What to Do in a Bicycle Collision

Editors Note: It’s been four years since Commute by Bike last addressed this topic, and two months since Bike Shop Girl’s accident. Ray Thomas provides some clear thoughts on arming cyclists with the information that, statistically speaking, some of our readers will inevitably need.
Continued at bottom.

Ray ThomasRay Thomas is a bicycle lawyer in Portland, OR. He practices personal injury law with Swanson, Thomas & Coon and writes for the Oregon Bike Law blog.

No bicyclist wants to think about getting into a collision with a car. However, the experienced cyclist crashes an average of once every 8,000 miles of riding. While the actual number of accidents involving injuries is much lower, it pays to be prepared and to know what to do should you end up in an unfortunate situation.

Bike Collision
Image Credit: BikePortland.org

The scene of a collision can be confusing for a bicyclist. Adrenaline is flowing, and it can be difficult to determine on the spot whether you have sustained any injuries. Cyclists who do not immediately notice any injuries may be tempted to shrug off the accident and move on, but this tactic can backfire if you later find out your optimism was unfounded.

It is always safest to assume that you and your bicycle have sustained some damage, even if the nature of the injury is not readily apparent. The scene of the accident is your best chance to collect any information you might need later. Here are some guidelines to help ensure all of your bases are covered in the event of a collision:

Step 1: Obtaining the driver's information. Before anyone leaves the scene, make sure you have collected complete and accurate information about the automobile driver. To avoid receiving falsified information, ask the driver to show you an official document such as a driver's license or other photo ID, as well as a certificate of current insurance coverage. If the driver seems reluctant, call the police. You should write down everything you can, including;

  • The driver's name, address and phone number.
  • A driver's license or ID number, as well as the state in which it was issued.
  • The driver's insurance company and policy number.
  • The license plate number of the vehicle, which can be used to track down the owner in case the driver has furnished you with false information.

Step 2: Calling the police. Calling the police will not always result in an investigation and preparation of a police report, particularly if it is not apparent to the responding officer that the accident has resulted in an injury. However, you should get the police involved if:

  • You are injured.
  • The vehicle driver refuses to show proper ID or is otherwise uncooperative.

Step 3: Seeking medical attention. If you have any question at all about whether you have been injured, you should seek immediate medical attention at an emergency room or from your regular doctor. Many internal injuries, including closed head brain injuries and soft tissue neck and back injuries, do not become fully apparent until some time has passed. Concussions and bruises often cannot be detected until the damaged tissue has had a chance to become inflamed, while soft tissue and tendon or ligament injuries may seem like minor soreness at first but within hours can develop into debilitating conditions. It's important to have your injuries documented by a medical professional in case you end up filing a personal injury claim requiring proof that you were injured.

Step 4: Documenting the accident. If possible, return to the scene later or have a friend return with a camera to photograph any skid marks, glass or other marks on the road showing point of impact, direction, speed or force. Do your best to document what the conditions were like and how the accident happened.

Step 5: Making an insurance claim. Unfortunately, there are plenty of uninsured motorists on the road, which can make it difficult to receive injury compensation for any damages you sustain. What many cyclists don't know, however, is that if they have automobile insurance of their own, it may also cover them while they are riding a bicycle.

Personal Injury Protection. Depending on your state's laws, your auto insurance policy may include Personal Injury Protection (PIP), a no-fault coverage to pay medical expenses, wage loss and other out-of-pocket expenses. While PIP doesn't pay full damages or cover pain and suffering, it can help you recoup some of your costs, regardless of who was at fault. Even if you have no car insurance because you are not a car owner, you may be covered by the car insurance policy for your parents or your employer.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage. Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) is a legally required part of every auto insurance policy and can offer an important safety net for cyclists. UM coverage may pay not only for medical services and wage loss, but also for pain and suffering, interference with activities, future impairment of earning capacity and punitive damages.

Because collisions with uninsured motorists do happen, it's a good idea for all bicyclists to have some sort of insurance coverage, even if you do not own a car. It's also important to note that there are time limits on how long you can wait to file an insurance claim or a court claim for damages, so it's essential to act promptly.

Editors Note Cont.: We scour the Web every day looking for interesting and relevant news cyclists. Some days much of the news is not good. Nobody wishes to dwell on, or overemphasize the dangers of cycling (a common complaint of cyclist opposed to helmet boosterism). Yet we, the new proprietors of Commute by Bike, are in this role as a direct result of Arliegh’s (aka Bike Shop Girl) collision with a car on October 1.

Arleigh is doing fine, but could use a little motivation.

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