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Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers. The laws say that bike riders must obey traffic signals and ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic. The purpose of California’s bicycle laws is to prevent collisions between bikes and cars, but collisions do occur, and when one does, legal action may be necessary to bring compensation to the victim.

The laws of physics say that in any collision between a bicycle that weighs about 25 pounds and a car that weighs a ton or more, the bicyclist will suffer much worse personal injuries than the driver of the car. The laws of survival say that a smart cyclist will do everything possible to avoid a collision.

Bicycling is an enjoyable and efficient way to travel, but on California’s crowded roads, riding a bike always carries an element of risk, even for riders who obey all the rules, and even in cities considered friendly to cyclists, such as San Jose, Palo Alto, and San Francisco.

Smart cyclists ride defensively. They do everything possible to stay safe. They obey all the rules of the road, and they always wear a helmet. Smart cyclists use lights if they ride at night, but despite their best efforts, even the most conscientious riders sometimes suffer personal injuries and even wrongful deaths because of the negligence or arrogance of drivers.

For riders who choose to disregard the rules, the chances of suffering an injury are much greater than for safe riders, and many bicycle accidents are the fault of riders who act as though the rules of the road don’t apply to them.

Lawbreaking cyclists ride against traffic. They ride on sidewalks. They wear iPods while they ride.  They make turns without looking, and they endanger cyclists who do obey the rules. Lawbreaking cyclists create a bad image for everyone on a bike, and they’re frequently the cause of their own injuries.

When a cyclist who is obeying the rules is involved in a collision, legal action will usually go after the driver who caused the cyclist’s injuries, but it may also go against a municipality or a government agency for failing to provide a safe roadway. California Code 835 states that a public entity may be liable for injuries if:

• A negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the  public entity within the scope of his employment created the dangerous condition; or

• The public entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition under Section 835.2 a sufficient time prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.

In the case of Claire Diepenbrock, a young woman who was seriously injured in a car/bicycle collision, both the driver of the car that hit her and CalTrans may be found liable for her injuries. The driver was impaired, and CalTrans had been receiving complaints about that stretch of dangerous road for years, but took no action to make it safer.

Another situation involving a public entity occurred in Irvine where a city vehicle parked on a bike trail caused two riders to suffer serious injuries, and medical bills for one of the riders have already topped $100,000.

Defective bicycle parts are another cause of severe personal injuries to cyclists. If a handlebar snaps or a brake fails, a rider will have no warning and will almost certainly crash.

Regardless of the cause, a bicycling injury may require legal action to bring compensation to the victim.

Anyone needing help for a bicycling injury can talk to an experienced lawyer by contacting us at 888.777.1776. There is no charge. All work is performed on a contingency basis. If we don’t collect, you owe nothing.


Richard Alexander