.
Unlike motorists, the style and color of clothing worn by bicyclists can become an important detail if you later find yourself trying to prove the collision wasn’t your fault. It’s not good enough to say that you were wearing a red jersey. Jurors, attorneys, and insurance adjusters will want to know “How red?” and “How bright was it?” and “Was there anything reflective?” So in addition to preserving and documenting your damaged bicycle (see Tip # 6 above), preserve the clothing you were wearing during the collision as well.
Tip # 15 – Teach others about responsible bicycling.
When you know, and follow, the rules of road, you are a responsible bicyclist. Make it your mission to teach other bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. Be a bicycling role model. When you have the opportunity, take a moment to discuss responsible bicycling with others (after a close call, for example). For bicyclists to be safe and to have access to justice, everyone needs to know and follow the rules.