Cyclist Shares Valuable Insight Following Collision

“Bikes for me bring unfettered joy and energy to my life. Over the last three months during my surgery and radiation treatment, if I can even only get out for 30 minutes I find myself renewed and optimistic. If I was a doctor I would write you a script to get out and ride every day.” — Jay

“Bikes for me bring unfettered joy and energy to my life. Over the last three months during my surgery and radiation treatment, if I can even only get out for 30 minutes I find myself renewed and optimistic. If I was a doctor I would write you a script to get out and ride every day.” — Jay

It has been more than two years since Jay Middleton was seriously injured in a collision while riding his bike in Morrison, CO, but he is still recovering from his injuries. Jay is dealing with chronic knee pain and recently received a three-week course of injections to treat the pain. Cyclists who have been injured in collisions often deal with the after effects of their injuries long after their case is settled, the driver is sentenced, or their medical treatment ends. If Jay wants to continue to lead a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle, he will probably have to get injections the rest of his life.

Riding bikes has been a huge part of Jay’s life and identity for the last 25 years. He has raced on the road, mountain bikes, and cyclocross. He is an avid bikepacker, bike commuter, mountain biker, and has recently been using his bike to raise money for cancer and COVID research. This year, Jay was diagnosed with neck and oral cancer and continued to ride his bike throughout radiation treatment.

On July 13, 2018, Jay was traveling eastbound through downtown Morrison on his road bike. It was late morning, around 10:00 am, sunny, and there were blue skies. Jay was running both front and rear flashing lights on his bike and wearing a fluorescent yellow helmet. Nervous about riding too far to the right, Jay had taken the lane, as dooring is a risk by drivers who are parallel parked along that section of road. He was traveling at the same rate of traffic which was 20-25 mph.

A driver in a Honda CRV facing eastbound was leaving a parallel parking spot and made an illegal U-turn out of the parking spot. The driver’s U-turn cut Jay off causing him to collide with the front left side of the vehicle. Jay and his bike were catapulted over the hood of the car and into oncoming traffic in the left lane. 

Fortunately, the driver coming in the opposite direction was attentive and traveling at a safe speed. She was able to stop and avoided hitting Jay. She then called 911.

Paramedics tended to Jay at the scene. He had lacerations on his knees, hands, and elbows as well as bruising. An MRI later revealed that Jay had a torn meniscus in his right knee. He underwent several months of physical therapy for his knee before he and his orthopedist decided that surgery would be the best way to correct the damage. 

The Colorado State Patrol cited the driver, who admitted fault at the scene, with Failing to Yield Right-of-Way When Turning Left in Front of Approaching Traffic. Since this crash happened before May 29, 2019, it was not yet possible for law enforcement to cite the driver with Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-1402.5, which makes careless driving causing serious bodily injury to a vulnerable road user a class 1 traffic misdemeanor. Since the passing of the law in early 2019, we are slowly seeing law enforcement cite drivers with this traffic violation more often and district attorney offices elevating charges against drivers.  Find out here how to get a serious bodily injury charge filed. 

Jay does not feel that the outcome of the criminal case against the driver was just and fair. The driver had numerous traffic violations and got away with a slap on the wrist.  “Cars can be lethal weapons and using one comes with great responsibility.  When misused by drivers, they should be treated and punished as such,” says Jay.

Here’s what Jay wants every cyclist to know if involved in a crash. He actually made the list shortly after his collision of things he wish he had known:

  1. If possible get out of the flow of traffic. Nothing worse than getting hit by a car and then getting run over by one.

  2. Call the police.

  3. Take lots of photos (your bike, the car that hit you, license plate of the car that hit you).

  4. Do not admit fault.

  5. Get a copy of the police report, the driver’s insurance information, and the name and phone numbers of any witnesses.

  6. Get in touch with a lawyer to discuss your case. I live in the Denver area and reached out to Megan Hottman, aka The Cyclist Lawyer. Before COVID, she provided free monthly seminars for cyclists involved in collisions. Before she became my lawyer, that seminar alone armed me with information that allowed me to rightfully collect full value for my damaged property as well as alert me to several other rights I did not know I had.

  7. When claiming property damage, do not forget to include sales tax. That alone netted me several hundred extra dollars because I was on a pretty pricey bike.

  8. Seek medical treatment and document your injuries as well as all costs (e.g. medical, travel to and from the doctor, time taken off of work, etc.).

