Bicycle Safety, Responsibility and the Law

By Stephen Gorey, Attorney at Law

Recently I was asked what type of legal protection bicyclists have when they are out riding.

Laws on this subject differ between Arizona and California. Of course, all bikers have a duty to be on the lookout when they are out riding – much like a driver has responsibility when driving a car. Obeying posted signs, making proper turns, staying in the correct lanes and other common responsibilities are expected of anyone riding a bike.

Below are more specific areas of discussion on this topic I hope you’ll find helpful. If you or a loved one has been involved in any type of accident involving a bicycle, a skateboard, a scooter or any such means of transportation, contact me for a more detailed analysis of your own personal situation.

(Q) Does the law require you to wear a helmet at all time when bicycling?

(A) There are no Federal Laws that require bicycle riders to wear helmets, however some states and some cities have passed requirements. Arizona has no such law.

California laws require all minors to wear helmets while bicycling. The helmets must meet certain nationally recognized safety standards. Children who are passengers on bikes and who are under 4 years old or who weigh less than 40 lbs. must be outfitted with helmets. Similarly, children under age 18 are required to wear helmets while skateboarding, roller skating, roller blading or riding scooters.
Violation of these requirements can result in a ticket.

A far worse legal consequence results to the rider without a helmet if an accident occurs because the law may find such a rider to be comparatively or contributorily at fault. This means that the rider may be found to have been at least part of the reason why he or she was injured and the amount of money in settlement or verdict may be substantially reduced.

(Q) Can I legally ride a bike on a sidewalk in the state of Arizona?

(A) ARS 28-812 (Arizona Revised Statutes) applies when the bike rider is riding on the roadway (the same road that vehicles travel upon). This Arizona law states that all traffic laws apply to bike riders. It does not apply when the bike rider is on the sidewalk. If the bike-rider leaves the sidewalk at the corner and rides through a crosswalk, then case law holds that a crosswalk is a safety zone and a bike rider can travel through it in either direction (a technical exception to 28-812 which requires the bike rider to ride with the flow of traffic). Typically, the bike rider on the sidewalk must yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk. However, some local municipalities/townships (etc) have their own ordinances that govern bike riding on sidewalks (such as traveling in the same direction as the road traffic that the sidewalk curbs against, etc.) For this reason, local ordinances as well as State laws must be checked to see what the rights and responsibilities are for bike riders.

(Q) What are mitigating damages in a bike accident?

(A) Mitigating damages means that if a bicyclist is hurt by someone or some obstruction while riding a bike, they would still have a duty to lessen their damages. Let’s say for example – two bicyclists run into each other on a busy bike path causing one of the riders to fall and break an arm in the process. Rather than going to the hospital to have the arm casted - the injured bicyclist now wants to seek maximum damages against the other - claiming the broken arm no longer functions as it did prior to the accident. To this, a jury might say: “No, you could have gone to the doctor and got it casted and 3 months later it would be as good as new.” In a case like this the person causing the accident may only be responsible for the amount of damage if the injured party had gone to seek proper medical care and this ‘mitigated the damages’.

Much of this of course is common sense – for all parties involved, including a judge and/or jury considering the facts. There are rules that have to be followed – there is law that must be followed – but everyone must bring their common sense with them when they come into court – and apply that common sense to the law.