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It’s every cyclist’s worst nightmare–and it’s happening with increasing frequency. When a vehicle enters the bike lane, runs a red light, or makes a right-hand turn in front of a bike, the outcome usually doesn’t favor the cyclist. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), around 55,000 cyclists are injured by vehicles each year; 30 percent of all bicycle accident injuries occur when a bicyclist is struck by a car. In the stress and pain of the moment, it’s hard to know what to do if a car hits you while riding.
“When these events happen, serious injuries are disproportionately more common and more lethal for non-motorized road users,” said Chuck Grzanka, bike safety advocate and president of the law firm Grzanka Grit McDonald. Many cyclists, after being hit by a vehicle, have a long recovery road ahead–not only physically, but financially and legally.
When a collision happens, survival is priority, of course. But there are also crucial steps pedestrians and cyclists must take to protect themselves after they are hit by a car to begin the recovery process. A brush with death can leave even the steeliest two-wheeled warrior feeling a bit scattered, but knowing the right steps ahead of time will increase your chances of recovery, make the moments after an accident less stressful, and help streamline the claims process for a quick and full recovery.
What To Do if A Car Hits You While Riding
1. Move to a safe area (if you can).
If you’re conscious after being hit, do a quick systems check–are you able to move your limbs? Are there any injuries that make it impossible to move? If you’re able, move to the shoulder or sidewalk. One car has already hit you, so if possible, avoid being in the path of another.
2. Call 911.
Report the collision immediately, even if you don’t notice any injuries. Adrenaline is a powerful force in the body–when it’s coursing through your veins, your ability to feel pain is diminished. Traumatic brain injuries, back and spine injuries, and multiple fractures are common post-collision, and can be fatal. “Many times, a cyclist is not aware of the serious nature of their injuries until hours later, or even the next day,” said Grzanka.
Even if you think you’re fine, call 911 anyway. “Creating a legal record of exactly what happened will also assist the cyclist in defending any later potential claims of his alleged wrongdoing,” said Grzanka. “It also ensures you can’t later be accused of leaving the scene. Additionally, it’s a way to record the issue with the driver. Could they be under the influence? Do they have a history of reckless driving or road rage? By adding this to the public record, you cover yourself and could help other road users in the future.”
3. Keep your cool.
Yes, you’re feeling pissed off. That’s understandable, given that some jerk just tried to flatten you with a two-ton hunk of metal. Still, resist the urge to retaliate with your words or your fists. “It might feel good, but in a legal situation, those actions could be perceived as threatening or at least instigating any reaction by the driver.”
You should also avoid the other side of the coin, explained Grzanka. “For legal reasons, neither party should at the scene admit fault, even if the blame for the situation is obvious. That said, don’t be bullied into saying or doing anything that stops you from seeking police involvement, medical care, or getting eyewitnesses to accurately relay what happened to authorities when they arrive.”
4. Gather and store all potential information and evidence.
Gather as much detail as you can about the collision: time of day, location, weather and road conditions, auto description, vehicle plate. If the driver stops, collect his or her license number, insurance information, telephone, and address. If you have a cell phone, take photos of as much as you can. “It all matters,” said Grzanka. “I tend to think of it as gathering answers before questions are even asked.” Take plenty of photos, and don’t be afraid to identify and ask witnesses and bystanders to stay at the scene until they can share their own contact information.
Sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to do any of the steps outlined above. If you wake up in the hospital after being hit by a car, the aftermath of the collision begins with piecing together what happened. If you were unconscious or in critical condition, it’s possible others (police or a legal representative) began gathering evidence while you were being tended to by medical professionals. Still, even if you are hours (or days) removed from the event, write down or make a recording with any details you can recall. If you were riding with a friend or training group, ask them to provide their account of what happened. Obtain any information available about the collision, be it police reports (if any), documentation of your injuries (like medical charts and photographs) and any nearby businesses or homes with security cameras that may have footage of you being hit.
5. Know your rights.
Even law enforcement officers don’t always enforce the law, which can make filing a report a challenging process. “It’s important that every cyclist knows their rights,” said Grzanka. “It’s a shame, but we often see local law enforcement either misunderstand or simply not know what a cyclist is entitled to do, or where we are by law allowed to be a road user.”
There’s no guarantee that the responding officer will take the collision seriously, or even write the driver a ticket. Get the responding officer’s name and badge number, then contact cycling-specific legal counsel (like Bike Law, a network of independent lawyers and law firms serving cyclists) to ensure the law is followed as it’s written–not as one officer interpreted it. To review your area’s rules, visit this listing of bike laws by state compiled by Bicycle Universe.
6. Stay mum on social media.
After being hit by a car, many people are tempted to post on social media, either as a plea to track down a hit-and-run driver or to chronicle the aftermath. Grzanka explained though he understands why people do this, the reality is that it could backfire:
“We’ve seen cases where a driver has threatened to sue the cyclist who posted photos on social media for harassment, defamation, or invasion of privacy. As tempting as it might be to jump on Facebook or Twitter, it’s better to keep all the photos you’ve taken to yourself and share them with the authorities and your cycling lawyer only. Insurance companies love to mine social media looking for damaging admissions or pictures of less than serious injuries as may be evidenced by pictures of current physical activities.”
7. Get legal support before filing claims.
Start documenting expenses related to the collision: Medical bills, charges for fixing your bike, lost wages, mileage for going to doctor’s appointments—all of it. You’re going to give it all to the driver’s insurance company eventually, with the intent of recovering financially from the driver’s negligence. However, do not discuss anything with an insurance company before speaking with an attorney. Insurance companies are highly skilled at mitigating claims; seemingly innocuous statements, like “The car came out of nowhere!” can be used against you (“The cyclist was not paying attention.”) Adjusters can use this to deny or limit your claim, knowing you probably you probably won’t have the energy or legal savvy to fight them. Keep in mind that attorneys can be very pricey, so be sure to research the pay structure ahead of time.
8. Get involved.
Safer roads require all road users to work together–whether on two wheels, four, or more. “To understand your rights and advocate for cyclists, reach out to your local cycling advocacy group, cycling club, or even local law enforcement to learn more,” said Grzanka. “Stay involved, and try to play an active role in safe cycling in your community.”