Common Bicycle Accident Scenarios
The following scenarios are common among bicycle-motor vehicle collisions:
- Left-hand turn collision: California Vehicle Code section 21801(a) states that all drivers attempting a left-hand turn must first check for and yield to any vehicles coming from the opposite direction, including bicycles. Unfortunately, many drivers do not see bicyclists coming and crash into them while making a left turn.
- Sideswipe: All motorists are expected to give bicyclists enough space when passing. However, some motorists get impatient and attempt extremely risky passes, which can result in a sideswipe collision or the bicyclist getting run off the road.
- Dooring: On many streets, the bicycle lane is adjacent to the parking lane, without much space in between. In this type of accident, a motorist forgets to check for bicyclists before exiting his or her parked vehicle, which leads to the unlucky bicyclist crashing into the door or getting run out of the lane. In either scenario, the consequences can be deadly.
- Intersection collisions: A motorist may fail to stop at an intersection, or fail to yield to a crossing bicyclist, causing an injurious or fatal collision.
Of course, there are bicycle accident cases which do not involve motorists. Unsafe roadway conditions and defective bicycle design/manufacturing can contribute to bike accidents, as well, and if they do, those road designers and bike manufacturers may be held liable, too.
Types of Brain Injuries a Victim May Suffer
Even with helmets on, bicyclists are at elevated risk for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in a collision, such as:
- Concussion: The "mildest" form of TBI, concussions still present a risk of long-term brain damage if the victim has already suffered previous concussions, or suffers additional ones in the future. This can lead to a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is linked to serious brain damage in professional football players and other athletes.
- Contusion: Contusions are similar to “bruises” on the brain, which can result in swelling and internal bleeding. Surgery may be required to relieve pressure on the brain and prevent further damage.
- Rotation or shaking injury: If the victim is shaken in the crash, he or she can suffer brain tissue tearing, internal bleeding, and more.
- Coup-contrecoup injury: Occurs when the head is snapped back and forth, causing damage to both sides of the brain, usually cerebral contusions and subarachnoid hemorrhage. The frontal and temporal lobes are most often affected by a coup-contrecoup injury.
- Penetrating or "open" injury: When an object penetrates the skull and reaches the brain, it is known as an "open" brain injury. A skull fracture may also lead to this injury. Immediate dangers include cerebral hemorrhage, brain tissue damage, and swelling. Open injuries are visible; “closed” head injuries like concussions, contusions, and coup-contrecoup are not.
Symptoms of a TBI include a headache, nausea, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating or remembering, slurred speech or dilated pupils, excessive fatigue, and seizures or convulsions. If you suspect a head injury, get medical help immediately.
Bicycle Accident Statistics
In 2017, 5,783 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in the United States, according to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Bicyclist fatalities increased by 32% in the 10-year period between 2008 and 2017. During that same period, total traffic fatalities decreased by 0.8%.
In a study published in Injury Prevention, researchers collected data from patients at Seattle-area emergency rooms who suffered bicycle injuries over a 2.5-year period. The study found that:
- Over 70% of the patients who sustained bicycle injuries were male.
- Almost half of the patients were children age 12 and under.
- About half of the injured bicyclists were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
- Approximately 60% suffered injuries to the upper extremity. About one-third suffered facial injuries, and about 22% sustained head injuries.
- The most common mechanism of injury (50% of all injuries) was a bicyclist losing control and hitting the ground, 29% was due to a collision with an obstacle, and 15.3% were involved in a crash with a motor vehicle.
- Bicyclists not wearing helmets were 14.3 times more likely to die in a crash than those wearing helmets. In other words, wearing a helmet was associated with a 93% decrease in the risk of fatality.
In California, bicyclist injury rates increased by 21%, from 28.4 per 100,000 residents in 2007 to 34.4 per 100,000 residents in 2013, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
During this period, San Joaquin and Sacramento Counties had the most bicyclist fatalities, and Inyo and Santa Cruz Counties had the most non-fatal bicyclist injuries, according to the CDPH.
Most bicyclist injuries occurred from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., while the fewest amount of injuries happened between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The highest rates of bicycle accident deaths involving motor vehicles were among adults age 45 and older.