Nov 092008
Authors: Kathleen Harward

I’ve been meaning to write about bike accidents and then, this morning, had my own colossal wipeout. I take that as a sign.

Anyone who spends much time on the seat of a bike, especially around campus, knows of the extreme danger for bike riders.

In our office, we’ve seen more bike accidents with serious injury this semester than any other time. Strikingly, most have involved cyclists breaking rules of the road and contributing to the accident.

The last case involved a biker blowing through a four-way stop. Unfortunately, an SUV did the same thing, at the same time, at the same intersection. After a month in the hospital, multiple surgeries and deep wounds the size of platters on both outside thighs (the SUV dragged the cyclist), the former bike rider has been to court on his own ticket, walks with a cane, has withdrawn from classes, faces lots of rehab and looks forward to a battle with the auto driver’s insurance company.

Colorado is a “comparative negligence” state. The at-fault party causing injury is only liable if he or she is at least 51 percent responsible and then is only liable for that portion of damages matching the percentage of negligence.

If the person harmed and the one causing the harm are equally negligent, the harmed party cannot recover at all. Arguably, because an auto driver breaking a traffic rule has the potential to cause more harm than a cyclist breaking a rule, the driver should be assigned more responsibility than the cyclist.

It might not always work out that way, though. It all boils down to the particular circumstances.

Cyclists should make sure they have adequate medical insurance coverage of their own (enough to cover the damage a car can do to a human body). You can’t count on the auto driver to have insurance or to be legally responsible for your injuries.

Another case that we’ve seen involved a cyclist traveling the wrong way on a one-way street. The driver in a stopped car adjacent to the street checked for oncoming traffic from the direction traffic should be coming from, and pulled into the street. The bike and the car collided.

The law imposes on cyclists all the duties that apply to drivers of vehicles and then some. A few include: You can’t travel the wrong way on a one-way street nor the wrong way on a bike lane. You can’t pedal under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can’t ride a bike with headphones on. You have to use signals. You must have a front light at night visible from 500 feet ahead of you. There are several streets in town and zones on campus where cycling is not allowed at all.

This city is proud of its cycling enthusiasts. A lot of money and effort goes toward promoting bicycling: It keeps you fit, suits life on a budget, saves the atmosphere from car pollution and lessens the country’s oil dependence.

The flip side is what it looks like through the windshield of a car. Plenty of cyclists end up on streets without bike lanes, even though the city has lots of bike paths.

It’s challenging enough when the cyclists are following traffic rules. If they do anything wrong, like showing up where they’re not expected and shouldn’t be, the chance for terrible consequences shoots up.

The answer? Cyclists need to scrupulously follow traffic rules — for their own good. Most importantly, cyclists should absolutely not assume that car drivers are looking out for them. And drivers, you absolutely should be looking out for cyclists and assume they will break all the rules, pop out of nowhere and veer into you.

As always, Student Legal Services will help students with any legal issue. “Don’t Go It Alone.” Find us in Room 182 of the Lory Student Center and visit our Web site at

Kathleen Harward is the director of Student Legal Services. SLS’s column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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