Traffic laws typically require drivers of motor vehicles to pass other vehicles on the left. But bicycles, which obviously travel much slower and are afforded significantly less physical protection from other vehicles — can pass on the right if there is enough room.
The law also states that the bicyclist who passes, either on the left or the right, must do so in a careful and prudent manner, and when it is safe to do so. This means that a bicyclist who chooses to pass a vehicle on the right right when that vehicle attempts to turn right, may be guilty of negligence or comparative fault.
It really depends on the specific circumstances of the incident, such as how fast each vehicle was traveling, how much room was available, whether or not the turn could have been anticipated, and so on.
The Danger of Car Doors
One of the most dangerous and most difficult to anticipate hazards facing bicyclists is the sudden opening of a car door — typically called "dooring" in the United States.
The door of a parked car can open in an instant, which is often too quick for a bicyclist to react and can cause a high-speed collision in just a matter of moments. The resulting injuries can be severe or even fatal.
A bicyclist can minimize risk by staying alert and exercising due care, but the law requires that drivers and passengers must also show particular caution when opening doors until it is safe to do so, and not leave doors open longer than needed to load or unload passengers.
According to Washington state law (RCW 46.61.620): “No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle adjacent to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.”
Injury Claims After a Dooring Accident
Bicyclists who have been injured in dooring accidents in Washington state can bring personal injury claims against the people who caused their accidents. By demonstrating that the driver or passenger was in violation of the Washington state dooring statute by not checking to see if the space was clear, the dooring victim may be able to prove negligence.
Victims of these accidents may recover damages, including:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of earnings
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Property damage
Impact of Helmet Laws on Injuries
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA), nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries. The NHTSA also states that bicycle helmets are effective in preventing or mitigating head and brain injuries as much as 88 percent of the time.
In the United State there is no national bicycle helmet law, and that rings true for most individual states, including Washington. This responsibility is left to individual cities and counties, which typically establish helmet laws based on a number of different factors that include the traffic volume of pedestrians, motor vehicles and other bicyclists.
To help minimize the risk of severe injury, or even to prevent death, all cyclists should regularly use a helmet when riding, especially in the city limits where the risk of getting hit by a vehicle are much higher. There have been a number of studies that show helmet use significantly reduces the likelihood of head injuries like concussions and other forms of traumatic brain injury.
Protect Your Legal Rights After a Bike Crash
If you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident, it is in the best interests of anyone involved to have a clear understanding of the legal rights and options available to accident victims. To learn more about the legal complexities when it comes to bicycle accidents, order your free copy of our legal guide to bicycle accidents in Washington state.
For a free case evaluation with an attorney at Seattle-based Davis Law Group, P.S., call (206) 727-4000.