With National Bike Month Passed, Nevada Remains Dangerous For Cyclists

Benson & Bingham

With calendars reading “JUNE,” we are already approaching the halfway point in 2019. The month just gone by – that being the month of May, of course – is notable in several respects. As we have noted several times in recent posts, May is when the holidays of Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day occur, each helping to awake the party-goer in each of us and usher in the warm, jubilant months of summer. May is also National Bike Month, a rolling celebration (get it?) spearheaded by the League of American Bicyclists. The month-long observation has been in effect since 1956, and it is billed as “a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling.” [1]

Event organizers cite a number of reasons to ride a bike. Those concerned about climate change and air pollution ride to reduce their carbon footprint by taking one more car off the roads. The athletically minded turn their commutes into workouts and stay in shape for what is for many a lifelong sport of cycling. Those with financial concerns enjoy saving money or boosting visibility of their businesses, and those in a hurry enjoy skipping traffic for the relative speed of an unclogged bike lane. These and other rationales are offered to entice new people into the movement (get it?) to bike to work. And it is working – the League reports that bicycle commuting rose some 60 percent over the first decade of the 2000s. While National Bike Month is marked by parades, celebrations, and other events throughout the month of May, the flagship events are Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day – which caps off the Week, in case that was not obvious! Local bicycle groups and retailers coordinate with other businesses to offer incentives to cyclists during this period, drawing hesitant riders into the fray with the enticements of free swag and the community and safety of traveling en masse. [2]

That safety is no small piece, because one of the biggest drawbacks to commuting by bike is the risk of devastating injury or death from car versus bicycle accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (or NHTSA, a federal regulatory and safety agency), in 2017 nearly 800 cyclists were killed in traffic crashes. Nearly two in five of these fatalities involved the use of alcohol, so policies (and personal responsibility) to reduce driving under the influence of alcohol – as well as cycling while drunk – can do much to improve road safety for cyclists. Three-quarters of these deadly accidents occurred in urban areas, with just 25 percent occurring in rural areas. Year around, the most dangerous time for a cyclist to ride is between 6pm and 9pm. These last two statistics illustrate the major threat to cyclists: conditions that make it more likely that car drivers will not see or take adequate precautions to avoid cyclists. [3]

Riders can do much to protect themselves. It all begins with wearing a helmet on every ride and ensuring that the helmet is in safe condition and well-fitted. Bicycle helmets improve safety because they are designed to absorb the blow of a fall or collision, and in some cases they have even saved lives by collapsing under the weight of a vehicle while keeping the cyclist’s skull intact underneath. A helmet that is not properly fitted and worn will not protect the right places at the crucial times, and one that is cracked or damaged has less ability to absorb blows and other forms of injury-causing pressure. Riders can also protect themselves by riding defensively and following traffic laws, operating just like a car would with a handful of exceptions. [4]

But even with these precautions in place, car accidents can hurt or kill cyclists. Drivers of cars must, of course, also follow all traffic laws and practice appropriate vigilance to protect cyclists who share the roads. In 2011 Nevada joined many other states by enacting a traffic law specific to the interactions of cars and bicycles. Drivers must now follow the 3-feet law, so named because it requires drivers overtaking and passing cyclists to ensure that they do so with a buffer of at least three feet to the cyclist’s left. [5] If there is an open lane available to the left of the one occupied by the car and the cyclist, a driver must change lanes into it. This makes Nevada’s law among the most aggressive in the country. [6] But a law like this is only as valuable as it is effective at changing behavior; Las Vegas-area bicycling groups have begun to push for stricter enforcement of the three-foot law, noting that Las Vegas ranks third in the nation among urban areas for car crashes that kill cyclists. [7]

This trend has been on display recently, even during National Bike Month. In Reno last month a man with a long history of driving under the influence struck and killed a cyclist at the intersection of Lakeside Drive and Moana Lane, a generally bike-friendly area of the town that serves as a connection point between two well-traveled bike routes. [8] And another accident in northern Nevada left a cyclist in critical condition. This occurred in the southbound lane of U.S. 395 at Bowers Mansion Road, at the north end of Washoe Valley. This, too, is a popular stretch for serious cyclists, and the accident occurred on the Sunday before Bike to Work Week.

If you or a loved one have been struck by a driver while on a bicycle and need guidance about your legal rights, contact an established and knowledgeable personal injury attorney for a consultation.

[1] https://bikeleague.org/bikemonth

[2] https://bikeleague.org/bikemonth

[3] https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/bicycle-safety

[4] https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/bicycle-safety

[5] https://nevadabike.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/3-foot-passing-rule-becomes-law-in-nevada

[6] http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/safely-passing-bicyclists.aspx

[7] https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/news-columns/road-warrior/las-vegas-motorists-should-remember-3-f…

[8] https://www.kolotv.com/content/news/Moana-Lane-closed-after-car-bicycle-crash-at-Lakeside-Drive-5088…

[9] https://www.kolotv.com/content/news/Bicyclist-hit-injured-on-US-395-in-north-Washoe-Valley-509821811…

Photo Credit: Petar Milošević in Wikipedia Commons

Benson and Bingham