Recently in California several members of a group of cyclists were injured when they were clipped by a truck that was trying to pass them. Nine cyclists were on a 30-mile group ride when the incident occurred. The driver of the truck apparently tried to pass the group by squeezing between the group and oncoming traffic. Cyclists and their bikes were scattered along the road after the truck mirror hit them and knocked them to the ground. According to California’s “safe passing” law, drivers have to be at least three feet away from a bicyclist when they pass them.

However, New Jersey is one of a few states, and the only state in the Northeast, that does not have a specific “safe passing” statute setting the minimum safe passing distance between a motor vehicle and a bicycle. While general rules of caution still apply, in the absence of a safe passing law, bicyclists on group rides, as well as motorists in New Jersey, should exercise extra caution and be sure to learn and follow the rules of the road.

Here are a few reminders about passing safety in New Jersey:

  • Cyclists should not ride more than 2 abreast and should revert to single-file when traffic is approaching from the rear.
  • Cyclists are generally required to ride to the right side of the travel lane, and should keep as far right as possible given the conditions and preserving their general safety.

As cyclists have the same general rights as a “motorist,” a car seeking to pass should treat them like a slow moving vehicle, abiding by the general rules for safe passing.

Ever wonder how pros competing in events like the Tour de France can spend 5+ hours in the saddle day-after-day? While part of it is certainly that they are elite athletes, they also have the benefit of working with coaches and other pros to insure their bikes fit the nuances of their body perfectly, and that their cycling form is spot on.

Pedaling Technique: Elite coaches preach the benefits of training to improve pedaling efficiency. Doing so will help you ride for longer with less fatigue and ensure you are maximizing the power from each pedal stroke into forward momentum. A key element of an efficient pedal stroke is to have correct riding position and cadence on your bike. Some elements are:

  • Keeping the knees in line with pedals (they should track straight up & down, like pistons);
  • Keeping the upper body stable (proper bike fit is key here)
  • Maintaining a high cadence (85-90+ is often cited as the sweet spot)

More information on improving your technique can be found here.

Bike Fit: Any bike shop can offer you a “fit,” but only one in Mercer County, to my knowledge, has the ability to do a dynamic “Pro-fit,” which will supply you with the ability to “feel” subtle changes in real time: Hart’s Cyclery in Pennington, NJ. I would recommend checking out their “GURU Bike Fit” service.

Skeptical? I was. That is, until I tried it. The tweaks Ross Hart, the shop’s owner, set up for me made a WORLD of difference. Overnight I was more comfortable, had better stamina on the road, and less overall muscle fatigue. Give Ross a call. You’ll be glad you did!

“Dooring” events – crashes or other collisions triggered by a motorist opening their door into a cyclist or the cyclist’s path — are one of the more common collision events for cyclists in urban areas.  Often with devastating results.  As a bicycle accident lawyer, I’ve seen folks who have suffered catastrophic head injuries, shoulder injuries, neck injuries, etc., as a direct result of these incidents.  Unfortunately, the  cyclist is often without any means of preventing or avoiding these crash events.  Why?  Visibility and notice are the key problems.

Contrary to what many motorists (and jurors) may think, the cyclist usually has no warning that a “dooring” event is about to occur.   A cyclist’s ability to see into the passenger compartment of a parked vehicle is usually very limited, most commonly due to window tinting (present on most mini-vans and SUVs) or sun glare reflecting off of the vehicles’ windows.  Now, factor in the reality that cyclists are legally obligated to ride as far to the right side of the road/lane as possible in order to avoid obstructing the flow of traffic, and the recipe for disaster should be clear.  The easiest means to avoid these accidents is to place an obligation on motorists to look before they open their doors!  Why? Simple.  Unlike the approaching cyclist, a motorist has direct knowledge of their plan to open the door, has no impediments to their ability to see through their windows, and has the added benefit of being able to view the approach of the cyclist in their mirrors.The vast majority of States in the US have traffic statutes which address Dooring by imposing a duty on all drivers to verify they can safely open their car doors before they do so.  Unfortunately, New Jersey has no such statute.

As an avid cyclist and bicycle injury attorney in New Jersey, I think it is time for that to change.  I urge you to do your part by writing to your state legislators and seeking change.  Not sure who they are?  You can look them up here. For more information of “dooring” and a summary of the way this hazard is addressed across the United States, visit League of American Cyclists website.

You are probably aware that bicycles sold in the United States are required to meet certain design requirements set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  But did you know that bicycles which are only intended for use by children have their own safety standards? Due to a variety of reasons, including developmental differences (such as lower hand strength and relative levels of coordination), safety requirements applicable to children’s bicycles may vary.

