Cycling Legalese: Visible, Assertive, Alert and Predictable
Cycling Legalese is our online cycling law column from everyday cyclist and Chicago based injury lawyer, Brendan Kevenides.
Last column explained that drivers are responsible even if they say they didn’t see you. Even if a driver is found at fault, in civil court a cyclist’s injury claim may be reduced if it is found they contributed to the incident by not being visibile and riding predictably. This column may help you not get hit in the first place, and may help in civil litigation in case of an accident.
In the last edition of Cycling Legalese we considered the viability of the “unseeing eye” defense which drivers tend to raise in bicycle crash cases. Now we turn our attention to ways in which urban cyclists can increase their visibility, reducing their chances of being “unseen” in the first place. These guidelines will reduce the likelihood of being hit, and will aid your chances of a successful outcome should litigation arise from a crash. Juries in civil cases will be asked to consider not just the motorist’s negligence, but the injured bicyclist’s as well. In many states, even if the driver is found to have acted negligently, the injury victim’s compensation may be reduced by his or her own percentage of fault. If a jury finds that the cyclist was more than 50% at fault, then in some states compensation may be denied all together. To avoid injury, and a poor legal outcome, be Visible, Assertive, Alert and Predictable; VAAP, if you are into gibberishy acronyms.
Visible: Most state vehicle codes require bicyclists to ride with a white, front facing headlight and at least a rear reflector. Frankly, I have always found it surprising that you can buy a bicycle from a shop without a light. After all, head lights are not an option for car buyers. In any event, buy one. And while you are at it, buy a red light for the rear of your bike. Some states only require a reflector in the rear, but go a little nuts and treat yourself to a bit of rear end protection. Having reflective properties on your clothing and/or bicycle is also a good idea to increase visibility in poor lighting conditions.
Visibility is as important during the day as at night. Bright clothing will help you get noticed. Also, during a daytime rain or snow shower, do not hesitate to turn on your lights. It is smart to have them with you, with fresh batteries, at all times.
Assertive: You belong in the road. Act like it. Behaving like a shrinking violet while riding in traffic is no fun, and can be dangerous. Cyclists should, and are generally required, to ride in the right-most lane that leads to their destination. That does not mean that you must ride in the gutter. Riding too close to the edge of the road will likely make you less visible to drivers and will encourage them to attempt to pass too closely. Bicyclists should ride as far to the right as is practicable and safe, but no more. No one wants to be honked at, but at least if a driver is honking at you you know you are being noticed.
Being assertive applies not just to lane position, but to all aspects of urban riding. “If you, the cyclist, pause or hesitate, you are almost guaranteed that the motorist will take the right of way whether it is theirs or not. Know the rules of the road and follow them with confidence and conviction,” recommends the League of American Bicyclists.
Alert: Drivers are going to screw up. Expect it. For example, if you see movement inside of a vehicle parked along the curb, anticipate that the driver may open the door into you. Realize that in the rain, drivers cannot see very well and will have a harder time noticing you. Do not just watch traffic lights; watch the traffic. It is common for drivers to run an intersection through the dissipating remnants of a yellow light. Look before proceeding into an intersection, even a controlled one. It is important to consider the driver’s perspective while riding your bike. Be cynical. Hope for the best, assume the worst and act preemptively.
Predictable: Though I have placed it last, predictability is perhaps the most important aspect of safe cycling. Following the rules of the road — though some may seem hardly written with the bicyclist in mind — helps you communicate your intentions to drivers. Yes, sometimes salmoning (riding the wrong way) is convenient, but a driver will not anticipate a moving object coming from the wrong direction. Giving nary a pause at a stop sign is not something a driver will expect you to do, even if he or she sees you coming. At an intersection, drivers will be looking for traffic coming from cross streets, and slow moving pedestrians in crosswalks. They will not expect a fast moving object to rocket off of a sidewalk and into their path. Follow the rules, not just because they are the rules, but because doing so makes you more predictable. Drivers, generally, do not want to run into you. Make it easy for both of you to continue on your way without conflict.
Nothing contained in this column should be construed as legal advice. The information contained herein may or may not match your individual situation. Also, laws differ from place to place and tend to change over time. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information presented herein without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. This column is meant to promote awareness of a general legal issue. As such, it is meant as entertainment. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.
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