  9. Just because you feel better, does not mean you are. I did several months of physical therapy and thought I was good to go. Snowboard season, increased miles on the bike and excessive kneeling at work revealed that my right knee wasn’t healed. So the lesson is, do not sign anything from the auto insurance company until you are 100% sure you are done with your medical treatment. You have three years to settle your case, and this is where a lawyer may prove to be very helpful.

  10. Do not post anything about your wreck, your recovery, or anything that deals with your wreck on social media. Ask your friends and family to do the same. Social media content can be used in court. This means if you post something you cannot take it down, because that is just like destroying evidence.

  11. Report it to your auto insurance. You often can get reimbursed for some of your medical costs from your own auto insurance even if you are not at fault.

Jay was surprised how hard the driver’s insurance company was willing to work to avoid paying out damages for medical and pain and suffering. At the end of the day, they refused to negotiate in what he felt was a reasonable manner, even though the driver admitted fault. In the end, they paid out more than double what he had asked for on his own. “Megan was able to negotiate a much higher settlement. I think the insurance company was counting on me backing down,” explains Jay.

He was back riding after just a couple of days but with great trepidation. Every car that passed too fast or too close caused anxiety and anger to flare up.  Since the collision, Jay has invested in more brightly colored cycle clothing.  He still runs front and rear flashing lights on his bike. Jay actively participates in People for Bikes email writing campaigns and is a long-time member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

We hope that you are never injured in a crash or need to contact an attorney, but feel it is important to share the lessons that our clients have learned following their crash and during recovery. Hopefully, recent laws that provide more protection to vulnerable road users and stiffer penalties will cause motorists to drive more carefully around cyclists! 

-Written by Maureen

How far to the right?

This is the million dollar question facing cyclists ... how far to the right must we ride?  

After my discussions with cyclists, motorists and law enforcement officers, I think this is one of the most misunderstood portions of C.R.S. 42-4-1412 -the primary statute addressing cyclist conduct in Colorado.  

Let's break it down one section at a time -MY COMMENTS ARE IN BOLD ITALICS TO INDICATE MY THOUGHTS vsTHE STATUTORY LANGUAGE:

FIRST - WHAT SPEED IS THE CYCLIST GOING?  

(5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle or an electrical assisted bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride in the right-hand lane, subject to the following conditions:

STOP RIGHT THERE -- THIS SECTION IMPLIES THAT IF A CYCLIST IS GOING THE NORMAL SPEED OF TRAFFIC, THEN YOU NEED NOT READ ANY FURTHER.  

BUT - ASSUMING THE CYCLIST IS TRAVELING LESS THAN THE NORMAL SPEED OF TRAFFIC, THEN WE CONTINUE OUR ANALYSIS... 

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SECOND - IS THE LANE WIDE ENOUGH TO SHARE? 

(I) If the right-hand lane then available for traffic is wide enough to be safely shared with overtaking vehicles, a bicyclist shall ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so.

THIS SECTION ABOVE NOTES THAT IF THE LANE IS WIDE ENOUGH TO SHARE WITH A VEHICLE -AS IN, THERE IS ROOM FOR THE CYCLIST, THE 3-FOOT SEPARATION, AND THE ENTIRE VEHICLE... THEN, THE CYCLIST SHALL RIDE FAR ENOUGH TO THE RIGHT AS JUDGED SAFE BY THE BICYCLIST. 

THIS IS A KEY PHRASE!!!  EACH CYCLIST'S DETERMINATION OF WHAT IS SAFE, WILL VARY.  ROAD TIRES VS MTB TIRES?  ROAD DEBRIS? NARROW SHOULDER? STEEP DROP OFF TO THE RIGHT?  VETERAN RIDER WHO CAN HUG THE WHITE LINE OR NEWBIE RIDER WHO IS NOT QUITE AS STEADY OR SMOOTH?  PLUS, SEE BELOW -CYCLISTS ARE NOT EXPECTED TO RIDE OVER HAZARDS! 

SO- IF THE LANE CAN BE SHARED BY A BIKE AND A CAR, HOW FAR TO THE RIGHT IS A JUDGEMENT CALL THAT THE CYCLIST MAKES.  NOT THE CARS, NOT LAW ENFORCEMENT.  

THIRD -WHAT IF THE LANE IS TOO NARROW TO SHARE?  

