In 2015, bicycle injures increased over 12 percent to reach one of their highest levels in history.
The issue is especially acute in parts of California and other areas where cycling is not as common, especially among commuters and everyday travelers. Among driving habits, distracted driving may be the leading culprit, according to Kate Kraft, America Walk's executive director. Infrastructure may be to blame as well, as the Government Accountability Office points out that many roads, with their wide lanes and curve-less design, were designed to move vehicle traffic quickly and not to keep non-motorists safe.
Many cities and governments have committed significant funds to safety improvement, but change will not come cheaply, because protected bike-way lanes usually cost at least $4 million a mile.
Largely due to advances in automobile and vehicle construction, the number of motor vehicle crash deaths has actually declined somewhat in recent decades, although it is still alarmingly high. Needless to say, however, bicyclists, pedestrians, bystanders, and other non-motorists do not benefit from advances such as better materials, more advanced airbags, warning sensors, and other steps forward that make even medium and high-speed collisions much more survivable for vehicle occupants. In fact, speed is one of the leading injury severity factors in vehicle-bicycle collisions. According to Curtis Quay, a bicycle accident attorney in San Diego, cyclists nearly always survive such incidents if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is moving at 32mph or less and nearly always fatal if the vehicle is travelling faster than 42mph.
In short, when a 20lb bicycle collides with a 5,000lb-plus automobile, the cyclist is nearly always seriously injured, and in three-fourths of these cases, that wound is a Traumatic Brain Injury. Riders over 18 do not have to wear helmets, and even if riders do wear protective headgear, these small and lightweight helmets are really designed to prevent injury from accidental falls and not from high-speed collisions with large motor vehicles.
Younger children are in a high-risk TBI category, because their skulls are simply so thin. Unfortunately, younger children are also some of the most at-risk victims in bicycle-vehicle crashes, because motorists who are not really looking for bicycle riders often overlook small bikes and young riders. Making natter worse, head injuries are often misdiagnosed among younger victims, because the symptoms vary and doctors often dismiss them as shock from the accident. So, many victims may not get the treatment they need for several days or even several weeks.
TBIs are typically permanent, because unlike dead skin or bone cells, dead brain cells normally do not regenerate. However, aggressive and extensive physical therapy can both alleviate the symptoms and teach other areas of the brain to assume functions that the victim lost.
Some other serious injuries include:
Victims are entitled to compensation for these and other injuries. This compensation includes money for economic damages, like medical bills, and noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering. To deal with these physical and emotional injuries, attorneys can arrange for victims to receive ongoing medical care, including rehabilitative therapy, with no upfront cost.
Vehicle Code 21760, or the Three Feet for Safety Act, requires motorists to give bicycle riders ate least a three-foot cushion when passing, unless the riders are in designated bicycle lanes. Even cycling safety advocates admit that this law is often ignored and difficult to enforce. Nevertheless, at least it makes motorists cognizant of the fact that they must at least try to share the road with bicyclists.
Even if the law did not have the desired effect on the street, it has a tremendous impact in the courtroom. Even the most mathematically-challenged juror can understand that if a vehicle collides with a bicycle, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) did not respect the three-foot cushion. Therefore, the negligence per se (negligence "as such") presumption probably applies. In most negligence cases, the victim must prove five elements in court. But negligence is presumed as a matter of law if:
The three-foot law is a safety statute designed to protect bicyclists by preventing cars from getting to close and knocking over, or colliding with, bicycles.
Negligence per se often raises a presumption in favor of punitive damages. To obtain these additional damages, the victim must produce clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor knowingly disregarded a clear risk and recklessly put other people in danger. The victim's case is even stronger if the tortfeasor violated another statute in addition to the three-foot law. A damage cap may apply, in some cases.