DOORED BIKER DEALT INDIGNITY
October 11, 2005
Back to questions
I have an honest-to-goodness
bike safety question for you. It's about bikes and cars,
where we're supposed to ride, and how to work with the law.
The other day a friend was riding
through a downtown area. Traffic was stopped and she was
going down the road between the curb and the lane of unmoving
traffic, heading toward the stoplight. The passenger in
a car that was waiting for the light suddenly opened the
door and hit her, throwing her off her bike.
The passenger and driver were kind
and helpful until the police officer showed up and asserted
that the cyclist was in the wrong. The officer, who did
not witness the crash, said that a) the cyclist was weaving
in and out of traffic, and b) in lieu of bike lanes, bikes
are supposed to ride in the lane with traffic, even when
traffic is moving. On that basis my friend was ticketed
$75 for a moving violation and her driver license taken
away until she goes to court.
I read through the city laws on
bike safety and while it states that bikes must obey the
same laws as cars, it also states that in lieu of a bike
lane, bikes belong as far to the right of the road as possible,
practicing caution in areas of stopped vehicles. Are you
clear enough on the laws to know if this accident actually
constitutes a moving violation? Are bikes supposed to stop
when traffic is stopped? Are we supposed to share lanes
with cars? And if so, how do I keep drivers from honking
at me because I'm going half their speed?
I predict that your friend will
beat the ticket that she shouldnt have gotten. I just
hope she recovers fully from her injury.
As with most car-bike crashes weve
several issues to look at: (1) who violated the law (and
how); (2) what to do next; and (3) who could have done something
different to avoid the crashoften not the same as
First, who violated the law? In
Illinois where I live (and in most U.S. states) the law
says that anyone opening a car door must first make sure
they can do it safelymeaning that they wont
slam someone coming down the street. And in most states,
laws say that bike riders must ride as far to the right
as practicable, which most cycling educators
interpret as reasonable and safe. In some instances,
this means riding in the middle of a lane.
You dont identify the law
under which the police officer ticketed your friend, but
the above begs the question. In many car-bike crashes police
assume fault on the part the bike rider, and seek the most
convenient applicable law. In a pinch (pun intended) some
police officers will ticket the biker for passing on the
righta law which most bike advocates feel doesnt
apply to bikers, but in most places doesnt clearly
If it comes to arguing in court
(and it often doesnt), a savvy attorney might maintain
that the no passing on the right law clearly
doesnt apply, as bicycle riders pass on the right
all the time. (The state of Kentucky has tried to address
this ambiguity, as described in my pal Paul Schimeks
Moving Vehicle discussion.) More likely the cop
wont show up or the judge will throw out the case
What should your friend do next?
She has to deal with two things: Beating that ticket and
getting her losses paid for. She obviously has a defense,
so she should get herself a lawyer for court. In many major
bike-advocacy groups can refer crash victims to lawyers
who specialize in bike cases and work for free or cheap.
And what if crash victims want to lean on the offender or
their insurance company to pay for medical or repair costs?
They can get the inside dope from the section called What
to do after a crash in my book,
Urban Bikers Tricks & Tips.
Lets move to the issue that,
for me, has the most potential short-term impact (no pun
intended): How could we have avoided this crash? In the
U.S., slapdash motorists and passengers door bike riders
every dayand that wont change any time soon.
So urban bikers must use simple but effective tactics to
Tactic 1: Dont ride or pass
in the door zone (the 3 to 4 feet on
of stopped or parked cars). Tactic 2: If you must ride in
the door zone, slow way down, cover your brake levers, and
get ready to stop suddenly. In other words: Expect a door
I dont want clueless car occupants
to clock your friend againso I hope youll pass
along my advice.