All Drivers, Including Bicyclists and Motorcyclists, Are Created Equal

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It is a given that bad driving should have consequences—especially when it causes catastrophic personal injury or death. Whenever a person is critically injured or killed as the result of another’s negligence, it is only right that the guilty party is punished by law and held accountable for the suffering and expenses of the victim, family, and survivors. However, while this is usually the case in accidents that involve cars only, it is not so when cyclists are involved. Bicyclists and motorcyclists are treated as though they were dispensable; those who injure and kill them are rarely punished or held responsible, and families are left to contend with their often grievous personal and economic losses without support, compensation, or sympathy.

In a recent article in the New York Times, writer Daniel Duane recounted an incident in which a 24-year-old bicyclist named Amelie Le Moullac, who was traveling in the bike lane of a San Francisco highway, was hit by a truck and killed. As if her death were not enough, the police failed to cite the driver at the scene of the accident, the police department denied having surveillance footage of the crash, and a police sergeant interrupted a memorial service in order to publicly blame Ms. Le Moullac for causing the accident that killed her. When the cycling activists from the memorial service later tracked down footage of the crash, the police department reluctantly acknowledged that the truck driver was at fault; yet, to date, it has not pressed any charges.

Bicycle Accidents and Those Who Get The Blame

It is generally the case in such accidents that cyclists are blamed—even when they had been driving carefully and following the law—and motor vehicle drivers are dismissed without consequence. This is especially appalling when one considers the fact that bicyclists, like pedestrians, are classified as “vulnerable road users” because of their greater susceptibility to injury.

There are some understandable reasons for the exoneration of at-fault car and truck drivers who collide with bikes and motorcycles, and for the infrequency of prosecution. One is that many accidents involving a car and a bicycle or motorcycle lack evidence, with the result that liability is uncertain. Another is that, as the New York Times article points out, prosecutors often have trouble getting convictions because “jurors identify with drivers” and are apt to be more sympathetic to them. Yet another is that everyday accidents involving sober drivers are not treated with the same level of seriousness as those that involve DUI or hit-and-run violations.

Though public and legal opinion tends to privilege automobile drivers over cyclists, it is certainly not the case that there is an evil conspiracy against those who travel by bicycle or motorcycle. Indeed, there has been a serious push in recent years to encourage Americans to ride bikes because of the health benefits such exercise provides, and cities across America have been doing a great deal to make changes that increase the safety of cyclists.

These two trends have resulted in positive changes. Many Americans adults are, in fact, improving their health by taking up bike riding as a regular form of recreational exercise. Others are commuting to work on bicycles rather than in cars, thereby reducing the growing problem of urban traffic congestion. And the number of bicyclist injuries has decreased by 37 percent between 1995 and 2011, according to bicyclinginfo.org—though it is argued by some that such accidents are underreported.

There is no doubt that cities across America have become more conscious of the need to protect bike and motorcycle riders. Though highways in the past were traditionally designed for automobile traffic, methods of separating cyclists from motor vehicles—such as marked bike lanes, bike boxes (spaces in the lane before an intersection for bike riders), and detectors that extend signal time—have been introduced. Cities are also exploring ways to safely integrate the various types of vehicles so they can share the road safely and harmoniously. “Complete Streets,” otherwise known as “Livable Streets” are being designed to enable safe access for all users of roadways, and engineering measures are being devised to protect bicyclists and pedestrians.

In most cases, however, such changes require modification of existing road networks and are long range in nature. Indeed, we cannot afford to passively wait for such changes to take place; we must do all we can to ensure that our roads are safe today—and for everyone, not just motor vehicle drivers. We must ensure that cyclists are respected and protected rather than devalued and disregarded.

Our Philadelphia Bicycle Accident Lawyers Have the Knowledge and Experience to Help

As both a bicycle accident and Philadelphia car accident lawyer, I believe it is time for everyone—drivers, policemen, lawmakers, and courts—to recognize that all lives are equally important, and to make whatever changes they can to protect the most vulnerable drivers on the road.

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