Important Factors Affecting Recovery in Bicycle-Related Traffic Accidents

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As urban areas around the state have shown an increase in bicycle traffic, traffic accidents involving bicycles are on the rise. In fact, data from the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center demonstrates that Texas had the third highest number of bicycle accident related deaths in 2013.

A factor critical to the rise of such serious, bicycle-involved accidents is the commonly held mentality that roadways are only for cars and that bicycles should yield to motor vehicles. This, combined with the surge in texting (or Facebooking, Tweeting, etc.) while driving, has created conditions that are particularly hazardous for the cyclists commuting on public roadways.

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Thus, as the number of cyclists increases all around the state, it’s important for personal injury attorneys to be aware of the laws regarding bicycles and how they may affect liability in bicycle-involved traffic accidents.

Under Texas Transportation Code § 551.101, bicycles are generally entitled to all the rights and obligated to comply with all the rules of the road that motor vehicles are bound by. This means that everything a motor vehicle operator would be expected to do in a car is also expected of the bicycle rider. This includes stopping at stop signs and yielding to pedestrians.

Thus, unless a such a right or duty is specifically altered for cyclists by other statutory provisions, cyclists may be subject to liability in an accident, just as any motor vehicle operator. Accordingly, when calculating fault in a bicycle-involved accident, as with any other action seeking damages for traffic accident related injuries, Texas follows the procedure outlined in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 33.001, which states that an injured party cannot recover if they are more than 50 percent liable for the accident’s occurrence. Therefore, if a cyclist’s actions constitute 51 percent or more of the cause of the accident, he or she will be barred from recovery.

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There are some statewide laws, and even more local ordinances and code provisions, that apply different, specific rules to cyclists on public roadways. These statewide laws and local policies and ordinances are important as they can come into play when trial courts are determining percentage of liability in bicycle-involved traffic accidents. For instance, in cities that require cyclists to ride in certain lanes or use headlamps, a cyclist’s failure to do so may weigh against them when assessing the percentage of liability attributable to the cyclist.

Specifically, Texas Transportation Code § 551.103 requires bicycle riders “operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway” unless certain circumstances exist. Further, a cyclist’s bike must be equipped with brakes capable of making a braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement and a headlamp and reflectors if the cyclist intends to ride on roadways at nighttime. Id. § 551.104.

Ordinances in Dallas require cyclists under age 18 to wear helmets; permit the riding of a bicycle on a sidewalk anywhere outside of the central business district; and specifically apply all traffic regulations to bicycle riders. See Dallas City Code 9-1 & 9-8. When riding on Dallas sidewalks, the bicycle rider is required to yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and must give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian. Id. 9-1.

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Fort Worth similarly mandates helmets for riders under 18; requires bicycles to be equipped with reflectors if operated between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.; and bans reckless riding. See Fort Worth City Code Article VII, §§ 22-241–22-245.

Following these state laws and city ordinances, as well as all general traffic laws, can help cyclists recover damages in civil suits by keeping their percentage of fault low. Failing to do so, however, could result in an increased percentage of fault for the cyclist, and a resulting decrease in damages recovered.  Chad West

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