In our ever evolving society, people are striving for new ways to make their lives more efficient. One source of efficiency is by adapting an alternative method of transportation. This is often achieved by utilizing public transport, carpooling, ridesharing or bicycling. Bicycling is not only a way to reduce transportation costs, for many, it is also an enjoyable activity that allows an individual to stay fit. As bicycling has become a more popular method of transportation, the number of bicyclists involved in a motor vehicle crash has increased.
In 2016, there were 840 pedalcyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, 71% of these fatal accidents were in urban areas. This is an increase from 701 fatalities in 2007. Pedalcyclists include bicyclists and other cyclists including riders of two-wheel, non-motorized vehicles, tricycles, and unicycles powered solely by pedals. In North Carolina, there were 17 fatalities in 2016, accounting for about 1.2% of the total traffic fatalities.
Under North Carolina law, a bicycle is defined as a vehicle with all of the rights and responsibilities that are applicable.
N.C. Gen Stat. §20-4.01 (49) Vehicle. – Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles and electric assisted bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle or an electric assisted bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application.
Therefore, every law that applies to a vehicle, also applies to a bicycle. Additionally under NC law, the term “driver” or “operator” within the statute also applies to bicyclist. However, a bicycle is not considered a motor vehicle, which is defined a special class of vehicle.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-4.01(23) Motor Vehicle – “Every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle designed to run upon the highways which is pulled by a self-propelled vehicle.
Most laws traffic laws governing the rules of movement apply to all vehicles, while there are certain laws, such as the requirement to maintain registration and a license that apply specifically to motor vehicles. However, impaired driving laws do apply to bicyclists, as the statute is encompassing of all vehicles, not just motor vehichles.
N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 20-138.1. Impaired driving. (a) Offense. – A person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle upon any highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this State: (1) While under the influence of an impairing substance; or (2) After having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The results of a chemical analysis shall be deemed sufficient evidence to prove a person’s alcohol concentration; or (3) With any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in G.S. 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.
Although a fairly antiquated doctrine, North Carolina is one of few jurisdictions that still follows the rule of contributory negligence. “A plaintiff is contributory negligent when he fails to exercise such care as an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the circumstances in order to avoid injury.” Newton v. New Hanover County Bd. of Educ., 342 N.C. 554, 564 (1996). Meaning that if you are even 1% responsible for causing your injury, you are not eligible to recover compensation from others. This holds true even if the other party played a greater role in causing the accident and resulting injuries. While other jurisdictions allow for an apportioning of fault, under comparative negligence, that is not the case in North Carolina, and therefore there is no sharing of liability.
Thus, if a bicyclist fails to obey traffic laws, this may affect the bicyclist’s ability to recover damages sustained in an accident with a motor vehicle because the bicyclists is responsible for obeying the laws for vehicles as outlined in the NC General Statute.
There is a defense to contributory negligence, which is known as the last clear chance doctrine. Under this doctrine, if the plaintiff was in a position of peril and could not avoid the accident following his act of negligence, and the defendant had the ability to avoid the accident, the plaintiff may still recover because the defendant had the chance to avoid the accident but failed to do so.
These types of cases can be very complex and are often very fact specific when analyzing the existence of contributory negligence and/or applying the last clear chance doctrine. If you are involved in a bicycle or any other type of vehicular accident, you should contact an attorney to understand the proper interpretation of the law and applicability to your situation.
Unfortunately, because of the limited protection, bicyclists can suffer catastrophic injuries following an accident. Because of this it is imperative that liability is determined at the earliest date possible. Evidence, like memory, begins to diminish with the passing of time. In many instances, a trained engineer can be sent to the scene of an accident to help determine liability.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a bicycle accident, please contact us to discuss your case. You will speak with an attorney who can answer your questions and explain your rights.