General Information – Children’s Bicycle Categories:  Bikes specifically designed for use by children are typically categorized by their wheel size (12”, 16”, etc.).  Bicycles with smaller wheels are targeted the children who will have lower relative strength and coordination and, as such, differing safety requirements under the CPSC guidelines.  For example:

Sidewalk Bikes:   The CPSC classifies bicycles as “sidewalk bikes” based upon size and features.  Typically these include “balance bikes” a/k/a “balance trainers” and bikes with 12-inch wheels.  Those with a seat height of less than 22” (in the lowest setting) need not have any brakes, so long as they do not have a “freewheeling feature” and are affixed with a permanent label which stated “no brakes”.  Those with a seat height in excess of 22” (in the lowest setting) must have a foot brake.  Reflectors are not required on sidewalk bikes, though they may be present on units available for sale.

Balance Bikes:  Also known as “balance trainers”, these bicycles have no drive system whatsoever and are propelled with the lower extremities or by the assistance of an adult.  The purpose of these bikes is to teach children (typically 18 months – 4 years of age) how to balance and steer.  They fall within the scope of the CPSC’s  ‘sidewalk bike’ classification, and thus are not required to have many standard bicycle safety features, such as brakes and reflectors.

Bikes with 12-Inch wheels:  Bicycles in this classification are intended as entry-level training bikes, and are targeted at children 3-4 years of age.  As with balance trainers, the CPSC classifies these bicycles as ‘sidewalk bikes’.  Bicycles with this wheel size are typically sold with training wheels and foot-operated coaster brakes. If sold with a chain drive, it must be shielded.

Bikes with 16-Inch wheels:  Bicycles in this class are intended for children ranging between 4-6 years.  They are required to have a chain guard which covers the top of the chain and 90⁰ of the portion of the front drive sprocket which makes contact with the chain.  These are often sold with training wheels, though there is no requirement that they be so equipped.  Brakes are required, but they may be found with either caliper brakes or a combination of a rear foot-operated coaster brake and a hand-operated front caliper brake.

Bikes with 20-Inch wheels:  Bicycles in this class are intended for children of at least 6 years of age, but may be marketed for use by much older individuals (e.g., BMX or “stunt” bikes).  This is typically the smallest format in which multi-speed gearing is available, though many are sold in a single speed BMX-style configurations.   Brakes are required, but they may be found with either caliper brakes or a combination of a rear foot-operated coaster brake and a hand-operated front caliper brake.  Chain guard requirements apply to single speed models.  This is the first bicycle size intended for use upon the roadways and thus, additional requirements are imposed for reflectors to enhance visibility at night.

Considerations for Brake Type

Coaster Brake (a/k/a Foot Brake) vs. Hand Brakes:  Coaster braking systems are incorporated into the hub of the bicycle’s rear wheel assembly and are actuated by applying reverse pressure on the front sprocket.  These systems are routinely found on bicycles targeted to the youngest individuals, as hand strength may not be sufficiently developed to permit the reliable use of hand brakes.  Hand brakes become appropriate as hand strength develops.  As a practical matter, a child’s level of coordination should also be considered when choosing braking systems.

More information on the CPSC’s requirements may be found here.

The CPSC may be contacted at (301) 504-7913 or via e-mail at: sect15@cpsc.gov.

As a bicyclist and consumer safety advocate in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I find myself regularly performing research and, in my travels today, I came across an announcement that UVEX, a major producer of bicycle helmets, has recalled several helmet models due to a risk that the chinstrap mechanism will fail.  In addition, the helmets involved in the recall also reportedly fail to comply with the impact requirements set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  The combined defects produce a significant risk for head injury.  The affected model numbers are “XB017, XB022, XB025, XB027, XB032, XB036 and XB038”

More information on the recall can be found through the CPSC website here.

While I am pleased that UVEX has announced this recall, the bigger question from my perspective is “How can a company produce, market and distribute a bicycle helmet which does not comply with the impact requirements set by the CPSC?”  It’s both shameful and amazing.

If you or anyone you know has been injured in a bicycle-related accident, my office is here to help. Contact Stark & Stark today for your free consultation.

USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx recently announced a new federal action plan, entitled “Safer People, Safer Streets” in response to recent data which have revealed that the incidence of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities caused by motor vehicle accidents is on the rise throughout the United States.  Speaking to the assembled crowd at the recent the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference, Foxx was quoted as saying:

“This initiative is aimed at reversing the recent rise in deaths and injuries among the growing number of Americans who bicycle or walk to work, to reach public transportation and to other important destinations.”

The action plan will reportedly be rolled out over the course of the next 18 months, and commits numerous federal agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to the task of identifying the causes of bicycle and pedestrian crashes.  As part of the plan, these federal agencies will be required to work with local officials and advocates to identify and implement solutions geared toward reducing the incidence of injuries and fatalities amongst cyclists and pedestrians.

For more on this important safety initiative, visit the League of American Bicyclists.

 

 

The 6th annual “NJ Bike & Walk Summit” is now on calendar, and is set to be held on Saturday, February 21, 2015 at the Bloustein School of Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  In addition to its traditional project presentation formats, the coalition will reportedly now be hosting a series of “7 minute mini presentations” during its 2015 summit, and has issued a call for “presentations and panel sessions on bicycle and pedestrian related projects from townships, community organizations and government agencies.”

Anyone interested in submitting proposals for consideration may obtain a submission form here.

