23

I just got into a collision with a biker while driving my car. I have read a lot about these types of accidents, but none quite cover the circumstances that were present in my case and I’m wondering who is at fault.

I was stopped at a red light in a line of cars. I was probably the 5th car in a line of 8. The intersection was at the bottom of a hill on a one-lane road with a bike lane on the right side. I had my turn signal on at the red light and when it turned green and I got to the intersection I turned right. As I began my turn, I collided with a biker who was going much faster than me but approaching from behind, and was trying to go straight through the intersection.

The short version is that I was trying to turn right in a line of cars when the biker who was behind me struck the side of my car as I was beginning my turn.

Luckily the biker wasn’t hurt because I wasn’t moving very fast and he just clipped the edge of my car instead of actually hitting the side. He just had a few scrapes, thank God.

I don’t know what to think in this situation because I was in the rightmost lane with my turn signal on, in front of the biker but, on the other hand, it makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to see my blinker very well because of the line of cars and I could have seen him if I looked in my side mirror.

EDIT: I can't believe this has gotten so many responses. Thank you all for your thoughts. A few people have been asking about where this happened. It happened in California, USA. A lot of people here are saying that they are thankful that things didn't turn out so bad, at least not nearly as bad as they could have. I completely agree. When I was helping the biker up, he said "That's the last time I come flying down that hill" and I responded with, "That's the last time I turn without checking my side mirrors". So hopefully we, and anyone else reading this, can at least be thankful that it was a learning experience and that we can all be safer in the future.

One more thing. Because the light had recently turned from red to green and I was in a line of cars, there seemingly was no way for the biker to safely go behind me and pass on my left, as there were a few other cars behind me.

Also, thank you Rider_X for the awesome and comprehensive response. I come from an area where there are no bike lanes so I didn't realize that you are supposed to move into the bike lane before turning.

  • 19
    Questions of fault and legal liablility are totally dependent on location, both at a nation level and a regional/local level with bylaws. As such, anything suggested here is not legal advice. On the plus side, you're both okay, so be happy for that. Damage was limited to stuff, and stuff is just things. – Criggie Sep 27 '18 at 3:43
  • 5
    Which country is this in? – AndreKR Sep 27 '18 at 5:37
  • 12
    This is the problem with this kind of infrastructure. Who thought it would be a good idea to put a straight on traffic lane to the right of a turn right lane? Reverse the left and right and this seems to have led to a load of cyclists going under trucks in London. The message being sent to cyclists is "Overtake traffic on the nearside at junctions". As a veteran motorcyclist and keen filterer (or lane splitter), I just despair. : ( – Grimm The Opiner Sep 27 '18 at 8:53
  • 5
    Was this in a drive-on-left country or a drive-on-right one? – Toby Speight Sep 27 '18 at 9:38
  • 3
    Could you add some information on the region you're in so that responses can be tuned to your local law and regulations? – BlueCacti Sep 27 '18 at 13:04
45

You will likely be found at fault. Bicycle lanes are considered a lane of traffic that supports only one type of traffic for extended periods of time (i.e., bicycles). As such, by your description you signaled your intent, then turned right across another lane of traffic and collided with another vehicle already occupying that lane. It is your job to ensure a lane of traffic is clear before entering it.

If you were talking about two car lanes I think there would little if any questions regarding fault, but because we are talking about cycling many motorists assume it is the job of the cyclist to get out of the way because they are more vulnerable. While true from a practical perspective, this perspective is not supported legally.

Further confusing matters, in some areas (e.g., North America) drivers are required to merge over into the bike lane (when safe) before turning, while other areas of the world do not allow any merging and instead give the cyclists the full priority at all times. Regardless, both approaches would find legal fault with the motorist turning across another vehicle lane (i.e., the cycling lane) when it was not clear to do so.

So what should you have done (North America)?

