Recently involved in an accident with a bicyclist. Who is at fault here?

Discussion in 'Commuting and Road Safety' started by curiousdriver, Aug 8, 2011.

  1. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    Hello, I just joined this forum to get the opinions of people who are experienced in riding bicycles. I am not, but I was recently involved in an accident with one. This is how it occurred:

    I was driving down a hill with 4 lanes, 2 lanes going each way. On my side of the road, the far right lanes are frequently parked in because there is a park/rec center on the right. When a car is parked in that lane, other cars cannot drive in it because the lane is not large enough for 2 cars. I pulled my car behind several parked cars as I was going to take my kids to the park. I then realized that the back of my car was sticking out into a bus stop, so I needed to move. I then proceeded to pull out to the left lane to move ahead of the parked cars that were in front of me. I checked my mirrors and no cars were coming so I proceeded into the left lane. I then slowly drove forward and pulled right into a parking space right after another car. Then a short time after "boom", a cyclist and my car collided. I admit that I did not check very well to the right because a moving car could not have been in that lane since it was filled with parked cars and there is no bike lane present.

    Thankfully the cyclist was not badly injured. Her bike suffered some slight damage, but nothing very major. In fact, my car probably sustained more damage. We got along to discussing the accident and I explained how I didn't see her (obviously) and how I didn't expect anyone, car or bike to be passing me on the right. She said that she saw me pull out to the left and thought I was leaving down the road and didn't expect me to pull back to the right to park again. This is a relatively steep hill, so she was going to quickly to stop in time and she didn't want to jam on her brakes and possibly launch herself onto the road over the handlebars.

    Naturally at the time I felt awful and I offered to assist in anyway I could. This included paying for damages to the bike. Now that I've had time to think about it and do some research into it, I'm not sure that I am truly 100% at fault here. I even spoke to a traffic court judge for his opinion and he said he felt it was the bicyclist at fault since she tried to pass me in a lane that was was already occupied. He felt she should have been more cautious and treated herself like a vehicle and waited behind to pass because the space between my car and the parked cars she was trying to pass through was narrow (less than 10-15 ft). The cyclist has contacted me and now wants the payment for her damages. The bill isn't very high, but if I'm not 100% at fault here, I don't feel 100% comfortable paying for it. I offered to just have both sides just walk away from this since I have to pay for my car damages as well, but she doesn't agree. She says the responsibility is on me to check for obstacles before changing lanes to park. I don't disagree with that completely, but should bicyclists be passing cars on the right in an area so small in an occupied lane? What do you you guys think? Should I just pay this and be done with it? Or do I have some grounds to stand on? Thank you for any feedback you all can provide.
     
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  2. 64Paramount

    64Paramount Active Member

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    Let me ask you this:

    Was the cyclist actually trying to pass you on the right? Was she hurrying with the sole intent of getting past your car?

    Or was she just riding along normally and you braked, and made an unexpected turn right in front of her?

    I think that is what you have to ask yourself.....did I cause this because I acted in an unexpected manner and caused damage to another person's property?

    Or, I acted in an expected manner and signaled my intent to turn and anyone following me should have known exactly what I was going to do.

    If you're honest with yourself, you'll know the right answer and the right thing to do.
     
  3. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    Thank you for your response.

    The cyclist said to me she thought I was going to continue driving down the hill and was going to pass on the right. I didn't suddenly just pull in back to the right, I was moving very slowly as I didn't need to move very far. The cyclist told me that I wasn't driving unsafe or anything, it just was a bad timing thing. From what I gathered from some witnesses at the park, the cyclist was "flying down the hill" (their words, not mine). The thing that gets me is that I was looking for cyclists on the left because I had recalled seeing a tandem bicycle going down the hill (I passed them) so I made sure to look for them when going back out to the left. I just didn't expect a bicycle to come speeding down on the right.

    But the truth is I did not signal I was turning back to the right so I cannot assume she should have known my intentions. I did do some reading on bicycle safety and it's pretty common recommendation to not pass on the right. Especially since this person was coming down in such a narrow area where she would possibly be in my blind spot anyway. But it's not a rule, it's just a recommendation for safety purposes.
     
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  4. davereo

    davereo Well-Known Member

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    The cyclist was riding as far right as possible which was her safe lane. You cut into her path and caused the impact to happen.
     
