Bike Law: What to do when cars attack

For my first BCU column, I thought I’d tackle one of the questions I get the most: What to do if you are hit by a motor vehicle. It’s a topic some of us tiptoe around so as not to scare away new riders, but there a few key things to know that can really help you out if the worst should occur.

First and foremost, you should make sure you get the identity of the driver who hit you and of anyone else that might have been a witness or involved party.

Get the information.

  • Ask to see the driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations of the drivers of all motor vehicles involved in the accident.
  • Write down their names, addresses and driver’s license numbers.
  • Obtain the names of their auto insurance companies from their vehicle registrations.
  • Look for witnesses to the accident, and ask them for their names, addresses and telephone numbers.
  • Write down or take notice of any injuries suffered by you or other people on the scene.
    If you are unable to gather the information above due to an injury, you can politely ask the officer to confirm that he or she will do so for you.

[As of May this year, if you have been hit in the city of Boston and were taken to the emergency room, you should get a visit from investigating officers. If Boston Police do not follow up with a hospital visit, please contact the Boston Cyclists Union when you are discharged. –Ed.]

If the driver leaves the scene of the accident, try to get the license plate number, the color, make, model or other identifying information of the car and also any description of the driver. If you can write it down, do so – and quick, before you forget the specifics.
And call the police immediately. A motorist who leaves the scene of an accident without stopping and identifying who they are has committed a crime for which he or she can go to jail.

Also, if you have that license plate number you (or your lawyer) can find out who owns the car and their auto insurance company from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Take it easy.

If the police investigate, cooperate with them. Tell them what you saw. It’s true that some police officers have been known to have a bias against cyclists, so be careful how you speak to them. Be calm, polite and clear, and make sure that the police get your side of the story.

Be prepared as well to identify yourself to others involved in the accident when they ask. Avoid getting angry with the driver that hit you, it will only make the process longer, and might work against you.

Assess your injuries, but never say you’re okay.
Before you let the driver leave, check yourself out. Note any obvious injuries, but if you think you are all right, do not say so. You may not notice injuries until much later, even days, especially for sprains or other injuries that are not visibly obvious.

If the police or emergency responders want to check you out, let them, even if you think you are okay. Again, you may not realize how injured you are until the adrenaline rush from the crash wears off. If you really think you are not injured, you can say something open ended, like “I am still a little shaken. Let’s hope there’s nothing wrong.”

Check out your bicycle.
Even if you feel well enough to ride, you should consider not doing so if there has been any damage to the fork, the handlebars, or the headset bearings that let you turn the handlebars. Lightweight handlebars can snap suddenly if they have been bent, making them dangerous to ride on. Similarly, if your fork is bent or if your headset is damaged, your bike’s steering and balance might be dangerously out of line.

If the front end of the bike looks okay, spin each wheel, and apply the brake to stop each one. If either wheel is significantly wobbly, or if the brakes do not apply smoothly, do not ride the bike.
Next, grab each crank, and pull it away and towards the bike. If there is any play, don’t get on the bicycle!

Don’t accept rides from the driver who hit you.
The driver that hit you may act sorry and offer to drive you and your bike home or to the hospital or to where you are going. Politely refuse any such offer and say that you will wait for the police or the ambulance. The driver may lose any sense of remorse the next day, and if the driver changes his story and tells his or her insurance company that the accident was your fault, you may regret having accepted a ride.

Do accept rides in the ambulance.
Most important, if you’re injured or your bike is, don’t be a hero and try to get where you are going as if nothing happened. None of us want to be late or not get to where we were going, but an untreated injury can end up much more inconvenient than an unplanned ambulance ride to an emergency room. The driver’s no fault insurance will pay for the ambulance ride, the emergency room and any follow up medical treatment. If the driver was a hit and run driver, there is still available no fault insurance to cover the ambulance costs from the state uninsured pool.

Once you are home, check yourself out again, then look over your bike again. If you are injured or your bike is damaged you should consider making a claim against the driver’s insurance for the damage.

More resources:

http://jasonandfischer.com/bikeaccident.php

http://www.massbike.org/resourcesnew/what-to-do-if-you-crash