As any bicyclist can tell you, it is potentially dangerous to share the road with motor vehicles. Not only do bicyclists need to exercise caution to avoid an accident, they also need to be aware of important laws before taking to the road. If you are ever injured in an accident, your actions will impact the ability to recover monetary compensation for your losses and injuries. It is critical that you abide by the rules. In an effort to protect bicyclists in the Huntsville area and throughout Alabama, below is information about the laws affecting them, as well as important safety tips.
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Bicyclists Have Rights … and Responsibilities
Bicyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as any other driver. When a bicyclist fails to adhere to the “Rules of the Road” or negligently operates a bicycle, the results could be tragic. If a bicyclist is involved in a vehicle-related accident resulting in injury or death, he or she could forfeit the right to pursue damages in a civil lawsuit if the other party can establish any type of contributory negligence. Alabama law on contributory negligence is harsh. Essentially, if an injured person is just one percent at fault for causing an accident, he or she is precluded from any recovery. For example, Alabama law requires a red rear reflector on bicycles for nighttime riding. Using “blinkys” (battery powered blinking lights) instead of a red rear reflector could be enough to establish that the rider was partially at fault, thus precluding any recovery of money for injuries suffered in the accident – even if the motor vehicle operator was 99 percent at fault for causing the accident. It is important to understand that failure to follow Alabama traffic laws may affect your civil claim for damages and it may even result in criminal penalties.
Alabama Bicycle Law
According to the Alabama Code, the state’s traffic laws apply to all bicyclists: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature can have no application.”
The Code goes on to state that it is against the law for a bicyclist to:
- Transport more people than a bicycle is designed or equipped to hold;
- Attach himself or herself to another vehicle while riding upon a bicycle;
- Ride more than two abreast, unless doing so along a specifically designed bicycle path;
- Share the road with other vehicles when an adjacent bicycle path has been provided;
- Transport packages or articles that prevent him or her from keeping at least one hand on the bicycle’s handlebars;
- Ride his or her bicycle on a sidewalk or sidewalk area, unless it is to access a driveway.
Bicyclists are also required by law to:
- Stay as far to the right side of the road as feasibly possible;
- Equip their bicycles with a white light lamp on the front for nighttime riding, which can be seen by oncoming drivers from at least 500 feet away;
- Equip their bicycles with a solid red reflector on the rear, which can be seen by a vehicle traveling anywhere from 100 feet to 600 feet behind the bicyclist;
- Have their bicycles equipped with a brake capable of making a skid on dry, clean pavement.
Bicyclists under the age of 16 are required by law to wear an approved helmet at all times when operating a bicycle, or when riding as a passenger on any public roadway or path. Child bicycle passengers who are less than 40 inches tall or who weigh less than 40 pounds must be properly secured in a bicycle-restraining seat, in addition to wearing an approved helmet.
The Alabama Bicycle Coalition provides an in-depth look at how the Alabama State Code applies to bicycles and bicyclists, as does BiciCoop.
Criminal Penalties for Violating Bicycle Laws in Alabama
Violating bicycle laws in our state is a misdemeanor offense. Parents who knowingly allow their children to violate any of these laws, such as allowing them to ride without an approved and correctly fitting helmet, could be held criminally responsible for their children’s actions. This means if a 13-year-old goes out riding without a helmet, or a younger child (who weighs less than 40 pounds) is allowed to ride as a passenger on a bicycle without the correct seat restraints, the parents may face legal trouble.
Cuts, scrapes and contusions are not uncommon injuries in bicycle riding, particularly in areas where the terrain is rough and where there are no designated paths. Those who ride along city streets are more likely to sustain injury in a motor vehicle versus bicycle accident. These types of accidents often cause broken bones, as well as head, back and neck injuries. Head injuries account for between 60 and 75 percent of all long-term disabilities and deaths from bicycle accidents.
Tips to Help Keep Bicyclists Safe
As a bicyclist, or a parent of children who ride bicycles, it is important to understand the different safety measures that can keep you and those you love safe. Following the laws on bicycle safety could save your life, and also protect your right to recover compensation should you be injured in a bicycle-related accident. It is also important to be aware of likely scenarios of motor vehicle-bicycle accidents.
To help keep you and your loved ones safe, here are some important safety tips:
- Abide by the helmet law at all times. Even if you are not required by law to wear a helmet due to your age, this safety feature is critical in helping riders avoid a serious head trauma in the event of an accident or collision. The most serious and potentially deadly cycling injuries involve head trauma. Wearing a helmet saves lives.
- Never ride on sidewalks. Ride along the right side of the road, as close to the curb as possible, or along designated bicycle paths. This way you will not put unsuspecting pedestrians at risk.
- Carefully observe parked vehicles. When riding past parked vehicles, move far enough to the left so that you can avoid colliding with an open door.
- Make sure your bicycle has a working front headlight and red rear reflector. These are not only important pieces of safety equipment which allow you to be seen at night, Alabama law requires them for all bicyclists.
- Follow the rules of the road. If you are sharing the road with other drivers and vehicles, you must adhere to the same rules and regulations.
- Exercise caution when driving past driveways and intersections. While you may be able to see the other driver or vehicle, never assume you can be seen.
- Wear bright clothing whether riding during the day or at night. Reflective clothing and lights can also help you remain visible to vehicles traveling in any direction.
- Keep your eyes on the road. Your senses of sight and hearing can save you from a tragic accident. Never wear headphones and stay alert!
- Use hand signals to indicate turns. Be sure to give yourself enough room to exercise your intended turn or lane change.
Yield to Life offers additional safety tips.
We hope this article will help protect you both out on the open road as well as in the courtroom. Attorneys Joe King and Joey Aiello of Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., have been devoted cyclists for years. We understand the dangers and joys that cyclists experience. If you or a loved one has been involved in a bicycle accident, you need to protect your rights. Consult with an experienced attorney before you contact the insurance company of the driver at fault. If you or a loved one would like to know more about your rights after a bicycle accident, please call our experienced bicycle accident attorneys in Huntsville (256) 274-8130, toll free 1-888-445-5585 or complete our quick contact web form.
From our office in Huntsville, Alabama, Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., serves clients in North Alabama and throughout Alabama, including Madison County, Morgan County, Limestone County, Marshall County, Cullman and Florence.
Harvey B. Morris is a lifelong Alabamian who has been practicing law in Huntsville since getting his law degree and passing the state bar in 1966.