Bike-Car Accidents: The Struggle For Safe Bicycling In New York City

Twelve people died and 1,651 were injured riding bicycles in New York City in the first half of 2012 when they were struck by motor vehicles, according to police statistics reported by Streetsblog.

Common injuries from bike accidents include broken bones, burned or cut skin, teeth injury and head trauma that can cause brain injury, skull fractures and more.

Bicycle Use Growing

The New York City Department of Transportation, known as the NYCDOT, reports that commuting via bicycle in the city has "more than doubled" in the past six years or so, and about 500,000 residents use bicycles. The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has aggressively promoted a pro-bicycle agenda, adding 255 bike-lane miles to city streets and expanding both indoor and outdoor bike parking facilities.

The public seems to be warming to the idea of expanded bicycle use. For example, NYCDOT reports that in 2010 bike riders made up 12 percent of moving traffic during evening rush hour on Prospect Park West. The New York Times says that 66 percent of those surveyed in the city said that the bike lanes are a "good idea."

In March 2013, the Citi Bike program will put 10,000 new bicycles on New York City streets for public use. However, some worry that the program may bring a dangerous influx of inexperienced bikers into the already challenging dance between bicycles and motor vehicles in notoriously dangerous city traffic.

Insufficient Law Enforcement

News articles are replete with reports that the New York Police Department issues almost no traffic citations in bicycle-motor vehicle accidents mainly because the department only investigates cases of death or near death, and that even in fatal bike-car crashes, drivers are rarely cited with speeding, careless or distracted driving or other traffic violations.

This begs the question: What about New York City cyclists severely injured when hit by negligent or drunk motorists? If injury accidents rarely draw attention from police, how are other drivers deterred from taking similar risks? Further, the victims frequently do not have the usual official accident reports to assist them in establishing the facts for their own civil personal injury lawsuits.

Safety advocates, families of victims and New York City Council members are pushing for the NYPD to increase bike-car-accident training of its officers, assign more of them to cover these crashes throughout the boroughs and expand investigations to include accidents causing severe injury, not just death or expected death.

In late July 2012, families and council members met in front of City Hall for a press conference about the problem, according to The New York Observer. Family members told stories about the deaths of loved ones in New York City accidents where little or no official investigation was conducted. Council members announced a package of proposed legislation and resolutions that call on the NYPD to increase law-enforcement accident-investigation training, investigate more serious accidents even if they don't cause death, file thorough accident reports, and issue a "crash response plan," among other things.

Legal Remedies For Bike-Accident Victims

New York City requires bicyclists to follow the rules of the road and grants riders the right to use all "main and local streets," even those without bike lanes. Equally and arguably more important for safety, drivers of passenger vehicles, taxis, trucks and busses have the duty to respect bike lanes and drive with reasonable care around bikers in traffic by complying with traffic laws and looking out for the safety of bikers.

It is particularly important for an injured New York City bicycle-accident victim to engage legal counsel immediately to commence an investigation before evidence is gone and witnesses lost because of the possibility that an official investigation of the crash will not happen or, if one is done, that it might be less than sufficiently comprehensive.

This evidence can be important in a lawsuit for wrongful death or negligence in a bicycle-motor vehicle accident. An experienced New York City personal injury attorney can advise the victim or his or her family of potential legal remedies for recovery of damages for medical bills, property damage and other losses.

D. Carl Lustig III, of Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., a prominent New York City personal injury law firm, notes that many bicyclists do not own automobiles and are unfamiliar with the intricacies of automobile insurance. A cyclist may not realize that the insurance carrier for the vehicle that struck him or her is responsible for providing "no-fault" insurance that will cover health care bills and help with lost earnings and other expenses, regardless of who was at fault. In addition, if the motor-vehicle driver is at fault, then the bicyclist may be able to sue for money damages, including for pain and suffering.

Because all of this can get complicated, and there are deadlines that must be complied with, Lustig urges any bicyclist who has been injured in a bike-car accident to consult immediately with an experienced personal injury lawyer.