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Cyclists and Accident Liability


Even though bike accidents appear to be on a downward trend in some big cities, they are still frequent enough to be a major concern. Indeed, a recent bike accident study showed a decline in Oakland California. It’s a common belief that bicyclists are never at fault if they are involved in a car accident because they are so much smaller than any motor vehicle. Shouldn’t the motorist be on the hook for damages when they cause an injury to a cyclist or damage their property? The truth is a little more complicated than that.

The Laws are the Same

Whether you’re riding a bike or driving a car, the laws are the same. Yes, cyclists are in a more vulnerable position than motorists, but they must still follow the same road rules as drivers. This means they need to ride with the flow of traffic, stop at stop signs and red lights, make safe turns, yield to pedestrians, and stay off the sidewalks. 

If a cyclist violates any traffic law and that violation results in an accident with a motor vehicle, the cyclist can be held liable for any injuries and property damage sustained by the driver or passengers in the vehicle. This also means that the cyclist would be responsible for their own injuries and property damage. This can be substantial, particularly because cyclists aren’t required to have insurance like motorists are.

Shared Fault

As with all motor vehicle accidents, most states follow what is called a “shared fault” or “comparative negligence” law. This means that each person involved in an accident is assigned a percentage of fault out of and up to 100%. For example, if a vehicle turns in front of a cyclist and causes the accident, the driver would probably be assigned 100% of the fault. 

However, if a cyclist runs a stop sign and is hit by a driver who is speeding, both parties would be at fault to some degree. The cyclist would be at fault for not obeying the stop sign and the driver would be at fault for not driving the speed limit. If the driver would have been able to safely stop before hitting the cyclist had they been going the speed limit, they might be deemed more at fault than the cyclist. The investigator may assign 60% fault to the driver and 40% fault to the cyclist.

Helmet Laws

In states where helmets are required for road cyclists, if a cyclist isn’t wearing a helmet and is involved in a car accident, their failure to follow the law could impact their fault percentage. For instance, the motorist could make a case that had they been wearing a helmet, the injuries would not have been as severe. For this reason and the fact that you could save your own life, it’s crucial that you always wear a helmet when riding a bike, especially if you’re riding alongside motor vehicles.

While no state currently requires helmets for adult riders, some cities may have their own laws and nearly half the states require helmets for riders under a certain age. Know the laws where you ride to make sure you’re always in compliance.


Riding a bike doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility to follow traffic laws. You could still be held liable for injuries and property damage if you’re at fault in an accident. In a case like this, it’s always recommended that you get legal representation immediately to protect your rights.


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