Collisions involving bicycles and motor vehicles can be some of the most frightening and debilitating accidents.
Cyclists can suffer serious, life-threatening injuries. It’s important to know the laws and your rights as a bicyclist on New Jersey roadways.
Rights and Responsibilities on the Road
In New Jersey, bicyclists have many of the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicle operators. They have an equal right to be on the road and are required to obey most of the same traffic laws, including stopping and yielding.
Mandatory and Recommended Equipment
Cyclists on New Jersey roadways are required to wear or have certain equipment.
Helmets can prevent or reduce the severity of head injuries in a crash, although they are only required for riders under age 17 (and only while riding on a roadway open to other vehicle traffic). (N.J.S.A. 39:4-10.1)
Lights are required if operating a bicycle after dusk or before dawn. Riders must have a front headlamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet and a rear lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet. (N.J.S.A. 39:4-10)
Brakes on bicycles must be powerful enough to make the wheels skid while stopping on dry, level, clean pavement. (N.J.S.A. 39:4-11.1)
A bell or horn is also required by law to alert other bicyclists and pedestrians of your approach. (N.J.S.A. 39:4-11)
Reflectors or reflective clothing are recommended to improve a cyclist’s visibility to motorists and other cyclists but are not required.
Safe Bicycle Operation
Riders must obey all traffic signals and signs, taking and yielding the right of way appropriately to cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists. In addition to the universally applicable rules of the road, bicyclists must also follow regulations specific to them as specified in Title 39 of the New Jersey Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulations laws (N.J.S.A. 39:1 et seq.).
Roadway cyclists are required to ride as near to the right roadside as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. This does not mean as far to the right as possible. Riders are advised to
- Ride far enough out from the edge of the pavement to avoid broken up pavement edges, debris, drainage grates, and standing water.
- Travel in a straight line; do not weave in and out of parked cars.
- Refrain from hugging the curb because it may make you less visible to motorists.
- Stay about four feet away from parked cars to prevent being hit by a door opening in your travel path (getting “doored”).
A bicyclist may move left, into the main traffic lane(s)
- To pass a standing vehicle
- To make a left turn from a left-turn lane or designated bike box/pocket
- To avoid debris, drains, or other hazardous conditions on the right
- To pass a slower moving vehicle
- To occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic
- To travel two abreast when traffic is not impeded (otherwise, ride in single file).
New Jersey does not have any laws specifying the legal passing distance for vehicles to overtake bicycles. Many states, including New York, have laws specifying cars allow a “safe distance,” depending on roadways, weather conditions, and traffic. Some others specify that vehicles allow 3 or even 4 feet to pass. “Safe distance” legislation has been proposed in New Jersey but has not been passed into law.
Common Accident Scenarios
There are a number of scenarios that frequently lead to bicycle-vehicle collisions. These are some of the most common:
When the bike and car are parallel to one another,
- A motorist turns into a bicycle’s path (most common) – This can occur when a car pulls out from a side street onto a roadway or when a car makes a right turn in front of or into a cyclist.
- A car attempts to overtake a cyclist or collides with him from behind – This occurs most frequently when cyclists dart in and out of parked cars or swerve to avoid road hazards, or when motorists fail to allow a safe passing distance.
- A stationary vehicle opens a door into the cyclist’s path (“dooring”).
- A bike turns into a car’s path (least common) – This can result if a cyclist turns from a bike lane that is to the left of right turn lane and attempts to re-enter the bike lane on a road with one lane of motor vehicle traffic.
When the bike and car are on intersecting paths,
- A motorists fails to yield right of way at an intersection – Most commonly, a driver executing a left turn fails to yield to a cyclist proceeding straight, or a motorist stopped at a crossing fails to yield to a cyclist’s turn to proceed or continue.
- A bicyclist fails to yield right of way at an intersection or midblock location – For example, a cyclist may fail to stop at a light, stop sign, or crossing or may cross at an impermissible location.
Drivers should take extra care to be aware of possible approaching cyclists, and cyclists should make a strong effort to ensure they are visible to drivers even when they have the right of way.
Bicycle Crashes Are Serious and Significant
- 57% of bike-related fatalities occur on major, heavily traveled roads.
- More than 700 bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2013, and an additional 48,000 were injured.
- Cyclists represent 2 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities and 2 percent of all traffic-related injuries.
- Nearly 70 percent of all fatal bike accidents occur in urban settings.
- The average age of a cycling fatality is 41 years old; the average age of cyclists suffering a traffic-related cycling injury is 31.
Because of how large and powerful motor vehicles are compared to bicycles, a bicycle-motor vehicle accident often results in serious, debilitating injuries, including
- Head and brain injuries, including concussions, fractures, scrapes, gashes, dental damage, loss of vision or other senses, memory loss, and traumatic brain injuries.
- Spinal cord injuries, including vertebrae fractures, disk damage, and whiplash.
- Broken bones, including the legs, arms, back, hip, neck, collarbone, shoulder, feet, and hands.
- Internal injuries, including damage to internal organs, internal bleeding, deep contusions, and bruised or fractured ribs.
- Soft tissue injuries, including sprains, strains, dislocations, and torn ligaments or tendons.
- External injuries, including scrapes, “road rash,” lacerations, cuts, and bruises.
- Loss of limbs or functionality, including paralysis.
Liability and Recovery for Bicycle Accidents
Drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward pedestrians and bicyclists. In most cases, motorists who violate traffic laws or are otherwise negligent or reckless are liable for injuries a bicyclist suffers in a collision. An injured bicyclist can recover compensatory damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, wrongful death, and other losses from the driver. Punitive damages may also be available for particularly egregious or negligent behavior, including cases of intentional injury.
A cyclist might also be able to recover from the city, county, or state if hazardous roadways contributed to the occurrence. If a road has potholes, dangerous blind turns, severely narrow lanes, or even debris, the road could pose a hazard. If the agency or department in charge of maintaining a roadway is negligent in its maintenance duties, it may be possible for the victim to hold the agency liable for some or all of his or her damages.
In rare cases, an accident may be caused by a defective bike or bike part; in this case, an accident victim may be able to sue the manufacturer or distributor in a product liability action.
If You Are Injured in a New Jersey Bike Accident
If you are injured in a bicycle accident in New Jersey, seek medical treatment immediately. If possible, collect information at the scene, including photographs of the roadway, vehicles, weather conditions, and contact information for the associated drivers and witnesses.
You must file suit against a driver within two years of an accident, or you will lose out on the right to recover compensation for your injuries. If you intend to sue a municipality or file a product liability action, different time limits apply. You should consult an attorney as soon as practicable to learn about and protect your rights.
For more information on what to do at the scene of an accident, download our FREE guide.
To schedule an appointment with an experienced car accident lawyer at the Basking Ridge, Oradell, or Newark, New Jersey, law offices of The Mark Law Firm, contact the firm online or call 908-460-8996 today.