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Proving Fault in a Bicycle Accident

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Bicycle hazard sign, Portland ORCrashes involving bicyclists and automobiles occur all too often, for a variety of reasons. When these accidents happen, the cause is usually negligence, either on the part of the driver of the automobile or the bicyclist.

Bicycles meet the definition of a vehicle in many states, which means that those riding bicycles are bound to the same rules of the road that drivers of automobiles and motorcycles must follow.

How Fault Is Determined 

Liability in a bicycle accident is often determined by right-of-way. When two vehicles approach an intersection where there is no traffic signal, the vehicle that arrives first generally has the right-of-way. If they both get there at the same time, the one to the right has the right-of-way. If the intersection consists of a major street and a minor street, traffic on the major street has the right-of-way.

When a traffic signal is present, the signal determines the right-of-way, although sometimes the sensor is unable to detect the presence of a bicycle. If this happens, the cyclist can move closer to the sensor, wait until it is safe to cross against the light, or cross at the crosswalk.

What Causes Bicycle Accidents?

Intersections pose an above-average threat for bicyclists, for the following reasons:

  • Motorists may not see bicyclists because they are smaller vehicles that often blend into the background
  • Many bicyclists do not understand the rules that they must follow at intersections
  • Extra safety precautions are not always taken by motorists and cyclists at dangerous intersections recommends that cyclists always ride with traffic. In a state where a bicycle is considered a vehicle, riding against traffic is against the law. It is also dangerous and to blame for many bicycle accidents.

According to, the number one situation when bicycle/motor vehicle accidents occur is when a bicyclist has a stop sign and a motorist does not. In many situations, a car will stop at a stop sign and then proceed into the intersection in front of a bicyclist who actually has the right-of-way. In this instance, the driver of the motor vehicle would be deemed at fault for the accident, unless the cyclist is riding against traffic, in which case fault might rest with both the driver of the car and the bicyclist.

If a motorist turns left or right and collides with a bicyclist, the driver of the car will most likely be held liable. If a bicycle fails to yield to a car in an intersection and causes an accident, he will typically be considered at fault. In some states, if the cyclist does not come to a complete stop at an intersection and an accident results, he may be barred from any recovery in a personal injury case, even if the driver of the car is largely responsible for the accident.

Interestingly, although the greatest fear most people have about bicycling is a collision with an automobile, most bicycle crashes are solo accidents involving child riders and a road hazard, according to

Motorists Not Always Liable

According to, there were 630 fatalities and 51,000 injuries arising from bicycle/motor vehicle collisions in the U.S. in 2009. Although one may think that cars are more at fault for these accidents because of their size, cyclists actually cause their fair share of accidents too, and it’s difficult to determine who is more likely to be at fault.

The best course of action for cyclists is to know the law in their state and do their best to stay out of dangerous situations. recently published suggestions on how cyclists can avoid the most common types of bicycle/motor vehicle accidents, including “left turn,” “right hook,” “doored,” “parking lotted,” and “the overtaking.”

Image by Salim Virji.


My daughter and I first consulted with Dan Rosen after a very serious auto accident. Dan had several phone conferences with me, and Tracie was available whenever I called. We would recommend personal injury attorney Dan Rosen to anyone!
Sally from Denver, Colorado

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