Generally in most North American jurisdictions if the bicycle lane is clear you should first merge over into that lane before making a right turn (see diagram below). This merge area is often indicated with dashed lines separating the car and bicycle lanes. If you safely merge over, then you have physical position over the cyclist and they should wait until you complete your turn before passing if they wish to remain in the bicycle lane, otherwise they will need to change lane into the main traffic lane to the left to pass (assuming of course a jurisdiction that drives on the right).

While you had your signal on you were still in the lane to the left of the cycling lane (i.e., left of another vehicle lane) and as such you had only signaled your intent. Until you safely enter the cycling lane, to complete your right turn, it is expectant upon you to check for traffic before moving to the right.

Diagram of a right turn From San Fransisco Bicycle Coalition

Other North American Jurisdictions supporting this approach

I chose the figure above because it clearly communicated the concept. Some might be concerned that this only applies to San Francisco, but similar rules apply in many other North American regions. Some further examples are given below:

Ontario, Canada

Diagram 2-12 Diagram 2-12

Bike lanes are reserved for cyclists. They are typically marked by a solid white line. Sometimes you will need to enter or cross a bike lane to turn right at a corner or driveway. (See Diagram 2-12) Take extra care when you do this. Enter the bike lane only after ensuring that you can do so safely, and then make the turn.

-The Official Ministry of Transportation (MTO) Driver's Handbook

British Columbia, Canada

Where there is a broken line marking the cycle lane at the approach to the intersection the driver may move over to the curb into the cycle lane prior to making the right turn in the way that most people are used to. Drivers doing so are making a lane change and must yield to cycle traffic in the bicycle lane before moving over! In this situation, the cyclist must wait behind the vehicle until after the turn is made to clear the cycle lane.

-DriveSmart BC

California, USA

21717.Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100.

California Law


European Jurisdictions

European jurisdictions give bicycle lanes legal vehicle status, but what seems less clear is if there is support for motor vehicles merging across bicycle lanes before a right turn (if driving on the right). From the comments it appears most European nations give cyclists the absolute priority (i.e., the driver needs to wait until there is no cycling lane traffic before turning). Explicit examples are still needed.

Germany (by sleske)

In Germany, you would be at fault (probably fully). If you make a turn (no matter whether right or left), the traffic behind you in other lanes has priority, and you must make sure you do not obstruct or endanger it before turning.

This is based on §9 Straßenverkehrsordnung (German traffic code):

Abbiegen, Wenden und Rückwärtsfahren [...] Vor dem Einordnen und nochmals vor dem Abbiegen ist auf den nachfolgenden Verkehr zu achten; vor dem Abbiegen ist es dann nicht nötig, wenn eine Gefährdung nachfolgenden Verkehrs ausgeschlossen ist.

Translation (mine, no guarantees):

Turning and reversing [...] Before changing lanes and again before turning, drivers must look out for following traffic; this is not necessary before turning if a danger to following traffic is not possible.


Southwestern Pacific

New Zealand (left hand traffic)

In New Zealand cyclists appear to have absolute priority as turning motorists are not allowed to merge across the bike lane to make a turn and are required to wait until the bike lane is clear:

When there’s a cycle lane at a set of lights, you must not wait in it for the light to turn green, and you must not drive in it as you approach the lights (unless you’re riding a bicycle). Motorbikes must not use this lane, either, but they can filter between stationary traffic.

Cycles have the right-of-way in this lane. If there are cycles waiting to go forward, you must give way to them before you can turn left. The car is waiting in the wrong position, blocking the cycleway

The car is waiting in the wrong position, blocking the cycleway

This shows the correct position with the left-hand wheels of the car not encroaching into the cycle lane

This shows the correct position with the left-hand wheels of the car not encroaching into the cycle lane