NOTE THE IMPLICATION OF THIS SECTION - IF THE LANE IS NOT WIDE ENOUGH TO BE SAFELY SHARED WITH A CAR, THEN THE CYCLIST MAY TAKE THE LANE!  AND BIKE EDUCATORS NATIONWIDE, INCLUDING THE LEAGUE OF AMERICAN BICYCLISTS, TEACH THIS APPROACH.  WE WOULD RATHER HAVE A CYCLIST TAKE THE LANE (AND HAVE A CAR BEHIND THEM HONKING), THAN HAVE A CYCLIST INVITE A CAR TO SHARE A TOO-NARROW LANE WITH THEM AND GET SIDESWIPED OR END UP UNDERNEATH THE CAR.  

= TAKE THE LANE IF IT'S TOO NARROW TO SHARE!  

(II) A bicyclist may use a lane other than the right-hand lane when:

(A) Preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private roadway or driveway;

(B) Overtaking a slower vehicle; or 

(C) Taking reasonably necessary precautions to avoid hazards or road conditions.

(III) Upon approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right-turn lane, a bicyclist may ride on the left-hand portion of the dedicated right-turn lane even if the bicyclist does not intend to turn right.

I POINT OUT THE ABOVE SECTION TO YOU SO THAT YOU KNOW A CYCLIST MAY LEGALLY RIDE IN THE LEFT PORTION OF A DESIGNATED RIGHT-TURN ONLY LANE.  AND IT MAKES SENSE, RIGHT? IF THE CYCLIST WERE ON THE VERY RIGHT SIDE, IN THE RIGHT TURN LANE, THEY'D RISK BEING TURNED INTO, IF THEIR INTENT IS TO PROCEED STRAIGHT. SIMILARLY, RIDING ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE TURN LANE ALLOWS TURNING CARS TO MAKE THEIR RIGHT TURN, WHILE ALSO KEEPING THE THROUGH TRAFFIC LANE CLEAR FOR CARS PASSING TO THE RIDER'S LEFT.  WIN-WIN.

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(b) A bicyclist shall not be expected or required to:

(I) Ride over or through hazards at the edge of a roadway, including but not limited to fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or narrow lanes; or

(II) Ride without a reasonable safety margin on the right-hand side of the roadway.

NOTE THE ABOVE - CYCLISTS ARE NOT EXPECTED TO RIDE OVER ROAD DEBRIS ON THE ROAD'S EDGE, NOR ARE THEY EXPECTED TO RIDE WITHOUT A SAFETY MARGIN TO THEIR RIGHT.  

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BOTTOM LINE TAKE AWAY -- NOWHERE IN THIS STATUTE IS THE WORD IMPEDE.  IF A CYCLIST TAKES THE LANE BECAUSE IT IS TOO NARROW TO SHARE WITH A CAR, MOTORISTS and/or law enforcement MAY BELIEVE THAT THIS IS A CITABLE OFFENSE - "IMPEDING TRAFFIC."  

IN FACT, THE STATUTE DOES NOT MAKE ONE MENTION OF "IMPEDING TRAFFIC"  (YOU WILL FIND THAT LANGUAGE IN THE TWO ABREAST PORTION OF THE STATUTE).  THEREFORE, PURSUANT TO COLORADO STATUTE, THERE IS NO LEGAL REQUIREMENT FOR A CYCLIST TO MOVE ALL THE WAY RIGHT TO ALLOW A CAR TO OVERTAKE THEM.  CYCLISTS DO NOT HAVE TO YIELD BACKWARDS - IN OTHER WORDS THEY DO NOT HAVE TO MOVE RIGHT OR HUG THE WHITE LINE SIMPLY BECAUSE A CAR WANTS TO PASS.  IS IT OFTEN GOOD PRACTICE TO DO SO -ESPECIALLY ON HILLS OR CLIMBS WHERE THE CYCLIST'S SPEED IS 4MPH COMPARED TO THE POSTED SPEED LIMIT?  YES OF COURSE.  BUT ONLY IF IT IS SAFE. 

MOTORISTS: WHEN YOU SEE A CYCLIST RIDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A LANE, ESPECIALLY IN BUSY URBAN AREAS OR CONGESTED ROADS WITH ON-STREET PARKING AND LOTS OF TRAFFIC, THEY ARE THERE INTENTIONALLY, FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY.  THEY HAVE "TAKEN THE LANE" TO BE SAFE, TO BE VISIBLE, AND TO MAKE IT OBVIOUS WHERE THEY INTEND TO TRAVEL, ESPECIALLY IN AN INTERSECTION.  

You can read the entire statute here.

See also this great instructional video