Bicycles are a popular form of transportation in Austin, TX. Bike lanes and trails throughout the city invite cyclists to ride whether they’re commuting, or simply enjoying the activity of riding outdoors. Sharing the road, however, presents dangers that both cyclists and motorists need to be aware of.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that bicycle accidents represent roughly two percent of all motor vehicle-related traffic deaths each year. Close to 700 bicyclists are killed each year in the U.S., while thousands of others suffer potentially disabling injuries. Bicycle accidents can result in injuries such as broken bones, fractured ribs, and road burns, but the IIHS states that among the most common and serious are injuries to the head and brain.
Whether you’re an Austinite who’s an avid cyclist or just considering taking it up, educating yourself on Texas bicycle laws and general safety precautions could be the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, cyclists often bear the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to paying attention to potential threats. While cyclists share the same rights on the road as motorists, many motorists don’t understand this and, even worse, aren’t looking out for bicycles.
Austin’s Most Dangerous Road for Cyclists
A 2018 report identified the most dangerous road in Austin for bicyclists: Guadalupe from Cesar Chavez to North Lamar Boulevard. As reported by KVUE ABC, the report looked at the most dangerous areas for bicyclists in cities of over 500,000 people. The five-mile stretch on Guadalupe is certainly busy, as it serves students at the University and Downtown Austin.
There is some irony in this stretch of Guadalupe being the most dangerous, since bikers have identified a different portion of Guadalupe, running from 24th Street and Martin Luther King, as being particularly safe. However, this section has protected bike lanes, which the other parts of Guadalupe do not.
Texas Bicycle Laws You Should Know
The Texas Transportation Code mandates the following for all bicycle use throughout the entire state of Texas:
- You can only have as many people on the bike as it’s designed for – A person may not use a bike to carry more persons than the bicycle is designed or equipped to carry: (551.102a)
- Don’t carry anything that makes it so you can’t keep a hand on the handlebar – A person operating a bicycle may not use it to carry an object that prevents the person from operating the bike with at least one hand on the handlebars: (551.102c)
- Stay close to the curb and/or roadway – Bicyclists must ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway and move in the same direction as traffic unless certain circumstances like passing, turning, or some other condition prevents it: (551.103)
- Maintain your breaks so the function properly – A bicycle must be equipped with a brake capable of making a braked wheel skid on dry, level clean pavement: (551.104a)
- Use a light if you’re riding at night – Bicyclists may not ride at night unless the bike has a white light on the front and a red reflector or red light on the rear: (551.104b)
- Signal your turns – Bicyclists must use hand and arm signals from the left side of the bicycle and vehicle: (545.107)
Austin, TX City Ordinances for Cyclists
In addition to Texas cycling laws, there are also ordinances specific to Austin that regulate bicycle use, as well as special regulations for cycling on the campus of the University of Texas.
There is no statewide requirement in Texas that bicyclists must wear a helmet. A statewide helmet law was proposed in 1999 by the Texas Legislature but failed to garner enough support. However, Austin has a municipal ordinance that requires all children age 17 and under to wear a helmet while riding.
As with driving a motor vehicle, operating a bicycle may be extremely dangerous when distracted. Austin was one of the first cities in Texas to address the growing problem of distracted driving and riding by enacting a municipal ordinance that prohibits any cyclist from using a portable electronic device while riding in Austin. This law, which went into effect on January 1, 2015, applies to both motorists and bicyclists and carries fines of up to $500. The City of Austin has a program that offers first offenders a chance to have their case dismissed through a deferral agreement.
A bicycle when parked must not impede or obstruct sidewalks or pedestrian traffic, nor may it be attached to public or private property in such a way that it may damage property. Texas does not have a statewide law that mandates a specific distance for motor vehicles passing or overtaking bicycles. Austin has a local ordinance that requires a distance of three feet and to the left. Local and state law generally allows riding on a sidewalk, but it is prohibited in parts of downtown Austin and on the University of Texas campus.
University of Texas Regulations
University of Texas regulations require students to park their bicycles only on bike racks, and not on stair handrails or wheelchair ramps. The University of Texas Police Department also requires all students to register their bikes. UT police have been known to conduct stings to catch bicyclists for various offenses, especially at Speedway at 21st, 26th, & 30th; and 26th & Whitis. Failing to observe bicycle laws in Austin and on the University of Texas campus carries financial consequences.
Defensive Biking Skills
Cyclists have a strong incentive to reduce accidents. After all, they get the short end of the stick in any collision because they lack protection. To that end, we recommend that cyclists remember the following the next time they head out:
Check Your Gear
- Wear a helmet that fits you.
- Choose a bike that fits your size. If a bike is too large, you will have trouble controlling it.
- Check your bicycle’s tires and brakes before heading off on your journey.
Follow the Rules of the Road
- Use turn signals. If you don’t know them, then learn them as soon as possible. You need to give motorists notice of when you are stopping and turning.
- Avoid weaving in and out of traffic, especially at intersections. You increase the chances of getting hit. You could also collide with a pedestrian, which can be fatal.
- Pay close attention to lane markers so that you don’t inadvertently drift into another lane.
- Ride close to the curb. This gives you enough of a cushion to avoid being hit when a car drifts into your lane.
- Stop at all stop signs and red lights. Just because you are on a bicycle, you can’t run lights.
- Ride with traffic.
- Never get on the bike when intoxicated or high. You increase your chances of making a critical error.
Improve Your Visibility
- Install a light on the front of your bike.
- Use a red light or red reflector on the back of your bicycle.
- Wear reflective clothing or bright colors.
Your Options if You’ve Been Injured in a Bicycle Accident
If you’re a cyclist who’s been injured in a bicycling accident, you may have a couple of legal options to help recover funds related to injury and damages. It is important to understand that a rider may be able to recover damages even if they were partially to blame for the incident.
Many bicycle victims are understandably worried about medical expenses after an accident. Being hit while riding a bike can lead to serious injuries such as brain damage, paralysis, or spinal damage. The bills from such an event can seem astronomical. Fortunately, there are many medical providers who understand that a victim is unable to pay out such large sums of money after being injured through no fault of their own. Such providers will often provide needed care and will place a lien against any possible settlement to be received by the victim. This allows the victim to receive the care they need while delaying payment to a later date.
There is an issue that often arises for victims who have received medical care by allowing the provider to issue a lien against any settlement proceeds: when the amount of a potential settlement will leave the victim with very little money after all medical expenses are paid. This occurs in cases where there is a dispute over liability or when comparative fault is an issue. Both are situations in which the victim may receive a reduced settlement.
In either instance, it may be possible for your lawyer to negotiate with the medical provider so that the provider will accept a reduced payment amount. This can allow a victim to still receive compensation after all of their medical bills are paid. By hiring counsel who is experienced in dealing with medical providers you improve the chances that you will receive compensation for your injuries.
Dan Christensen is an Austin injury attorney with extensive experience in negotiating medical liens. He devotes his practice to defending the rights of victims and will ensure that you receive the highest amount of compensation possible. Contact our office today to speak with a bicycle accident lawyer who serves the city of Austin and surrounding communities.