John Giddens and Baskin Jones appeared on the radio show In Legal Terms answering questions regarding bicycle accidents. Senior associate dean and associate professor of the school of law, University of Mississippi, Matthew R. Hall, participated in the discussion. The rebroadcast of the radio show can be downloaded here. Some of the topics included answering basic questions about bicycles and the law here in Mississippi. For example, here are the topics discussed:
May bicycles use the roads and streets?
Yes. MS Code § 63-3-207 originally House Bill No. 559 of the Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature was an act to make bicyclists subject to the provisions of traffic law applicable to the drivers of motor vehicles was amended to state that every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall have all the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those provisions which by their nature have no application.
If there is a bike path adjacent to the roadway, does a cyclist have to use it or can they the roadway?
No, provided the bicyclist adheres to all the rules of the road and bike laws, bikes are entitled to all rights of the road that apply to a motor vehicle, including access, even if there is a bike path available.
BICYCLES ARE NOT ALLOWED ON ANY INTERSTATE HIGHWAY OR CONTROLLED ACCESS FACILITY IN THE STATE.
Who has the right of way? Bicycle or car? Do bicycles have to follow the same rules as cars?
According to MS Code § 63-3-207 every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall have all the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those provisions which by their nature have no application. Bikes are the same as another car with regard to right of way on roads.
Under MS Code § 63-3-1305 (The John Paul Frerer Act) a bicyclist must be yielded to in the bicycle lane and motor vehicles may not block the bicycle lane.
Do drivers need to give bicyclists any special treatment when a driver passes a bicyclist?
§ 63-3-1307 (The John Paul Frerer Act) enacted in 2010 requires that while passing a bicyclist on a roadway, a motorist shall leave a safe distance of not less than three (3) feet between his vehicle and the bicyclist and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the bicycle.
Do bicyclists need to wear a helmet? What about other safety equipment like lights and reflectors?
Our answer on whether to wear a helmet is always a resounding “YES” but it isn’t the law yet state-wide. We think it is important enough to wear helmets that we did a Helmet giveaway – Bicycle riders should check with local authority regarding bicycle helmet laws.
Lights and mirrors- Every bicycle shall be equipped with a lighted white lamp on the front thereof visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of at least five hundred feet in front of such bicycle and shall also be equipped with a reflex mirror reflector or lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible under like conditions from a distance of at least five hundred feet to the rear of such bicycle.
Mississippi does have a motorcycle helmet law.
Title 63. Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulations. Chapter 7. Equipment and identification — General Provisions. Section 63-7-64. Motorcycle Crash Helmets. :
“No person shall operate or ride upon any motorcycle or motor scooter upon the public roads or highways of this state unless such person is wearing on his or her head a crash helmet of the type and design inspected and approved by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. . . .”
May the police ticket bicycles?
Yes, bicyclists are held to: Ride Right (and WITH Traffic) as close as practical to the right hand curb/edge of roadway except when: Unsafe to do so, When passing another bicycle or vehicle, When preparing for a left turn, When proceeding straight where right turns are permitted and, When necessary to avoid hazardous conditions
No more than 2 abreast: Bicyclists may not ride more than two abreast except when on roads exclusively for bicycles.
Indicate Turns: Bicyclists shall indicate right turns, left turns and stops with hand signals before taking action. Right turn: left arm upward, left arm to square or right arm horizontal to right. Left turn: Left arm extended horizontally Stop: left arm or right arm downward.
Does DUI apply to bicycles?
May differ by municipality but no Statewide law – In Mississippi: Mississippi recognizes all types of motorized vehicles for DUI purposes. Exempted from consideration would be horses, bicycles(not motorized) and other non-motorized vehicles.
States and courts are split on the subject of drunk biking. Some people automatically doubt the amount of harm a bicyclist can cause to others, considering the nature of a bicycle. However, some states and their laws acknowledge that, even assuming a bicyclist likely only harms themselves by drunk biking, an injury to a drunken rider can have a profound effect on others, especially their family members.
In general, where a state law on drunk driving specifically prohibits the operation of a “motor vehicle,” the chances are very high that the law will be interpreted by courts as not applying to bicycles or similar man-powered vehicles. On the other hand, where statutes apply more generally to all “vehicles,” courts sometimes find that bicycles fall into this category.
What are the most common kinds of bicycle accidents in which a lawsuit is possible?
These types of wrecks most often happen when a car is approaching, passing or attempting a right turn around a bike and hitting a bicyclist. Another place where wrecks happen frequently is in intersections as either a car or bike is rushing through.
