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Hazardous Road Conditions and Bicycle Accidents

At Bay Area Bicycle Law, we get to advocate for bicyclists and help injured cyclists secure justice every day. But the downside of getting to do this work is having to see just how many people are injured in bike crashes. Over the past year, as COVID caused a surge in bicycle ridership and a (temporary) decrease in motor vehicle traffic, we saw an increase in bicycle crashes that involved hazardous road conditions such as potholes.

Common Bicycle Road Hazards

Bicycle-car accident statistics show that while bike-car crashes tend to be the most dangerous types of accidents, the most common bicycle accidents don’t involve cars. One study that looked at emergency room data found that 70% of reported bicycle injuries did not involve a motor vehicle. (Stutts, J.C. and W.W. Hunter. Injuries to Pedestrians and Bicyclists: An Analysis Based on Hospital Emergency Department Data. Publication FHWA-RD-99-078. FHWA, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1997.) And – bicycle crashes that don’t involve cars can still be very serious or deadly.

Some of these hazards appear in the form of cracked pavement, potholes, broken or outdated drainage grates, train tracks, slick spots caused by oil, or broken glass on the road. Other hazards are less apparent, such as confusing or fading bicycle lane markings, malfunctioning sensors, or missing signs.

Avoiding Roadway Hazards

Although it may seem obvious, it is worth a reminder that one of the best ways to avoid a bicycle accident involving a roadway hazard is to keep your head up and your eyes scanning the road ahead of you. Many California bicycle accidents occur when a cyclist is inattentive of the path ahead of them. If you get too comfortable riding the same path regularly, you may forget to scan the road ahead of you for potential hazards.

If you spot a hazard well in advance, of course, it makes it easier for you to safely maneuver around it to avoid an accident – rather than noticing it at the last second and having to slam on your brakes or swerve suddenly.

What To Do If You Encounter Roadway Hazards

Report Hazards

You can help fellow cyclists by reporting hazards such as potholes and road damage to the local government (the city or county) responsible for the road, or landowner, if the land is privately owned. Reporting a roadway hazard ideally results in the hazard being fixed, or at least clearly marked, to prevent bike accidents.

However, even if the hazard isn’t fixed, reporting the hazard can still help. When a cyclist is injured in an accident caused by a road hazard, in order to win a personal injury claim, the cyclist will usually need to prove that the government or private landowner had notice that the hazard existed.

Document Conditions

If you are injured in an accident caused by a road hazard, and think you might want to pursue a personal injury case, documentation is key. Take photos and videos of the hazard immediately, if you can.

Make sure to include objects for scale – ideally using a tape measure to show the size of the road hazard. Document all of the dimensions of a road defect such as a crack or pothole – length, width, and depth – and document it from different angles. In particular, make sure you have evidence of what the hazard looks like as a cyclist approaches it.

If you are not able to document the defect immediately after the crash, go back and document it—or send a friend to—as soon as possible. If the roadway is fixed before you can document the hazard, it may be impossible to prove your case.  Ideally, photographs and video should be taken around the same time of day as the accident occurred, since lighting and shadows can greatly impact how visible a hazard is, and the visibility of the hazard will likely be an issue in your case.

Contact an Experienced Bicycle Accident Lawyer

Contacting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible is important, too.  Just because you are injured in an accident caused by a roadway hazard doesn’t mean that you will have a valid claim against the government or landowner.  As mentioned earlier, you usually need to prove that the entity had notice of the hazard, among other requirements. Additionally, lawsuits can be expensive and not worth if it you just have scrapes and bruises.

A lawyer can help you determine if you do have a good claim, and the sooner you contact a lawyer, the better. An experienced personal injury lawyer will start collecting evidence right away, and will send an expert out to further document the road hazard as soon as possible. Additionally, claims against governments have shortened statutes of limitations – and if you wait too long, you won’t be able to sue the government entity no matter how strong your case is.

The attorneys at Bay Area Bicycle Law specialize in bicycle accidents and can ensure that your claim is handled quickly and professionally to get you the compensation and results that you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.