More people than ever are turning to their bicycles as a main form of transportation. Others continue to ride for recreation and exercise. Unfortunately, bikes share the roadway with other vehicles that are bigger and faster than they are. This leads to some dangerous encounters for the cyclists.
Almost every client I have represented in a bicycle vs. car collision has been injured in a similar way. The cyclist was on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk, but was going against traffic. The opposing motorist was pulling out from an intersecting street or drive and preparing to turn right. Consequently, the motorist was checking only to his or her left, for oncoming traffic and then starts forward as the bicyclist, coming from the right, passes in front of the car. Wham! So who is legally ‘at-fault” for such an accident?
There is a great amount of folklore surrounding what a bicyclist is legally required to do when riding a bicycle. Because of this, the bicyclist is often falsely accused of either causing or contributing to the accident that injured him or her. Many of these misconceptions surround the area of proper direction of travel on the roadway, whether a bicyclist can use the sidewalk, what direction a bicyclist should travel on the sidewalk, and how a bicyclist should or should not travel in a crosswalk. These areas of a bicycle injury claim have received some clarification in Arizona statutes and courts, but are often controlled by the code of the city where the accident occurred.
Generally speaking, a bicyclist traveling on the roadway must obey the same traffic laws as a motor vehicle. This means, for example, that the bicycle on any part of the roadway should be traveling the same direction as the cars. Arizona law does clarify that sidewalks are not part of the roadway, so roadway traffic laws do not apply to sidewalk use. No state statute prohibits bikes from using the sidewalk or specifies the direction of travel of a bike on a sidewalk. However, some cities have adopted codes that address these issues. In Tempe, for example, a bicyclist can use the sidewalk, but must still travel in the direction of traffic. In Mesa, this is not so, and a bike can travel either direction, but must “yield” to pedestrians. Finally, in spite of what parents may have told their children, no law requires a cyclist to dismount his or her bike and “walk” it through a crosswalk.
If you are a regular cyclist, you may want to consult the city code where you most ride. If you go back to the accident description earlier, the bike rider had a legal right to be there, and the motorist should have checked both directions before proceeding. It is likely that the motorist would be found at fault for the accident—but the cyclist is the one that comes up injured. So, to protect yourself as a bicyclist, travel with traffic when possible, and be aware that motorists may not see you if you approach from the opposite direction. Ride safely!