What if the police determine that the driver did not commit a crime?
Is a civil lawsuit still possible?
Yes, it would be a case of general negligence. In any situation where someone is injured by another the question will be asked, did the person who injured the other act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances, or did they do something negligent?
What legal problems typically arise in a bicycle accident cases?
These cases can sometimes be he said she said situations. Witnesses are very important. Also they can also be cases in which both parties have some fault and damages may be attributed a percentage.
Is there a risk that a dangerous driver will claim that the bicycle swerved into the road or otherwise caused the accident? Is there anything a cyclist or a lawyer can do to combat this kind of deception?
There is a blog post about this elsewhere on the site. In any wreck it is important to get witnesses info, our firm often hires accident reconstructionists who can piece together how the wreck occurred, surveillance video from the area of the wreck.
Even if the driver doesn’t lie, won’t many drivers who cause injuries just say “I didn’t see the cyclist” and claim that the crash was just an “accident” with no fault?
Yes. This makes clear the need for an attorney.
What should a cyclist do immediately after an accident to help establish the facts for appropriate criminal sanctions or possible civil litigation?
Have someone collect information, do not move vehicle or bike until police arrive, ask witnesses to stay and get contact information, get medical treatment if necessary.
Should accident victims talk with the driver? Should they negotiate responsibility?
It is our experience that you will accomplish very little and that your statements may be used against you in court later. There is more information available about Admissions of a Party Opponent and Statements against interest that you can consult if you would like more information on these topics.
What information should an accident victim obtain at the scene?
Cards available at our offices which we will send by mail for free to anyone who requests that outline the answers to this question. It is important to get witness names, driver information, driver insurance policy number, as well as a preliminary report from the officer who comes to the scene.
What if the accident victim does not need to go to the hospital right after the accident, but begins to experience medical problems later? Is the driver still potentially liable? How long does the victim have to take legal action?
It is a more difficult case, but we see it quite often. With the adrenaline of a wreck often injured individuals do not feel as much pain until the adrenaline wears off. The rule of thumb is if you feel pain, get checked out. Especially so if there was any impact to your head. We work on many cases involving brain injuries and early detection and treatment would be crucial in this situation.
Are there common problems with police reports that make it harder for cyclists to obtain justice? Can a cyclist do anything to correct or amend a biased or incomplete police report?
Sometimes just one side of the story, lacking in witnesses reports. Until the time the report is complete officers are still gathering information and additional witness statements may be helpful.
Should an accident victim hire a lawyer or represent him/herself?
Often we find the answer to this question is yes. Our offices provide free consultations and we help individuals sort through any number of personal injury or medical malpractice issues every day. These consultations give the individuals we speak with peace of mind even if there is no claim.
How do you value an accident claim? What are the components of damages? What documentation does the victim need to establish these damages?
Medical bills / treatment is the largest component, but lost work, pain and suffering, future medicals and future lost work are all a part of each claim.
Will the driver’s insurance company cover all of these damages?
We would be out of a job if insurance companies paid what they should pay in these claims without intervention by an attorney. The first source of any payout will be the driver’s insurance policy. If the damages are greater, there is often a safety net in the injured party’s insurance. Uninsured Motorist coverage. Our office has several active cases involving uninsured motorist coverage which the injured party obtained as a part of their full coverage policy and which is the reason any coverage exists in the claim. UM coverage is the best buy in insurance and we advise carrying as much as possible.
What is an accident reconstructionist and how can such an expert help?
Forensic analysis of the scene of the wreck. We often send these trained individuals to the scene immediately after the wreck to record skid marks, distances and document them to give an opinion of what happened later.
In the Netherlands, the legal default is that the driver is responsible for any accident with a bicycle unless the driver can prove that the cyclist is at fault. Given the inherent dangerousness of motor vehicles, does this law make sense?
Yes, strict liability between cars / cyclists could be on its way.
Is it possible that driver could be at fault for an accident in which no contact (no collision) occurs?
The driver could still be negligent per se if they pass closer than the three foot law for entering the three feet of the bicyclist. Also if the driver throws anything at the bicyclist or threatens the cyclist causing a wreck. In these situations the driver could still be easily at fault even if there is no collision.
Is there any sort of legal liability, civil or criminal, for harassment or road rage in which a driver taunts, “buzzes,” or threatens a cyclist?
Threatening and harassment is prohibited under the John Paul Frerer Law in Mississippi.
What about pedestrian claims against bicyclists? When is a cyclist at fault and liable for injuries?
General negligence may apply to a cyclist or intentional tort if they run someone over on purpose.