  5. sitzmark

    sitzmark Member

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    Did the cyclist hit the rear of your vehicle or the side? You "checked for cars" before pulling out into the left lane, bu t did you anticipate and look for motorcycles and/or bicycles?

    The presence (or absence) of a bike lane isn't particularly relevant. Obviously if one had been present, you would have had greater visual input to remind you scan for cyclists around you. Bicyclists are legally required to ride as far to the right as safely possible, so her position on the roadway was consistent with where she should have been riding ... in this case very near the center line of the 2-lanes. That said, regardless if you were impacted by a bicycle or motorcycle (or car), the right lane was "active" whether you thought it to be or not.

    So as Parmount 64 noted - were you signaling your intended actions to turn right? Were your brake lights activated indicating you were slowing/stopping? As long as you signaled your intentions, you are not at fault (my opinion). In most situations where one vehicle overtakes another from behind, the right of way belongs to the vehicle ahead. Any vehicle (car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, etc) trying to overtake the lead vehicle must do safely and in compliance with published traffic laws. Again, that said, if you didn't signal your intentions you were most likely not following traffic laws and therefore share some responsibility. If you were not actually ahead of the cyclist when you moved right into the parking space, then you are more likely 100% at fault (my opinion) because the cyclist "owned" the right of way for the right hand lane at that point.

    If you really want to know the legal responsibilities involved (and financial responsibility), a small claims court judge is probably your best "authority" for interpretation traffic laws as they relate to this specific event. and whatever version of facts (yours or hers) represent what actually happened.
     
  6. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    Good responses and thank you for sharing your points of view. I am not a bicycle rider so I am not familiar with a situation like this. So to answer some of the questions, I did look for bicycles. As stated, I had seen a tandem bicycle on my way down the hill and I made sure they had passed before going back out into the left lane. I hit the cyclist with the side of my car. No I didn't signal, but yes, my brake lights were activated as I was moving very slowly.

    I guess the only hesitation I had about fault here was the passing on the right. I cannot say for sure if the cyclist was trying to pass me or if she was already established riding in the right lane and moved over just to avoid the parked cars. Witnesses told me she was moving down the hill very quickly so that could explain how I didn't see her when I checked and saw the tandem bicycle pass. The cyclist said she saw me pull out to the left and assumed I was continuing down the hill. She even stated she shouldn't have tried to pass me and assume I was moving on.

    I am going to pay for the damages no question at this point. I don't feel it is worth it to either party to make this an ugly thing when it doesn't need to be. I just wanted to hear from experienced cyclists regarding this. I have definitely learned a lot from this. I'll be more cautious and aware of my surroundings when driving. Curious though, as experienced cyclists here, in this situation would you have done the same thing as this person did or would you have been riding in the left lane? I travel down this hill frequently and there are parked cars in the right lane a lot so I am wondering what cyclists would normally do on a road like this. I didn't think someone would try to pass on a bicycle in such a small area, the space between parked cars and the left lane is very narrow.
     
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  7. jhuskey

    jhuskey Moderator

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    It is my experience that in most areas cyclist are required to ride to the right of the lane as far as practical. This sounds like what happened but it is still difficult to determine exactly what occured. It is also my experience that in most accidents clear liablity is not always easily determined and concurrent causation may apply. This would mean both of you may share some responsibility. So consider the actions of both parties and use comparitive fault considering what was a reasonable course of action at the time.
     
  8. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    I drove by the road again today and looked at the width of the lane in which she was riding. With a car parked in it, there is probably 4-5 ft of distance to the next lane. To me it appears to be dangerous for a cyclist to be riding down that lane regardless because of cars opening doors and the little amount of space to manuever out of the way if a door or car was to suddenly appear. This is why I asked all of you if you would have been riding in that lane to begin with. This isn't about fault anymore, I am just curious as to safety wise if this cyclist was doing the right thing.
     
  9. davereo

    davereo Well-Known Member

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    Hire a lawyer. They love to debate the shit out of everything. Maybe you should take up cycling and then you can go back to the scene and take a look from a cyclist perspective.
    Check with your local RMV and read up on the cycling laws in your state. Apparently you are consumed with guilt.
     
  10. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    Oh please. LOL, man I'm trying to ask experts on this their take on this situation and you come with that. Do I feel guilty? Of course I do, I hit another human being with my vehicle. I'm just looking into the situation in more detail for my own sake and for future reference. I see a lot of cyclists in my area and the more I know the better IMO. I did look up cycling rules/laws for my city as well, but let's be honest here. Drivers and cyclists don't follow the law all the time. Thus I'm inquiring to people in a cycling forum for their opinion on the matter. If you want to be an ass about it, please just ignore the thread.
     
