I Witnessed a Denver Bike Accident: Here are the top five things I learned from the experience

During the morning rush hour recently, I witnessed a horrific accident involving a car and a bicyclist. Sadly, the bicyclist was at fault and wasn’t wearing a helmet. I’ve talked to my kids about the incident and I’m going to share it with you today because I think we can all learn from this sad event.

Here’s what I saw…

I was heading northbound on Lincoln and I stopped at a red light at 11th Avenue. There was one car in front of me. A female biker was heading northbound on the sidewalk next to the roadway and she didn’t stop when the lights turned red. She simply kept going. When she crossed the intersection, the eastbound cars were already fully in motion and one of the cars struck the her.

The biker’s body did pinwheels 20 feet into the air and she landed on the top of her head. Her bike was thrown 100 feet farther up 11th Avenue.

All of us in cars nearby jumped out to help her and we called 911. The biker was nonresponsive but then she started making noises and moving. However, she was definitely severely injured, with head injuries and broken bones. She had on a dress but no helmet.

I felt like I was watching a life destroyed right in front of me, even though it looked like she would live.

Tragically, because the accident was the biker’s fault, she will be responsible for all of her own medical bills, lost wages, and more. I felt like I was watching a life destroyed right in front of me, even though it looked like she would live.

I am a huge advocate of bikers’ rights in Denver. I work with several biking organizations around the city to help get the word out about bicycle laws and safety. I even helped an elementary school give away a bunch of bikes to its students last year. And I want my kids to be able to safely bike wherever they want to go. But I also caution them that, in any bike-versus-car encounter, the car always wins. Therefore, bikers need to be hyper-vigilant.

Here are the lessons we can all learn from this tragedy:

  1. man riding bike in city wearing helmetEqual rights to the road: Bikers have the legal right to use Colorado’s roads. I believe in those rights and will stand up for them every time, which is why I represent bikers who have been wrongfully injured by negligent drivers. That said, because of their vulnerability, bikers need to be much more cautious than drivers.
  2. If you commute to work on a bike, you have to wear a helmet. I don’t care if your hair gets messed up. Bring a brush. Vanity is no reason to risk your life.
  3. Obey traffic laws when you’re biking. It is illegal to bike on sidewalks. In fact, unless your destination is within 100 feet, if police catch you riding on a sidewalk, you’ll get a ticket. Also, obey traffic lights.
  4. Pay attention to all nearby traffic. Assume that drivers can’t see you. When you come to an intersection, look in every direction where a car might be approaching. Cars aren’t looking for you! You must look for them.
  5. When crossing an intersection, don’t move in front of vehicles without getting eye contact with the nearby drivers.

What Are Denver’s Laws for Bicyclists?

In the interest of spreading good information, I thought I’d share some of the Denver laws that particularly apply to bicyclists who choose to traverse Denver’s city streets:
bicycle tips

  • Bicyclists must ride close to the right curb. This is especially important if you are riding in traffic and going slower than the posted speed limit. It is your duty as a biker to ride as far to the right as possible. (Auto drivers get very impatient when they get stuck behind a bicyclist who refuses to move over. Don’t be that biker; in any match between a car and a bike, the biker loses.)
  • Bicyclists are allowed to use the right-hand shoulder. I strongly recommend riding as far to the right in the shoulder as possible.
  • Bicyclists must follow all traffic signals and signs just as if they were in a car. For example, when you come to a stop sign or stop light, you must stop. (When I’m in my neighborhood and stopped at a four-way intersection, I always look for bikers. They’re everywhere! If I see a biker coming, I tend to wave him or her through the intersection because I know what a pain it is to stop and then start up again on a bike. It’s very different for the car driver who only has to push a foot down on the gas. However, bikers need to make eye contact with drivers at every intersection to assure make sure they are seen.)
  • When riding between sunset and sunrise, a cyclist must use lights, including a white light in front that can be seen from 500 feet away, and a reflector on back that can be seen from 100 to 600 feet away. In the winter (and we have a lot of hearty winter bicyclists in Colorado), when there are more night hours than daylight hours, bikers should always be prepared to wear lights and reflectors.

Read this document to learn more about Colorado Bicycling Laws.

What Are Your Rights as a Bicyclist?

Of course, many bicyclists know the laws and adhere to them, but Colorado drivers are impatient (and growing more impatient as our roads become more congested). Here are the rights you can expect as a biker in Colorado:

  • You have the right to ride on any public road in Colorado. But remember, you’ve got to obey all posted traffic signals, just like everyone else.
  • Cars need to leave 3 feet of space when passing a bicyclist.

That’s really it. Your rights as a biker are very similar to those of an auto driver because we are all expected to behave courteously and follow the law. If you neglect your responsibilities on the road, not only might you get hurt, but you could get a ticket.

Biking is fantastic exercise, good for the environment and a cheap way to get from A to B, but you also have to assume that you have a giant bullseye on your clothing, especially when you’re riding downtown. I never, ever want to see an accident like this one again. Please be safe.

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” ~Charles M. Schulz


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