“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.

On February 10, 2015, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued an announcement that Marin Mountain Bikes has issued a recall notice concerning approximately 450 units of its 2014 model MBX 50 and Tiny Trail boys and girls bicycles.  The bikes in question have 16” wheels and were intended for young children.  They were reportedly sold in stores nationwide between September, 2013 and December, 2014, and retailed for approximately $250.

The company provided this description of the defect at issue:  “The handlebars can loosen or separate during use. This can cause the rider to lose control and/or crash, posing the risk of injury.” Consumers are advised to immediately stop using the recalled bicycle and contact Marin for a replacement handlebar stem.

For more information, consumers can contact Marin Mountain Bikes at (800) 222-7557 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Monday through Friday, or visit the company’s website at www.marinbikes.com  (click on “Recalls/Safety” for more information).

The CPSC notice, which contains a sample photo of the recalled bike, can be viewed here.

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.

A tragic news story out of Sacramento, CA serves as a reminder of the deadly consequences which can result from one’s decision to drive while under the influence.

According to local news reports, the California Highway Patrol advised that a cyclist and both occupants of an SUV were killed recently, when the driver of the vehicle drifted across 2 lanes and collided with a cyclist who was riding in a designated bicycle lane.  The cyclist was reportedly thrown approximately 100 feet from the point of impact, and was killed.  Witnesses reported seeing the Chevy Tahoe strike the cyclist from behind and then proceed to slam into a tree, killing both the driver of the Tahoe and the passenger.  While the accident happened in the early afternoon, around 2:30 pm, the driver is suspected to have been under the influence at the time of the crash.

While the facts of the accident alone serve as a chilling reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving, the consequences of an accident such as this can affect the perpetrator in ways you may not initially suspect.  How, you may ask?  Look to the Bankruptcy Code.  While most “negligence” claim gives rise to a “debt” (created by the legal claim or judgment) which is dischargeable in bankruptcy, there are some circumstances where the debt is not dischargeable.  Injuries which result from DWI are one example.  In the specific circumstance from this crash, this distinction may not be significant, as the driver was also killed.  But, if the driver had survived, the situation may have been very different.  In such an event, the financial damages to the survivors of those killed could be monumental and would almost certainly leave the driver with inadequate insurance coverage.  If the at fault driver were relatively young, she may well find her wages garnished for life and her savings gutted, all because she made the reckless and deadly decision to get behind the wheel of her car after drinking.

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.

As a personal injury attorney, I see the tragic effects of fatigued driving all too frequently.  Recent studies have demonstrated that driving while fatigued presents a hazard similar to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; a fact which is also true for driving while distracted (such as by texting or other cell phone usage).  And, unfortunately, recent news out of Oregon reveals that this silent killer has struck again, this time claiming the life of a cyclist.

According to reports, Ellen Dittebrandt, a 52 year old firefighter and EMT, was riding her bicycle along the shoulder of Interstate 84 near Viento State Park – just west of Hood River.  Dittebrandt was reportedly observing all applicable traffic laws and was wearing a helmet.  Traffic was reportedly light. And, while the crash occurred at approximately 6:25 am, there was ample ambient light and no obstructions to her visibility to motorists.  The crash occurred as Dittebrandt was approaching the area of an off-ramp near Milepost 56.  A pickup truck driven by John Allman, a 55 year old man from Portland, drifted from the marked lane and onto the shoulder, striking Dittebrandt’s bike from behind.  She was thrown from her bike and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Due to the nature of the crash, police reportedly suspect that Allman was overly tired and that his fatigued state contributed to the crash which claimed Dittebrandt’s life. My heart goes out to Ms. Dittebrandt’s family.  Hopefully, the story of this tragic loss will help increase awareness of the dangers of fatigued driving, and help to spare others from a similar fate.