  11. davereo

    davereo Well-Known Member

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    Agreed cyclist and motorist dont always follow all the rules. When something goes wrong revert back to the rules.

    This is a public forum and I will post on this thread as I feel.
     
  12. sitzmark

    sitzmark Member

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    The actual usable lane width would be a key factor in determining where I would ride. Very hard to speculate, but in general in a situation as you describe I would most likely ride just to the right of the lane markers or just to the left. (Riding on the paint is usually to be avoided - slick when wet and uneven when dry because the paint changes the way the pavement responds to environment.)

    Opening doors is a critical concern when riding around parked cars. 4-5 feet away is a minimum distance if traveling with any amount of speed. Trying to "shoot a gap" between parked cars on the right and a car traveling the same direction in an adjacent left lane is risky. In that type of scenario, "good judgment" would suggest adjusting speed to that of cars in the left lane. No offense intended, but if I saw you pull to the right and stop, then pull out and "wander" in the left lane, I would have be muttering to myself, "what is this goober doing?". No question I would have been expecting you to do something "stupid". At that point my speed would have been severely dialed back.

    Maybe she didn't see all of your previous moves, but seeing you moving slowly in the left lane should have given her some pause. Technically she owned the right lane (if she was in it), but that doesn't mean she doesn't have to pay attention to traffic conditions around her. You should have signaled your intent to move right, but didn't. She should have allowed for unexpected events in a narrow corridor - sounds like she didn't. Passing on the right is "fuzzy" because there were two separate lanes. In city driving, it isn't realistic to expect all passing to be done on the left when two or more lanes travel in the same direction. That said, there is still a responsibility to yield to traffic ahead and for traffic ahead to signal direction changes and not "cut off" trailing traffic by making lane changes with too little lead space. Due to all of the variables there are no hard rules for this, so good judgment has to prevail.

    ... and some times accidents just happen ...
     
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  13. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    Fair enough man, I didn't come in here to start anything or ruffle feathers. Thanks!
     
  14. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    haha.....yeah, I admit the moving to the right, then back out to the left and slowing down was certainly a "goober" move. I had realized I was sticking out into a bus stop, so I pulled out, only to travel a few car lengths down to pull back in. I regret not signaling, that is for sure. She did state she saw me pulled to the right lane and then moving out to the left, but assumed I was continuing on down the hill. There was a lot of cars parked on the right so the gap was definitely in that risky area as you stated for a while.

    I agree, sometimes accidents just happen and there is just bad timing, bad judgement, etc involved as well. This is why I decided to just pay for everything regardless of the outcome of my inquiries of who was technically "at fault". I appreciate yours (and everyone's) honest input about this situation. I feel I have learned a lot about cycling and driving safety and at least I can take that away from this experience.
     
  15. davereo

    davereo Well-Known Member

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    Do you have a valid drivers license?
     
  16. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    nope, I'm an illegal alien
     
  17. curiousdriver

    curiousdriver New Member

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    /img/vbsmilies/smilies/rolleyes.gif
     
  18. Chavez

    Chavez New Member

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    I don't know who is "at fault" but I will say that she should have been riding very carefully after observing some driver making a bunch of goober moves in front of her. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif
     
  19. sitzmark

    sitzmark Member

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    Just to clarify, I'm not saying you didn't have a valid reason for repositioning you car ... just that I wouldn't have known about the bus zone and therefore would have interpreted your described movements as erratic and unpredictable. My inclination would have been to be extra cautious in such a situation, but that also has the benefit of calmly reading through the details in the past tense. In real life, at real time, I may have interpreted the situation differently - who knows? Wish I could say that I've never made a questionable decision in my life, but can't honestly say that.

    The best news is that no one was seriously injured and both of you were able to add a datapoint to your life-bank of knowledge and experience. However, if it happens again ... :)
     
  20. jhuskey

    jhuskey Moderator

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    Then you have nothing to worry about and no way to track you.
    Seriously I have two personal injury claims on my desk I am working on right now and fault is subjective to perspective. Don't think you need an attorney. I would suggest a compromise settlement in that you might share some of the liability and pay part of the damages.
    Please note I am posting from an outside perspective without a lot of facts so the decision is yours of course.
     
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