Attorney Jeff "JJ" Shaw knows as well as anyone the confusing laws regarding bicyclists in Indiana. He has recently tried two newsworthy successful trials involving bicycle and scooter accidents as mentioned in The Indianapolis Star article seen below.
While Indiana has an increasing number of bicyclists on the road (some statistics say the number of bikers has doubled since 2000), most Indiana cyclists and drivers are unaware of the specific Indiana laws regarding bicycles. As Indiana bicycle and bike accident attorneys we have represented numerous bicyclists who have been severely injured.
Many of these Indiana bike accidents involve crashes with car or trucks, while others have involved defective bikes, negligent placement of construction roadway markers, improper maintenance of roadway, and careless cycling by another cyclist on the road.
We've developed relationships with some of the best known biking experts in the country and used them to testify at trials involving bike and bicycling accidents. It is important to hire an Indiana personal injury law firm that has experience with bicycle accidents and understands the rules of the road.
The laws in Indiana are a mess and confusing to experts, drivers and bicyclists alike when it comes to bicycles on the road.
INDIANAPOLIS – Since 2011, bicycle accidents have increased nearly 50 percent in Marion County.
Experts attribute the rise to the sheer volume of cyclists now joining motorists on the road, but there could be another factor at play — ignorance of the state's confusing bike laws.
Cycling advocates and legal experts say motorists and cyclists alike don't know how they're supposed to interact on the state's roadways. And while "share the road" makes for a great slogan, it doesn't come with a clear instruction manual. Even legal experts give conflicting interpretations of the state's convoluted — and largely untested cycling laws.
"There haven't been a lot of cases — that's the thing," said Marion County Superior Court Judge David Dreyer, whose court awarded settlements to two crash victims recently. "There's more bicyclists around than ever, and people on both sides don't know what they should be doing."
Nancy Tibbett, executive director of Bicycle Indiana, says that based on surveys done by her group, upwards of half of all Hoosiers don't even know that cyclists are allowed on the road — much less the nuances of who should yield to whom at an intersection.
"As much as I'd like to say common sense should always prevail, we also know that it doesn't," Tibbett said.
This month, a new law was added to the mix. On July 1, Indiana became the 16th state to enact what's known as a "dead red" law, allowing motorcycles, bicycles and mopeds to run red lights when the signal has been stuck on red for more than two minutes.
It's meant to solve a problem: Some stoplights only change when triggered by the mass of a vehicle, and even motorbikes aren't large enough to activate them.
But it's far from the only situation in which cyclists are at a disadvantage because our roads were designed for larger vehicles.Where to Ride?
Take something as simple as where a cyclist should ride when there's no bike lane. Talk to three experts and you could get three different answers.
Some say visibility is king for cyclists, and recommend riding near the middle of the lane in some situations.
"According to the letter of the law, a cyclist can be in the middle of the road in his lane cycling, as long as he's following the rules of the road," says Lance Worland, a personal injury lawyer with Caress Law Group. "I think drivers a lot of times aren't aware of that, and don't realize the cyclist has a right to be there."
His take — shared by many cyclists — is based on the state bicycle law, which says cyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicles.
But others say cyclists should cling to the curb, based on another state law that suggests slow vehicles should be "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb."Road Rules: Indiana Bicycle Laws (pdf)
"You'll hear bicyclists say, 'we have the same rights as motorists to be in the road' — I'm not sure I agree with that," said Dreyer. "As a motorist, I'm as irked by (cyclists using the middle of the lane) as anybody, even though I ride a bicycle all the time."
The judge acknowledges that the law isn't clear. The slow-moving vehicle statute actually says cyclists should be in the right-hand lane "or" as close to the curb as possible. One or the other may have been intended to apply to different situations, but the law doesn't explain what those are.
Tibbett suggests that cyclists use the right third of the lane. "But we actually don't say they should ride as close to the edge as possible," she said. "If they're too close to the edge, they might not be seen.
"The challenge with that becomes for the bicyclist, that if they're close to the right, a motor vehicle will take the liberty to pass the bicyclist in the same lane, and often that could be entirely too close."Collisions Surging
Increasingly, ignorance of the rules of the road is becoming a dangerous proposition for cyclists, and a costly one for motorists.
Bicycle-related collisions in Marion County jumped from 170 in 2011 to 250 in 2013, according to state crash report data, a 47 percent rise. Statewide, such collisions increased 8 percent from 963 to 1,039. Exclude Marion County, and the rest of the state actually stayed about the same in that period.
Within the past eight months alone, huge settlements have been awarded to cyclists after drivers were found mostly at fault for crashes.
In one case, Dreyer upheld a $3.9 million ruling awarded to a then-17-year-old cyclist, Richard Bethel, after he was hit by a school bus in 2010. In another, a jury in Dreyer's court awarded a $240,000 settlement to David Asher, a moped driver who was hit by a car that turned in front of him while he was going straight through an intersection in a bike lane.
Worland says his firm has seen a "substantial" increase in cycling-related injuries in recent years, with most of them occurring at intersections.
"Normally, either a car's taking a left or a right at a light or a stop sign and fails to yield to the cyclist crossing the street," he said.Clear Rules, Education Needed?
State law generally puts the burden on motorists to "exercise due caution" to avoid vulnerable road users. But it can be confusing for motorists what a cyclist is planning to do — and Worland said "rogue cyclists" who break the rules of the road make it that much more difficult for the two sides to get along.
"That means stop at stop signs, stop at red lights ... there are a lot of cyclists that don't do that," Worland said. "It gives cyclists who are serious about it a bad rap."
Advocates like Bicycle Indiana are working to educate both groups. And they have their sights set on adding new protections to cyclists in state law. Currently, laws spelling out who can be in a bike lane and establishing a 3-foot buffer when passing a bicycle have only been adopted by a few cities, including Indianapolis and Carmel.
The discrepancies from one city to another are confusing at best, and legally problematic at worst. The Asher case hinged on Dreyer's interpretation that a Marion County law prohibiting mopeds from entering a bike lane conflicted with a state law urging slow vehicles to stay to the right.
"It's confusing," Worland acknowledged. "I would say that we do need clearer guidelines for drivers and cyclists alike."
Here at Shaw Law, we believe that every accident is preventable. Every accident is due to someone's fault. You should not have to bear the brunt of the negligence of someone else.
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