Virginia Roads Remain Dangerous for Bike Riders

During 2019, 13 bicyclists died in Virginia after a car, truck or other motor vehicle crashed into them. Another 615 Virginia bike riders suffered injuries in collisions that year. According to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, nearly 46 percent of bicyclists took “no improper action” in the moments leading up to the crash that left them dead or in need of medical care.

The DMV records and reports on bike crashes because state law classifies bicycles as vehicles. This designation permits bike riders to use surface roads and state highways in addition to bike lanes and special-use paths, as well as sidewalks in some cities and counties.

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Riding in the roadway puts bicyclists at serious risk from negligent and reckless drivers. As Virginia Beach-based personal injury and wrongful death attorneys who have advised and represented clients for more than 35 years, we know that those potential risks can become tragic realities in the blink of an eye.

Some the most common and harmful mistakes drivers make when sharing the road with bike riders are

  • Running into the back of a bicycle that is moving slower than the posted speed limit,
  • Sideswiping a bike when attempting to pass,
  • Hitting a bike while making a turn,
  • Hitting a bike while entering or exiting a parking lot, and
  • Opening their door into the path of an approaching bike.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration advises drivers to avoid all those scenarios by doing the following things:

  • Yield to bicyclists as you would motorists and do not underestimate their speed. This will help avoid turning in front of a bicyclist traveling on the road or sidewalk, often at an intersection or driveway.
  • In parking lots, at stop signs, when packing up, or when parking, search your surroundings for other vehicles, including bicycles.
  • Drivers turning right on red should look to the right and behind to avoid hitting a bicyclist approaching from the right rear. Stop completely and look left-right-left and behind before turning right on red.
  • Obey the speed limit, reduce speed for road conditions and drive defensively to avoid a crash with a cyclist.
  • Give cyclists room. Do not pass too closely. Pass bicyclists as you would any other vehicle—when it’s safe to move over into an adjacent lane.

Virginia lawmakers have codified some of these bicycle-safe behaviors. For instance, state law mandates that drivers “pass at a reasonable speed at least three feet to the left of the overtaken bicycle … and shall not again proceed to the right side of the highway until safely clear of such overtaken bicycle.” These rules also apply to passing mopeds, motorized wheelchairs, animals and horse-drawn carriages.

Another Virginia state law makes it a ticketable offense to open a car or truck door on a public street without first turning to check one’s blind spot for bike riders. The way to comply with that statute is to reach across your body for the door handle.

It is true that bicyclists can act to prevent certain collisions by remaining in bike lanes, stopping at red lights and stop signs, and using lights when riding at night. Doing all those things will not, however, protect a rider from a speeding, distracted or impaired driver.

EJL

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia