If a Bike and Car Collide, Who Is At Fault?

More than 700 bicyclists were killed in auto-related accidents in the U.S. in 2012, and another 49,000 bicyclists were injured. Bicyclist injuries have increased nearly 9 percent in the last decade, and bicyclist injuries and fatalities now cost more than $4 billion annually. According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, while bicycles account for only 1 percent of all trips in the U.S., bicyclists represent approximately 2 percent of all traffic fatalities.

The size disparity between a bicycle and a car make bicyclist-motorist crashes especially devastating. However, just because the bike is smaller, the driver is not necessarily at fault for the accident. The process of determining fault in a bicycle-car collision is similar to any motor vehicle accident; it requires taking all of the circumstances into account and deciding who was negligent leading up to the collision.

The New Jersey Vehicle Code is found in Title 39 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes. According to New Jersey law, “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle…” With this in mind, bicyclists are required to follow all of the rules of the road, including obeying traffic signals and keeping a safe distance from vehicles on the road.

New Jersey law also states:

  • All bicycles must be equipped with a front headlamp, a rear light, or a red reflector while in use at nighttime
  • All bicycles must be equipped with a bell or other audible device that can be heard at least 100 feet away
  • All bicycles must be equipped with brakes that can stop the bike on dry, level, clean pavement
  • Bicyclists may not ride with feet removed from the pedals or hands removed from the handlebars
  • Bicyclists may not practice trick or fancy driving in the street
  • Bicyclists must not carry more passengers than the bicycle is designed and equipped to carry
  • Bicyclists must not attach themselves to any streetcar or vehicle

With these rules in mind, it can be easier to determine who is at fault for the accident. If the bicyclist was not following one of New Jersey’s bicycle laws, he or she could be found liable in the event of an accident (so long as the rule broken actually contributed to the accident). Similarly, if the driver of the vehicle broke one of New Jersey’s traffic laws—be it speeding, changing lanes without signaling, or blowing through a red light—he or she could be found at fault for the accident.

At the end of the day, there is no hard-and-fast rule for who is at fault in a bicycle-vehicle collision. Determining liability comes down to figuring out who—if anyone—broke New Jersey traffic law. In the vast majority of cases, the party who acted unlawfully will be the party at fault for the accident.