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Legally Speaking: Avoid these five risky maneuvers

In my experience, roadies, especially, those with race experience, have a unique style. It makes sense. If you can ride around wet corners shoulder to shoulder with other riders who might be trying to knock you out of the way, handling traffic can seem … well, pedestrian. Of course, the truth is much more serious. Things can and do go wrong from time to time.

So, let’s look at five things you may do (or fail to do) on your rides and the possible consequences, if there is a crash. Of course, the answer will always depend on the facts and circumstances of the collision, including statements of all involved as well as witnesses. The outcome will also depend on the controlling law of the jurisdiction in which the collision occurs.

However, in general, here are five risky maneuvers you should avoid while riding in traffic.

1. The sitting duck

You want to cross to the other side of a multiple-lane, one-way street. There are few opportunities to do so because you are crossing without a light from a side street or driveway. You eyeball the horizon and see your chance. The next batch of land rockets is just launching off the green light and you won’t have much time to get make it to the other side between the tail end of the current group of passing vehicles and the next wave, which was just let out of the starting gates.

So, what do you do? You wait for the last two stragglers who have still to pass by, both of which are traveling in the middle lane, one in front of the other. You slowly roll across the first lane, which is open, and wait for your chance while doing a trackstand. You are now committed and the only safe haven is on the other side of the road. Then it happens. The second driver, who is in the middle lane following the other vehicle, decides to change lanes. He glances over his shoulder, moves left and steps on it — straight at you!

You can’t go forward or you will ride directly in front of the first vehicle, you can’t go in reverse, so there you are, a sitting duck. If you are struck by this accelerating driver, who will pay for your broken bike and ER visit?

LAW: You probably won’t get a ticket for this maneuver.

INSURANCE: Unless the driver admits to failing to keep a proper lookout or cops to being on the phone or speeding, expect his insurance company to take a defensive stand on this case. That means they are likely to deny that their driver is responsible for your damages.

ODDS OF COMPENSATION: Poor.

2. The slide by

Filtering past stopped cars is a common and even intuitive way to ride through gridlocked traffic.

Let’s say you are late for the start of your race and stuck riding a few blocks away in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. You and your teammates filter up and around all the parked or slowly rolling cars to make it to your start on time.

As you roll on the right past an innocent-looking stopped car, the passenger door opens without warning. You’ve been doored. If the passenger didn’t look before opening the door, it is his fault, right? Chances are, his insurance company will refuse to cover your lost racing and training time, your broken wheel, and your sprained and swollen ankle injury. Why? Right side passing is illegal in your state (as it is in most states) and based on this violation, the insurance company claims their driver and passenger are not responsible for your damages irrespective of the failure to check before exiting the vehicle.

LAW: You may or may not be ticketed for the “slide by.” It is actually legal to pass on the right in some jurisdictions. But even where it is prohibited, how many cyclists would commute in big cities if they had to sit in traffic queues breathing exhaust?

INSURANCE: Expect a denial of responsibility or, at best, an offer to cover only partial damages that you incur.

ODDS OF COMPENSATION: Fact and circumstance dependent, 50/50.

3. Just speedin’ in the rain

This is a real traffic infraction and this law applies to cyclists as well as motorists.

You get caught in a heavy downpour but are close to home, so you decide to keep the pressure on and are time trialing down the road when a driver in an SUV backs quickly out of a driveway directly into your line of travel. Because the road is wet and covered with debris, you go into a controlled skid before colliding with the side of the SUV. The SUV now has a big dent and your frame is cracked. The driver messed up by not yielding to you, but when you talk to his insurance company, they decline to pay for your damaged bike and instead tell you that you are on the hook for the expensive SUV repairs.

“I wasn’t speeding, it’s posted at 35 mph!” you protest.

This is, of course, true. However, the legal speed limit is always what is reasonable for the conditions. And those “conditions” include variables such as wet roads, fog, smoke, heavy traffic among others. So, now what?

LAW: It is possible to get a ticket for this collision, but more likely the problem will be with the insurance company of the SUV driver.

