Bicyclist and Their Rights to the Roadway
As an attorney, I have handled multiple claims for bicyclists. Several of these claims have involved the same set of circumstances. A bicyclist is riding his bicycle down the street in the bike lane, as they are required to do. Then out of nowhere either a careless passenger from a vehicle double-parked and blocking the bicycle lane exits or the driver after he has legally parked exits his vehicle. Neither one looks and the bicyclist smashes into a door head on. All of the cases I have handled like the above have involved a serious injury, including a displaced fracture, which left a permanent injury. These are horrible personal injuries that occur because a driver was simply careless.
In several of the cases, the reporting traffic officer found my clients at fault through his own faulty logic, sloppy reporting and a lack of knowledge of the rules of the road. If that is the case for you or someone you know, it can always be fixed and argued around.
In most jurisdictions, such as California, police reports are not admissible into evidence. As a matter of fact, police reports are generally inadmissible. There are multiple hearsay problems with the report. Generally, the officer is making a legal conclusion. Legal conclusions are up to the fact-finder, meaning the judge or the jury.
The insurance company will try to argue the opposite with you but they are generally wrong when it comes to this.
In one police report I dealt with where a bicyclist was doored due to a van double parking in a bike lane, the officer’s line of thinking went like this: 1) Bicycles must follow the rules of the road, just as a driver of a motor vehicle must [Cal. Vehicle Code § 21200(a)]; generally, a vehicle must not pass another vehicle on the right [Cal. Vehicle Code § 21754]; the bicycle is a vehicle, and he was passing on the right. Therefore, the bicyclist is at fault. What?!
Not only is this incorrect. It is contradictory and does not take into account several other laws. First bicycle lanes are on the right side of the road. If a motor vehicle suddenly pulls into the bicycle lane, as they sometimes tend to, the bicyclist is stuck. The cyclist has only a few options at that point. One is to hit the back of the vehicle, which then the officer may attempt to still put them at fault for following too closely, stating that the cyclist was in violation of California Vehicle Code § 21703. Another option, if there is time to do so, is to exit the bike lane and attempt to pass on the left, which still could result in being doored by the driver or being struck by traffic on the cyclist’s left. The final option is to pass on the right in the lane that belongs to bicyclists to begin with.
Many officers neglect to take the following code section into account, California Vehicle Code Sec. 21209 reads as follows, (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows: (1) To park where parking is permitted; (2) To enter or leave the roadway, (3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.
Additionally, some cities, like San Francisco, created a vehicle ordinance more strict than the above code section. San Francisco Vehicle Ordinance Sec. 38. N reads as follows, no person shall park any vehicle such that any portion of the vehicle is within a marked bicycle lane. No person shall block any portion of a marked bicycle lane with his or her vehicle on weekdays from the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Any person violating this Section shall be subject to a fine of $100. The Department of Parking and Traffic may install signs or otherwise alert motorists of this prohibition and the fine.
If a vehicle does violate the above codes, they are negligent per say. They are in violation of a code that was clearly enacted in order to protect bicyclists from the type of injury caused by these actions.
Bike lanes are on the right side of the road. You cannot be said to be passing a vehicle when the vehicle stops directly in your bicycle lane. If you are the victim of such an accident or the incorrect conclusion is drawn by an officer, do not take it. Get yourself counsel; engage an attorney if you have to fight for your rights as a cyclist. You have a legal right to be on the road as much as these careless drivers do, if not more.