I feel like all of my cycling friends are getting hit by cars as of late.
Practically everyone I know who rides bikes often has had some kind of car vs. bike collision, and they've all had close calls. I've had my share of bump-and-grind with fenders and rear view mirrors, but I've never been t-boned, or rolled over a hood.
But I expect it'll happen someday.
In preparation, and out of curiosity borne from the recent struggles of acquaintances to have their bikes replaced after getting crushed by Lexus SUVs, I decided to map out the best practices for the post-accident cyclist.
What The Cops Will Tell You
I called up the cops for their professional advice. Officer Gordon Shyy told me that when a bicyclist is involved in a accident with another vehicle, they should treat it as any other collision.
"They should first determine if any parties are injured and request medical attention if necessary by calling 911. If there are no injuries, they can exchange information like a vehicle collision. They can then file a claim with their insurance to take care of the damages to the vehicle and/or bicycle."
"If the collision is a hit-and-run, they need to call 911 and have an officer come to the scene. The officer will document the incident in a police report and an investigator will work to identify the suspect and make an arrest if possible."
A cyclists' Advice
Officer Shyy offers some good advice, but there's more that you can (and should) do as a cyclist. First, make sure you record everything. Get the name of the driver, the license plate number, and insurance information, if possible. Do not negotiate with the driver for some sort of cash compensation. Do not discuss the accident.
You should also always file a police report, it's important for insurance, legal, and health issues that might come later. Sometimes if a cyclist is injured, they will not be interviewed for the report; that automatically shifts the blame onto them, so make sure you are interviewed, along with any other eyewitnesses. More importantly, make sure that report is accurate. Record images or video that might help establish liability.
In the case of a car/bike accident, there's a very distinct possibility that health problems or mechanical problems might show up only after the crash. There's also the possibility that your post-accident brain might be in shock, and your judgment impaired by a rush of adrenaline. When I've gotten bumped, my flight instinct roars on full-bore; the hardest part is sticking around and being rational, and that's exactly what you need to do.
Worst Case Scenario
Unfortunately, more often than not, car vs. cyclist accidents result in a severely injured cyclist.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was the victim of a hit and run that put her in the hospital, wrecked her bike, and left her thousands of dollars in debt. Luckily, she survived, with a concussion and a very wrecked bike. A hit-and-run accident is considered a violent crime, which is always investigated by the SFPD. My friend didn't remember the accident, and even with an eyewitness, a license plate number, and a record of a DUI that occurred weeks prior in the same vehicle, the police were unable to track down the driver.
But it was clearly a hit and run, so the California Victim Compensation Program came through, and picked up the bill that should have fallen on the uninsured driver who hit her. It becomes very difficult to pursue financial restitution from the insurance company of a hit-and-run driver when you can't even remember getting plowed down. Without an eyewitness or compelling evidence that a car was involved, you'll likely be out of luck.
How to Protect Yourself
Finally, a good way to both prevent accidents and to reduce the chances that you'll be blamed is to obey the law. It's hard to ask for compensation for damages to your bike or your body when you're blowing red lights. If you ignore the traffic laws, you're increasing your chances of being hit -- and there's nothing you can do if you're at fault. Alas, you'll probably get stuck paying for the damage to somebody else's car. If you can't really afford that, then follow these handy California cycling laws compiled by Bicycle Defender. Bicycle Defender is a law firm that is specifically dedicated to help cyclists who have been in accidents. They can help navigate the legal, health, and insurance mazes that are so daunting to the average citizen.
And of course, it's never a bad idea to go ahead and lawyer-up.
Getting Hit Sucks
My recommendation is don't get hit. Unfortunately, that's not always preventable. But hopefully, these tips will help protect you from getting both whacked by a car and screwed by an insurance company.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.