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DMV Bicycle Fatality Surge Highlights Safety Concerns

Blue bike on a pedestrian crossing after fatal incident with a car

Injured cyclists and their families need to know their legal rights.

Despite efforts to the contrary by our local governments and safety advocates, bicycle fatalities in the Washington D.C. area have exploded over the last decade. The data from the Metropolitan Council of Governments for the last several years shows that even with a reduction in vehicle traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic and more people working from home, from 2020 to 2022, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in traffic incidents remained steady across the region—accounting for 29 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Axios reported that in the five-year period from 2017-2021, there were an average of 2.9 fatal bicycle crashes per year for every million residents. This is in line with the national average (which is 2.7 fatal crashes per million residents), but it represents a 141% increase from the previous five-year period in the area.

The Axios piece also noted that D.C. and other local municipalities have pushed back some of their infrastructure projects that should have significantly improved safety for cyclists. In particular, the timeline for the Connecticut Ave. NW bicycle lane project, which would have created 2.7 miles of protected bicycle lanes, was pushed back due to concerns from businesses about effects on parking. However, the rate of fatalities and nonfatal accidents has still increased.

More needs to be done to protect cyclists throughout the DMV from serious and often fatal bicycle accidents. Infrastructure improvements are one piece of the puzzle. In addition, motorists need to take responsibility and avoid causing collisions that can cost a cyclist their life. In part, this is due to an attitude that cyclists are second-class citizens of the roadways. Further, more people have taken to biking over the past several years due to concerns about the environment and local governments’ setting aside certain areas of the road as bike lanes.

How negligence contributes to bicycle collisions

Sharing the road is a shared responsibility, but drivers of larger vehicles have a greater responsibility for everyone else’s safety. Some of the ways motorists cause serious bicycle accidents include:

  • Distracted driving: Because of a bicycle’s smaller size, it’s easy for motorists who are texting, talking on their phones, eating and drinking, or engaged in other distracting behavior to overlook a cyclist and cause a serious collision.
  • Following too closely: A bicycle has a much shorter stopping distance than a car. If a cyclist is riding in the lane, motorists need to follow at a safe distance to avoid rear-ending the cyclist.
  • Failure to yield: Motorists need to yield to oncoming bicycles when making a left turn at an intersection, just as they would yield to any other vehicle.
  • The “right hook:” Too often, when a cyclist and motorist are stopped side by side at a stop sign or red light, the motorist will make a right turn directly into the cyclist’s path, causing a collision.
  • Negligently opening doors: Drivers and passengers need to check twice for bicycles before opening a car door into the lane. A cyclist who is “doored” may hit the open door itself, or swerve into traffic to avoid the door and end up hitting another vehicle.
  • Negligent lane changes: Before changing lanes, motorists need to carefully check their blind spots. It’s very easy for a bicycle to slip into a car’s blind spot.
  • Passing too closely: Drivers who pass a bicycle on the left need to leave at least three to four feet of space to give both vehicles room to maneuver safely.

Even with helmets and other safety gear, cyclists have very little protection in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle. The injuries sustained are often serious or even fatal. That’s why injured cyclists need to know their rights and get experienced legal representation.

DC changes the law to comparative negligence model for cyclists and pedestrians

In 2021, DC changed the law as it pertains to bicycles, pedestrians, and other comparable vehicles. Prior to the change in law, DC applied the contributory negligence model to cyclists, meaning that if the cyclist was to any degree or percentage at fault for the accident with a car or another motor vehicle, they would lose their case and could not recover damages. The law is now changed to what is known as the comparative negligence model and has been characterized as one of the best laws in the country. Now, if you are a bicyclist, pedestrian, or other vulnerable user and are fifty (50%) percent negligent or less, you can still recover 100% of your damages.

Contact an experienced bicycle accident attorney today

The laws that apply to bicycle accidents and injury claims are complex and frequently change. If you were injured or lost a loved one in a bicycle accident, you have rights. The Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick can protect them. Contact our offices today for a free consultation. We proudly represent injured cyclists in the District, Maryland, and Virginia.

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