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Bicycle Safety And Prevent Accidents

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Each year, there are more than 1,000 bicycle crashes in Wisconsin. The latest figures from the Wisconsin DOT show that 11 bicyclists were killed and 1,049 were injured in 2012 (most recent figures available). Most bicycle accidents occur between the hours of 3PM – 7PM, the hours after school and the prime time that adults commute from work.   Sadly, children sustain between 1/3 and 1/2 of all bicycle injuries each year.


The two most common types of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes involve a motorists failing to yield the right of way to a straight- through bicyclist when they make a left turn and a bicyclist riding through a sign control; and motorists turning right on a red. It’s no surprise that, much like with motorcycles, bicycle injuries can be very serious when hit by a car as they have very little to protect them, with injuries ranging from back & neck injuries, to multiple broken bones, to traumatic head injuries, to death.


While improvements to bicyclist safety have been made in areas such as engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency response, the number of bicyclists killed statewide has remained steady for the past 23 years.  


In addition to adhering to Wisconsin bicycle laws (a current list is noted at the bottom of this article), remaining vigilant and following some safety tips can help you help you avoid accidents this season.    


  • Obey traffic signs and signals - Bicycles must follow the rules of the road like other vehicles.


  • Never ride against traffic - Motorists aren't looking for bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the road. State law and common sense require that bicyclists drive like other vehicles.


  • Follow lane markings - Don't turn left from the right lane. Don't go straight in a lane marked “right-turn only.”
As noted above, these two factors are the key issues in most bicycle and vehicle crashes

  • Don’t pass on the right - Motorists may not look for or see a bicycle passing on the right.


  • Scan the road behind you - Learn to look back over your shoulder without losing your balance or swerving. Some riders use rear-view mirrors.


  • Keep both hands ready to brake - You may not stop in time if you brake one-handed. Allow extra distance for stopping in the rain, since brakes are less efficient when wet.


  • Wear a helmet and never ride with headphones - Always wear a helmet. Never wear a headphone while riding a bike.


  • Dress for the weather - In rain wear a poncho or waterproof suit. Dress in layers so you can adjust to temperature changes. Wear bright colored clothing.


  • Use hand signals - Hand signals tell motorists and pedestrians what you intend to do. Signal as a matter of law, of courtesy, and of self-protection.


  • Ride in the middle of the lane in slower traffic - Get in the middle of the lane at busy intersections and whenever you are moving at the same speed as traffic.


  • Choose the best way to turn left – There are two choices: (1) Like an auto: signal to move into the left turn lane and then turn left. (2) Like a pedestrian: ride straight to the far side crosswalk. Walk your bike across.


  • Make eye contact with drivers - Assume that other drivers don't see you until you are sure that they do. Eye contact is important with any driver which might pose a threat to your safety.


  • Look out for road hazards - Watch out for parallel-slat sewer grates, gravel, ice, sand or debris. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.


  • Use lights at night - The law requires a white headlight (visible from at least 500 feet ahead) and a rear reflector or taillight (visible up to 300 feet from behind).


  • Keep your bike in good repair - Adjust your bike to fit you and keep it working properly. Check brakes and tires regularly. Routine maintenance is simple and you can learn to do it yourself.

If you are biking and involved in a crash with a vehicle, treat the crash the same as you would two cars crashing. If someone is injured, call 911 to request medical attention and police.   Even if there are no immediate injuries to the rider and/or driver, you should still contact the police as soon as possible so a police report can be made.  Police reports are used to obtain the identity of the parties involved, identify any potential witnesses, obtain statements from the parties and witnesses, and make diagrams of the accident location.


If the driver of an automobile negligently hits a bicycle rider, that bike rider will be entitled to recover against the at fault driver for their injuries, pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of income and any other losses related to the collision.   Having a detailed report from the police is a great help to those trying to recover damages.  


When it comes to sharing Wisconsin roads, regardless of what you’re driving, riding or if you’re walking, taking some preventative steps, knowing the laws and remaining alert is a key to your safety.


If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, call us to discuss your case.   At LeBell, Dobroski, Morgan & Meylink we have the experience and knowledge necessary to properly defend your rights and help you receive the compensation you deserve. 


WISCONSIN BIKE LAWS

  • Lane Positioning - Always ride on the right, in the same direction as other traffic.

  • Ride as far to the right as is practicable (not as far right as possible).  Practicable generally means safe and reasonable.  A few situations when it is not practicable to ride far to the right.

  • When overtaking and passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction;

  • When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or driveway;

  • When reasonably necessary to avoid unsafe conditions, including fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or substandard width lanes [defined as a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and motor vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane].

  • One Way Streets – Bicycles on a one-way street with 2 or more lanes of traffic may ride as near to the left or right-hand edge or curb of the roadway as practicable (in the same direction as other traffic). 

  • Use of Shoulders – Bicycles may be ridden on the shoulder of a highway unless prohibited by local authorities. 

  • Riding 2-Abreast – Riding 2 abreast is permitted on any street as long as other traffic is not impeded.  When riding 2 abreast on a 2 or more lane roadway, you both have to ride within a single lane.

  • Hand Signals – Bicyclists are required to use the same hand signals as motorists. Hand signals are required within 50 feet of your turn.  It is not required continuously if you need both hands to control the bicycle.

  • Passing – A motorist passing a bicyclist in the same lane is require to give the bicyclist at least 3 feet of clearance, and to maintain that clearance until safely past. A bicyclist passing a stopped or moving vehicle is also required to give at least 3 feet of clearance when passing. 

  • Use of Sidewalks – State Statutes allow local units of government to permit vehicles on sidewalks though local ordinances.   When bicycles are allowed to be operated on sidewalks, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and give an audible warning when passing pedestrians traveling in the same direction. At intersections and other sidewalk crossings (alleys, driveways), a bicyclist on the sidewalk has the same rights and duties as pedestrians. 

  • Bicycling at Night – Bicycling at night requires at least a white front headlight and a red rear reflector.  The white front light must be visible to others 500 feet away.  The red rear reflector must be visible to others between 50 and 500 feet away.  A red or amber steady or flashing rear light may be used in addition to the required reflector.  These are required no matter where you ride—street, path or sidewalk. 

  • Duty to report accident – The operator of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person, or total damage to property owned by any one person of $1,000 or more shall immediately give notice of such accident to the police.  “injury” means injury to a person of a physical nature resulting in death or the need of first aid or attention by a physician or surgeon, whether or not first aid or medical or surgical treatment was actually received; “total damage to property owned by one person” means the sum total cost of putting the property damaged in the condition it was before the accident or the sum total cost of replacing such property.  This section does not apply to accidents involving only vehicles propelled by human power.