Mark Wolfe – September 2021
It’s not surprising we represent dozens of injury and death claims related to cycling crashes every year. That’s because Alabama bike crash law and safety consistently falls near the bottom of the annual ranking by bike safety advocacy organizations. A lack of infrastructure allowing motorists and cyclists to safely share the road; weak legislation and enforcement; and general anti-bicyclist bias leave Alabama 45th out of 50 on the 2019 Bicycle Friendly State Report Card.
For the past 20 years I’ve taken part in bike races and triathlons as an avid part of the Mobile Bay-area bicycle community. Groups of us gather on early mornings or late afternoons to ride together in large safe numbers, well-outfitted in safety gear and lights, following every safety rule of the road. Still, most all of us can count some injury from an accident or crash involving a motorist.
A Seasoned Cyclist and an Everyday Danger
In a recent case, we recovered damages for a local cyclist hit and injured after a careless driver ran a stop sign. Amy was riding in the mid-afternoon, wearing highly visible attire and a helmet with headlight. She proceeded with the right of way when the driver failed to pay attention and drove right into her. Fortunately, the helmet saved her from serious injury. While not a high-profile or high-dollar case, we vigorously fought for the compensation she was due in not only a defense of her rights as a cyclist but a statement of advocacy for those who enjoy biking across Alabama.
Why Alabama’s Contributory Negligence Law Matters
First and foremost, it’s essential to understand Alabama bike crash law for all ages. Alabama bicyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as any other driver. When those “rules of the road” are violated or a bicyclist is negligent, the results can be tragic. Alabama is one of just two states with a contributory negligence law. Contributory negligence means even in a crash resulting in injury or death, you may forfeit the right to pursue damages in a civil lawsuit if the other party can establish any negligence on your part. Alabama law regarding contributory negligence is especially tough. Essentially, if an injured person is just one percent at fault for causing an accident, they may be 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. Failing to follow basic Alabama traffic rules may impact your claim for damages and even result in criminal penalties of your own. Make sure you understand the law.
Alabama Bicycle Law
Alabama Code applies all state traffic laws to bicyclists as well: “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.”
Under the Code, it is illegal 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.
Bike Helmets Are a Must
Alabama law requires those under 16 to always wear an approved helmet 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. Parents may be liable if they knowingly allow their children to violate any of these laws. Is your 13-year-old out riding without a helmet? You could face legal trouble.
Tips to Help Keep Cyclists Safe
As a bicyclist, or a parent of children who ride bicycles, it’s important to not only understand Alabama bike crash law but safety measures that can keep you and those you love safe.
- Abide by the helmet law at all times. Even if your age does not require it, 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.
- 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.
- Be especially vigilant at driveways and intersections. While you may be able to see the other driver or vehicle, never assume they can see you.
- 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. Stay alert – headphones can be a distraction.
- Use hand signals to indicate turns. Be sure to give yourself enough room to exercise your intended turn or lane change.
What is Alabama’s Three-Feet Law?
Alabama approved a “Safe Passing Law” in 2015, requiring motorists maintain a minimum 3-feet space between their vehicle and any bicycle it approaches and passes. The problem? It only applies when there is a marked bike lane, on certain higher-speed roadways, or when a bicyclist legally rides within two feet of the right shoulder of a roadway. These limitations are severe and undermine the law’s ability to protect a cyclist.
Alabama is now putting federal dollars to work on several bicycling and walking projects – a trend in the right direction. Laws that better encourage and protect cyclists and pedestrians; and a commitment to Complete Streets with future road planning would do much to improve Alabama’s dismal Bicycle Friendly report card rating.
What If I’ve Been in a Bike Crash?
First and foremost, we don’t call them bike accidents, and neither should you. The word “accident” implies the incident was “unavoidable.” There’s a big difference in an accident… and a crash. Consider the safety tips below:
- Always carry a cell phone, personal identification, emergency contact and something to write with.
- Dial 911: call the police or an ambulance immediately. If you are unable to do so, ask for help.
- Always wait for the police to arrive and file an official report. A police report provides documentation detailing the incident, including the identity of witnesses.
- Get the business card of the officer.
- Leave your bike in the same state it was after the crash, if possible. It is best if the police see the accident scene undisturbed.
- Were there witnesses? Make sure to obtain their contact information.
- Immediately seek medical attention, either at the scene, the emergency room, hospital or doctor’s office. If in doubt, always go to the ER. Medical records are proof of your injuries and their extent.
- Take photos of injuries and your bicycle.
- Never negotiate with the driver of the vehicle, regardless of who may be at fault. Get the driver’s name and his or her insurance information, along with the names of any passengers.
- Make no statement to insurance until you talk to a lawyer.
The Alabama Bicycle Coalition provides an in-depth look at how the Alabama State Code applies to bicycles and bicyclists, along with advocacy programs and events statewide. There are plenty of ways to support legislation and awareness programs to make sharing the roads safer for all of us.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a bicycle crash, make sure to consult an attorney seasoned in Alabama bike crash law. We’re passionate about the rights of cyclists and ensuring your compensation when another driver is at fault. Please call us for a no-fee no-pressure consultation: 251.433.7766.