-Driving Tests NZ

  • 5
    This is local ordnance. The majority of places I have ridden have a solid white line delineating the bike lane. Solid white = don't cross. – JohnP Sep 27 '18 at 2:56
  • 1
    @JohnP the dashed line may not be everywhere, but pretty much everywhere treats bike lanes as a legal lane of travel. Everywhere in North America I looked recommended merging across the bike lane before making the right hand. Do you have an explicit example where cars are not allowed to merge before turning? The only example I can think of are two way bike lanes to one side with a physical barrier, in this case it is not physically possible to merge before turning. – Rider_X Sep 27 '18 at 3:37
  • 2
    It's not a good layout, although common, because a small failure to follow the rules by either user leads to a dangerous situation very easily. I face layouts similar to this (a mirror image as we drive on the left here). In one case I simply avoid the bike lane, as all the traffic in the nearest lane is turning across me, in a solid stream. There's no compulsion to use the bike lane here. In a couple of places you have to be careful passing the cars. Slow is often appropriate but a burst of speed may be needed if the lights change and you're beside something long. Too many cars don't signal. – Chris H Sep 27 '18 at 5:56
  • 2
    The NZ example is the same in the UK (if the bike lane has a solid line, which it almost always does in this sort of case). As a cyclist it would be suicidal to rely on the law. Cars sweep round the corner without a second glance (sometimes seemingly without a first glance). – Chris H Sep 27 '18 at 16:49
  • 2
    I have deleted a number of comments that do not conform with this policy, as well as subsequent comments that no longer make sense after that initial deletion. If you see additional inflammatory comments or other comments that no longer make sense, please flag them for moderator intervention, but do not engage. – jimchristie Sep 28 '18 at 14:50
14

You don't give a location, which makes this question unanswerable for your individual case. However, since there are general answers for the North American situation, I'd like to give a European perspective as well.

In most European legislations the cyclist has priority in your situation and you are only allowed to cross the bike lane when you can do so without interfering with the cyclist at all. Otherwise, you have to give way and wait.

It does not matter, if the cyclist is already in place or is coming from behind (as long as he's close enough that you can see him, of course). Just think of crossing the bike lane as crossing another road and having a "Give Way" sign - if you hit the vehicle with priority or the vehicle with priority has to slow down, you have done it wrong.

Spain

Article 64 of the "Reglamento General de Circulación" says that whenever a motor vehicle crosses a clearly marked bike lane, the cyclists have priority, unless specified otherwise (e.g. a red light for the cyclist).

Germany

§9 (3) of the "Straßenverkehrsordnung" states that when turning you have to let cyclists pass that go parallel to you, be it on the roadway or close beside it.

Denmark

Færdselsloven § 26 states that if a vehicle wants to turn right, it must make sure not to interfere with any cyclists.

United Kingdom

The Highway Code (pdf link) Clauses 182 and 183 state that when turning left, a vehicle driver should "watch out for traffic coming up on your left" and "give way to any vehicles using a bus lane, cycle lane or tramway from either direction".

  • 3
    Thank you for the UK edit, @AndyT. Any edits for additional legislations are welcome. – mastov Sep 27 '18 at 16:07
8

Local laws come into play here, so you would need to study them hard to know where things sit in law.

I suspect you are in the wrong. With a bicycle lane, its normal for the cyclist to have right of way over cars.

However, that does not make the cyclist legally in the right. In most jurisdictions you could both be held accountable under the law. The normal test here is was the riding/driving unsafe./careless/dangerous. Given a predictable accident happened passing on the right of a car indicating a right turn at high speed is dangerous.

Where I live, the situation you describe would be called a "Contributing accident" by the insurance companies. If the police were involved, both the driver and the rider would likely be charged. The rider should have seen what you sere doing (indicators) and ignored them - along with the speed makes it reckless or dangerous driving, the driver charged with a lesser charge of careless driving (Unless you saw the rider, then its dangerous, or even criminal).

Personally (and I know this will get me down votes) I do not think you should feel too bad about what happened. They way the cyclist was riding it was inevitable it would happen to him eventually. You just happened to be the poor sod in the wrong place at the wrong time when his number came up.

