Bicyclist Negligence: Traffic Law and Bike Regulation Violations

The Bicycle Accident Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. comment on an important inquiry often presented by bike crash victims: ‘Can violating a traffic law or bicycle regulation impact my personal injury claim?’ Generally speaking this question can be answered with a ‘YES,’ however, the better response is really ‘DEPENDS.’ While part of safe and responsible bicycling requires adherence to both state and local law, not every unlawful action will play a role in the outcome of a personal injury claim.

In some cases, the law expressly exempts a particular violation from being presented as evidence in civil claims extending from an accident or injury. For example, many Chicagoland communities that require minors to wear helmets have set forth an evidentiary exclusion for child helmet-use law violations. Pursuant to town/village code for Barrington, Cicero, Inverness, and Oak Park, violation of a child helmet law:

‘shall not constitute negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle, nor shall anything in this section change any existing law, rule, or procedure pertaining to any civil action.’

In other cases, the law provides no exemption for presenting evidence of a specific violation, however the violation has little or no bearing on a case, or is altogether irrelevant to an issue in dispute, and therefore inadmissible.In other words, an opposing party would generally be unsuccessful in defending a claim based solely on the fact that a bicyclist has committed a violation, without some logical connection between the wrongful act and the accident or injury.

For example, if an accident occurred, and it is later discovered that the bicyclist has violated a local law by failing to register their bicycle with local authorities, it cannot be said that this type of violation, in and of itself, either caused or contributed to the accident. However, if the bicyclist was a bike messenger, who at the time of the accident, was operating a messenger service in the central business district of Chicago without a license, insurance, and/or helmet, the impact of such violation(s) would be altogether different.

Depending on the factual circumstances involved, and the law applicable to the area that an accident occurred, some bicycling-related violations are almost certain to come into play in personal injury claims. Consider the following unlawful bicyclist actions:

• Biking on a street (or sidewalk) where bicycles are prohibited • Using the roadway when law requires use of (designated) bike lane • Carrying objects that prevent cyclist from keeping both hands on handlebars • Failing to yield the right-of-way
• Clinging to a vehicle • Traveling at an unreasonable or reckless rate of speed • Performing stunts while riding • Operating a bicycle with (known) mechanical deficiencies
• Talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device • Texting while biking

It is important to remember that neither the presence nor absence of a specific violation should be considered as determinative in the outcome of a case. The better approach is to leave the legal analysis to a licensed professional that has prior experience in personal injury cases involving bicycle accidents. The Chicago Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. will assess your matter during a FREE consultation, and explain the potential impact of a violation, as well as your rights and options to obtaining financial compensation. Contact us online, or by calling 773-516-4100.