Drivers Owe a Duty to Bicyclists when Crossing Paths in Chicago

Chicago’s streets are crowded with all types of traffic. From pedestrians to bicyclists to trucks, vans, and SUVs, it is rare to find an empty street in downtown. If you move to other areas of Illinois, you may find anything from school buses to motorcycles or even farm equipment using the roads on occasion. So what duties do you owe to others if you are driving on a road?

At the end of the day, it is up to every motorist to know their duties and responsibilities when driving and to abide by those duties. Failing to do so can lead to multiple consequences including traffic tickets, criminal charges, fines, fees, the loss of a license, or even legal liability for any harm that results.

Bicyclists are a category of street user who legally can occupy the roadways just like a motor vehicle. They have the right to ride where and when they choose unless an area is otherwise marked. This means that a bicycle can ride in a marked bicycle lane where one is present or otherwise can occupy a lane of traffic like a car can, enabling that rider to move through Chicago with ease.

Bicycles do not move in the same manner as a car and that can be disconcerting to some drivers. Rather, cyclists take up less space and travel at lower speeds, often taking longer to get up to their top speed than do vehicles near them. Further, cyclists must signal their intentions of turning and/or stopping with their hands and without the help of turn signals and brake lights like a traditional car. This also means that a cyclist must take one hand off of her handlebars to signal if she desires to do so properly, limiting her ability to steer and control the bike if she encounters a hazard or other undesirable condition.

Cyclists also tend to ride on the right hand side of the lane of traffic they occupy which varies from a car that drives in the center. Taking a right position can enable the cyclist to ride safely while enabling faster traffic to pass the rider on the left when clear to do so. However, riding on the right also comes with some risks as it may make a cyclists less visible to nearby motorist and can always make intersections more complex.

A bicyclist approaching an intersection in Chicago has the right to continue straight or to turn unless any direction of traffic is prohibited in the area. This means that drivers must give a cyclist both the space and the time necessary to complete these actions, forcing a driver to pay attention to the rider and to note the rider’s directionality before the motorist proceeds with their own. Bicycle accidents are unfortunately common when a cyclist attempts to ride straight through an intersection but a vehicle next to or immediately behind the biker attempts to turn right at the same area. Though the cyclist should be allowed to proceed first since the cyclist is in front of the vehicle, far too often, cars commit what is known as a right hook accident by attempting to overtake the cyclist and turning to the right in front of the cyclist when there is not enough time to finish the turn before the cyclist arrives in the intersection. This can cause the cyclist to strike the passenger side of the turning vehicle and can cause serious, even fatal injuries. Similarly. a cyclist riding straight through an intersection may be threatened if an oncoming vehicle turns left in front of that cyclist. Called a left hook accident, these situations happen often when a turning motorist does not look for an oncoming rider and fails to respect their rights.

The most important thing to realize if you drive in Chicago is that you are responsible for your own actions and how they affect traffic at large, including those members of our society who choose to ride a bicycle. Further, ignoring your duties under the law can lead to serious consequence that can harm you personally. If a victim is injured in a collision you are deemed to have caused, you may be financially liable to that victim for any medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering the victim endures. When in doubt, contacting a personal injury attorney can help you realize what options may be available to you if you have been involved in a collision or other accident.

Prior Blog Entry:

When Truckers Get Tired: Truck Driver Fatigue Accidents in Chicago, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published September 27, 2016.

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