The Impact of New York Bicycle Laws on Determining Fault in an Accident

Identifying fault in an accident is an important part of the claims process because in serious cases, it determines which party will be responsible for the damages. Claims adjusters or the courts will review the evidence and try to discern which party exhibited negligence and caused the accident. One of the aspects that will be under review is whether or not all involved parties adhered to the rules of the road. This includes driving laws, as well as New York bicycle laws.

Our firm has been handling injury cases such as bicycle accidents for more than 20 years. A common thread we have noticed with these cases is that many drivers – and even bicyclists – don’t fully understand the rights bicyclists have on the road or the laws that they have to follow. This is a shame because knowledge of traffic laws is every road user’s responsibility. Failing to abide by the New York traffic laws not only puts everyone on the road at risk, but also makes you susceptible to fault and liability should an accident occur.

New York Bicycle Laws

It is important to be aware of the rules and your responsibilities when you take to the road, regardless of whether you operate a vehicle or a bicycle. Cyclists need to know what is expected of them so that they can travel safely, and drivers need to understand the role cyclists play on the road and how to maneuver safely when sharing the road. Below are some of the bicycle laws that apply to all of New York State. Note, each city or township may impose additional rules; you will want to check with your municipality for detailed city-specific laws.

  • Bicyclists have to follow all the same rules of the road that are expected of drivers. New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1231 provides: “Bicyclists are granted all rights and subject to all duties applicable to operator of vehicle except where not applicable.”
  • Bicyclists must ride on a bike path. If there is no bike path, then bicyclists must ride with traffic, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
  • Bicyclists cannot ride more than two abreast.
  • Bicyclists must use hand signals when turning or changing speeds.
  • Bicyclists must have, at a minimum, the following equipment for visibility: a white headlight and red taillight, a bell, working brakes, and reflective tires or other reflective devices.
  • Bicyclists are prohibited from wearing more than one earphone while riding.
  • Drivers must pass cyclists on the left at a safe distance.
  • Bicyclists can carry only the number of passengers for which the bike was equipped, i.e., no allowing others to ride on the handlebars or pegs.
  • Drivers have to exercise care when traveling near cyclists. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1146 states: “Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist, pedestrian or domestic animal upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.”

How Violations Affect Bicycle Accident Claims

New York takes road safety very seriously. If drivers fail to abide by the rules, they face citations and even jail time if the wind up hurting cyclists. Statute 1146(b)1 provides that if a driver failed to exercise due care and caused physical injury, s/he is guilty of a traffic infraction, punishable by a $500 fine and/or 15 days imprisonment. If the physical injury is deemed “serious,” the penalties increase to a $750 fine, license suspension, mandatory motor vehicle accident prevention course, and up to 15 days imprisonment.

Above and beyond criminal penalties, when a driver or cyclist violates the rules of the road and an accident occurs, he or she may be apportioned with fault for the purposes of an accident claim or lawsuit. This will affect the funds the victim can recover.

Here’s an example of how a bicycle traffic law violation might affect a claim. A cyclist is traveling southbound on Montauk Highway in Sayville. He stops at the light, makes a hand signal that he will be turning left onto Atlantic Avenue, but he doesn’t really stop back to ensure the car behind him sees him because he’s too busy listening to music. The driver behind him is answering a text, doesn’t see the cyclist and slams right into him as the cyclist turns left.

In this situation, both the driver and the cyclist violated the rules. The cyclist 1) didn’t pay attention to his surroundings, and 2) had both earphones in his ears so he couldn’t hear the car coming behind him. The driver was 1) texting and driving, and 2) failed to “exercise due care.” As such, both the driver and cyclist will be assigned a degree of fault.

How Shared Fault Affects a Bicycle Accident Case

When a victim is partly at fault for the accident, the amount of recovery he or she can receive is reduced. New York follows a comparative negligence rule that says that a victim’s settlement will be reduced by his or her exact degree of fault. So using the above example, if the cyclist was assigned 25 percent fault for cycling while distracted and using two earphones and his or her damages totaled $100,000, he or she only will be eligible to receive $75,000.

Fault is often disputed. Get legal help to pursue maximum recovery.

Because identifying and assigning fault affects liability (and the amount of funds that an insurer will have to shell out), fault is commonly disputed when victims file bicycle accident claims. If you were recently injured in a bicycle accident, don’t be surprised if the driver or insurer tries to dispute your account of the accident or argue that you violated New York bicycle laws. They might also argue that your damages aren’t as extensive as you claim.

It’s extremely important, particularly for serious accidents, that you consult an attorney to start working on your case as soon as practicable. An attorney will be able to collect evidence, establish fault, sort it all out and prove your case. For an injury attorney who is fully equipped to handle even the toughest bicycle accident cases, call Gacovino Lake & Associates. Contact us at 800-550-0000 or fill out our online contact form and schedule a free consultation at your convenience.

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