  • 8
    No downvote from me, but a car crossing a lane without checking that it's clear is reckless driving as well. The car has mirrors precisely for that purpose, and the laws generally require the car driver to make use of these mirrors. If they overlook a vehicle when crossing into that vehicles lane, the blame is on them. So, both have been driving carelessly. But I see more fault with the car driver than with the biker, simply because the car is the much more dangerous vehicle to handle, so it's driver has more responsibility to make sure they don't endanger other, less armored people. – cmaster Sep 27 '18 at 7:03
  • 4
    'Most jurisdictions' is very harsh statement without any proof. It might be true worldwide, but I'm quite sure, most in most European countries the whole responsibility would be on recless car driver. – 9ilsdx 9rvj 0lo Sep 27 '18 at 10:09
2

This is less than an answer but more than a comment, and expands on RiderX notes.

In New Zealand, a cycle lane is a special purpose traffic lane, Similar to a bus lane. So a bicycle going straight through does not have to give way to traffic turning across the lane.

But the question remains - do you want to be right, or do you want to be alive ?

Here's an example of me breaking the law, and avoiding a potential left hook scenario.

  • 1
    I can't tell what you do that's breaking the law, unless you have a law that says you can't slam on your brakes when you see a hazard ahead. It looks to me like you were ready for the lights to turn and keeping a close eye on the cars. Incidentally at a similar junction I tend to control my time/speed to keep myself out of the blind spot of potential left turners as much as possible (as you appear to, but you're quicker) – Chris H Oct 3 '18 at 13:15
  • @ChrisH yep I should have continued forward in the green cycle lane and expected the cars to give-way/yield. It doesn't help that bike is quite low and so below the direct sight line, and what driver ever looks left/curbside before moving ? – Criggie Oct 3 '18 at 19:44
  • From a UK perspective you had the right to carry on but not the obligation, and it's perfectly possible to drive (and presumably ride) within the letter of the law but recklessly in a legal sense as well as from the point of view of self preservation. That would hold even if someone went into the back of you. – Chris H Oct 3 '18 at 22:13
-11

You are always at fault if you hit a someone riding a bicycle, IMO. I see and am involved in this situation a lot - in bike lane on right side of road (US traffic) flying, and someone in front of me decides to take a right. Normally, they will wait for you if they are paying attention. Other times they just turn and pay no mind to the rider (sounds like this is what happened).

So, as a driver, don't do that. Just wait until they pass you unless they are obviously slowing and waiting for you to turn. If you pinch them taking a right, you are at fault because you just hit a person with a vehicle. Whether you are in legal trouble is another question that depends on a bunch of things that a legal professional would know better.

As a rider, when I'm in this situation and going fast as you described, I usually pull into traffic behind and to the left of the car that's turning right and just pass them in their own lane as they peel off. This helps the driver see me as I am now directly behind them. If they decide to turn early or I can tell they aren't paying attention, I pass.

  • 4
    -1, no comment why should be needed. – mattnz Sep 26 '18 at 23:29
  • If the motorist has appropriately merged into the cycling lane to complete their right hand turn (i.e., in the dashed line section when the lane was clear) then they have priority in that lane, and it is expectant on you to wait or pass to the left in another lane. Otherwise, yes you have priority in the bicycle lane and they will need to wait until it is clear. – Rider_X Sep 27 '18 at 0:10
  • 13
    -1 "You are always at fault if you hit a someone riding a bicycle" would mean that cyclists can do whatever they like, including running red lights, and not be at fault. That is plainly incorrect. – Argenti Apparatus Sep 27 '18 at 0:20
  • 1
    Say I'm riding a bike and you, a motorist, are driving on the street. If I come barreling down the wrong side of the street and slam into the front of your car, killing myself in the process, are you at fault? – user45266 Sep 27 '18 at 4:58
  • 2
    At least here, in my city, this is 100% wrong. Even pedestrians are held accountable for their actions. Bikes are considered vhecials and have the same rights and responsibilities as cars. – coteyr Sep 27 '18 at 15:52

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.