INSURANCE: “Too fast for conditions” is one of the “go to” defenses raised in bike collision cases — often with absolutely no merit. In the case where you were really pushing it for the conditions as they exist on the road, the outcome of your case will depend on the facts and circumstances around the collision, including both your statements and those from the driver and any witnesses to the crash.

ODDS OF COMPENSATION: Fact and circumstance dependent, 50/50.

4. Cheating the wind

Catching the draft of a motor vehicle is second nature for many roadies, as it is a normal training method for speed work. But what about when you jump on a vehicle in traffic and draft behind them?

Its been a day of full efforts and you are feeling really good so naturally, when you see a big truck lumbering from the light you don’t think twice and slot in behind for a little speed work to cap off the day’s training. (You made sure he wasn’t pulling a trailer before diving in, didn’t you?)

You get up to speed quickly and after awhile have had enough speed work and decide to swing off, but before you can clear his bumper on the right side, he hits his brakes. Even if he did it intentionally (which he will most likely not admit), who pays for the ambulance ride, trip to the ER, and trashed equipment?

LAW: You definitely can get a ticket for this move. I once did many years ago as a young, gung-ho, category 4 racer.

INSURANCE: In my view, the real hazard here is a mortal one. You can get seriously injured or worse from drafting at high speeds in traffic. Getting intentionally brake-checked is a real possibility, but there are many ways this can go wrong for you. “Following too close” is likely to be the argument used by the insurance company.

ODDS OF BEING COMPENSATED: Poor.

5. Where am I headed?

A.K.A. failure to indicate turns.

This is one of my biggest peeves against drivers. I say to myself, “OK, you are going to go wherever you like, whenever you like, but can you, at least, let me know where that is?”

Nope.

Failing to indicate your turning direction seems to afflict all sorts, both those behind the wheel as well as those upon two wheels. It is a courtesy you may not personally extend to other road users, but the law does require that you signal your turns.

For cyclists there is an exception to this rule. If it is unsafe to use a hand signal while you turning, you can keep both on the handlebars. But what if you are stopped at a stop sign facing a driver that is also facing a stop sign? You don’t signal and when he goes straight and you go left, he whacks you? You might be able rely the legal exception which allows you not to signal your turn, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid the collision in the first place? Couldn’t you have signaled before you began pedaling? For that matter, why not let drivers and other cyclists and pedestrians always know where you are headed?

If you get hit from behind by a motorist (or cyclist) overtaking you on the left as you are turning, because you didn’t signal before banking into your left-hand turn, who will be responsible? An unexpected overtaking vehicle can cause a lot of damage and the fact that you were not required to hold your hand out to signal as you turned will not save you medical bills and broken equipment. And did you signal before diving into the turn? Again, you might claim you needed both hands on the bars, but that may not fly with cops or in court.

LAW: In the case you fail to signal at a stop sign, you may or may not be able to rely on the signaling requirement exception. The same goes for the case in which you are struck from behind by an overtaking motorist or cyclist, but you may have to make that argument in traffic court after receiving a ticket.

INSURANCE: If you fall into one of the legal exceptions you may not receive a ticket, but you can be sure the insurance company will not accept liability in this case without a fight.

ODDS OF COMPENSATION: Fact and circumstance dependent, 50/50.

I have committed all of these roadie moves at one time or another over the past 40 years or riding. Yes, I pass on the right, which is legal in the state of Oregon, and still have a scar from a passenger-side dooring. I often smoke past 15mph-posted hairpins at 30 mph+ on my local favorite remote mountain descent, do the duck shuffle several times a day to get around the city, and even do the occasional non-consensual motor pacing. But I do all of this with full knowledge that if it goes wrong, I’m the one who will loose skin and suffer other injuries and expenses. But I also ride at a speed I can control and signal ALL of my turns. And as a roadie, you probably ride in some of these ways as well. If so, be aware that if it goes wrong, you may be left holding the bag and maybe a ticket, too.

Now read the fine print:

Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic Games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.

After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc.).

Mionske is also the author of “Bicycling and the Law,” designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem. If you have a cycling-related legal question please send it to Bob, and he will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at bicyclelaw.com.

Important notice:

The information provided in the “Legally Speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public website is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the website without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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