 

 

On October 16, 2014, the NJ Bike-Walk Coalition (NJBWC), in partnership with Montclair Twp., launched the Garden State’s first “Bike Depot”; a cooperative effort which will provide “safe, secure (card-key access) storage of bicycles for NJ Transit commuters, under various membership levels.”   Information on purchasing a bike depot membership can be accessed here.

The Montclair Depot is located at the Bay Street NJ Transit station, and will serve as an exemplar to NJ Transit for what will hopefully culminate in various depots across New Jersey.  The coalition reportedly chose Montclair as to serve as the model town for the Depot due to the fact that there are six NJ Transit train stations in its vicinity.  A copy of the press release can be accessed here. The Depot is a great step forward in enhancing the feasibility of bicycle commuting in our state, and NJMWC and Montclair should each be applauded for their efforts. The NJBWC has invited folks who are interested in creating a similar Depot in their towns to contact the NJBWC via e-mail sent to:  info@njbwc.org

The NJ State Assembly recently passed a law which would requires any motorist seeking to pass a cyclist or pedestrian on the roadway, to move over and provide “a reasonable and safe distance” of at least four feet between the vehicle and the person being passed.  The motorist would not be permitted to move back to the right until they have safely completed the pass.  The law would subject drivers who fail to honor the 4 foot rule to pay a fine up to $500 per offense. It now goes to the state senate.gap of at least four feet between their vehicle and the person being passed.  The bill reportedly passed the Assembly with a vote of 49-21 (6 persons abstaining).  The law now moves on for consideration by the state senate.

The concept of a minimum safe passing distance is not new and exists, in some form, in the majority of states in the U.S.  This measure would present a huge step in the right direction for protecting cyclists and pedestrians, and would drastically reduce the risks myself and my fellow cyclists face on the roadways.

It is an unfortunate reality that cyclists are extremely vulnerable to the actions of careless motorists when riding on the roadways of our nation. And, it should come as no shock to anyone reading this blog that a cyclist’s vulnerability can be increased by certain environmental conditions (fog, poor lighting, wet roads, etc.) and by the characteristics of a given roadway (blind curves, narrow shoulders, obstructions to view, etc.). However, have you ever stopped to consider how the ageof the cyclist may impact upon their vulnerability? If not, stop for a moment to consider the following story which high-lights this very phenomenon.

According to recent news, Shawn Brumbaug, a 13 year old boy from Akron, OH, was reportedly crossing a roadway after nightfall when he was struck by a speeding motorcyclist. The accident was so violent, that it severed the boy’s leg below the knee on impact, leaving him physically and emotionally maimed for life. The motorcyclist who hit him was reportedly ejected in the crash sequence, and subsequently slid under a moving vehicle. The motorcyclist ultimately died from his injuries. In a situation like this, it’s easy to look to the cyclist for blame. After all, by crossing a street he had entered the motorcyclist’s path when he was hit. But, as is often true with bicycle accident cases, one must set aside such knee jerk reactions and look more closely to get to the truth.

First, one must realize that bicycles have the same rights and duties as other motor vehicles in most jurisdictions, including New Jersey. This means that when attempting to cross another vehicle’s lane of travel at an uncontrolled intersection, bicyclists, like all motorists, must generally yield only where the approaching vehicle is so close as to constitute an imminent hazard. As such, provided Shawn began to cross at a point where it reasonably appeared safe for him to do so, it was likely he, not the motorcyclist, who had the right of way. In most circumstances, I would expect this issue to be the focus of the debate over responsibility. And it is possible that Shawn may even have been blamed in this tragic accident but for the existence of some rather rare proof. What proof you ask? Well, Shawn’s accident was reportedly captured by the surveillance cameras of a nearby convenience store. And that video revealed the following important facts: 1) Shawn, who was wearing relatively light-colored clothing, had reached the middle of the roadway before he was hit; 2) the motorcyclist was traveling at very high speed at the time of the accident. Couple this with the fact that, just minutes before the collision, two motorcycles were seen in the area traveling at very high speeds, performing wheelies and generally driving in a reckless manner and it’s not difficult to appreciate that it was likely the excessive speed of the motorcyclist, not any action on Shawn’s part, which was the root cause of this tragic accident and Shawn’s horrific injury.

One must also consider, however, that Shawn’s relative youth and limited life experience may have left him unable to fully appreciate the speed of the approaching motorcycle and the impact that increased closing speed would have on his ability to safely cross the road. As a parent, lifelong cyclist and bicycle accident lawyer, I find that real life examples, such as this case, serve as the best teaching tools to help enhance the safety of children while cycling. Share this story with your children and tell them to give an even larger buffer to approaching traffic, as they may not appreciate how quickly another vehicle may reach them. It’s also important to realize that in most circumstances there won’t be a video to confirm the truth of what occurred in a bicycle accident. Rather, what a victim like Shawn typically needs to secure justice is the immediate assistance of an experienced lawyer. If you, a loved one or friend have suffered an injury while bicycling, contact an experienced bicycle accident lawyer immediately. Doing so may well be the key to obtaining justice.