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Thread: What are DC Laws Regarding Accidents with Vehicles and Pedestrians?

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    Default What are DC Laws Regarding Accidents with Vehicles and Pedestrians?

    I've been riding to and from work for a couple years. I take the bike lane on 14th street. Luckily I haven't collided with any vehicles. Not because drivers are driving properly, but mainly because I'm hyper aware of cars and have developed that "sixth sense" of when a car is going to suddenly turn right. But I'm frustrated because I continue to experience close calls with cars and Metro buses who either don't care, don't see me, or both, even though I wear reflective clothing, use hand signals when turning, and use multiple front and rear lights. I'm also frustrated by some pedestrians who think it's ok to walk in the bike lane or stand in the bike lane to look for Metro buses or a taxi. My question for the forum is, what are the laws in DC concerning accidents between bicyclists and vehicles and bicyclists and people? If I collide with a car or pedestrian while traveling in the bike lane, who is liable for damages to me and my bike or to the car and pedestrian? Is it worth it to call police? What if I'm not actually hit by a car but they drive in an unsafe manner and almost hit me, is there someone I can call to report that driver? Should I carry a camera with me to take pictures of damages should an accident happen? Any info. is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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    baiskeli's Avatar
    baiskeli is offline I really need to log off the internet and go for a ride.
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    Welcome to the forum.

    Lots of questions. I hope someone else helps me out, but here's a start:

    Basically you are just like a vehicle when using roads, with perhaps a few minor exceptions. When on a sidewalk or using a crosswalk, you're a pedestrian. You are not allowed to be on the sidewalk in the downtown area of DC though, as you probably know.

    Here's all about what to do if you, God forbid, get into an accident: http://www.waba.org/resources/crash_faq.php

    Liability for a crash is beyond my expertise. Usually it depends on who was following the law, so follow it. A camera is a great way to prove you weren't at fault. I keep a list of traffic laws in my bike bag in case I need to settle a minor dispute right there on the street, but I haven't had to yet, and the laws aren't always clear (even among us on this forum).

    As for pedestrians in your right of way - I always give them a polite but stern warning and keep riding, but slow enough not to actually hit them, hoping I can educate them.

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    Thank you for your response. Yes, I am aware that bikes are not to be ridden on downtown DC sidewalks, although that doesn't seem to stop all the people working as messengers and food delivery people. I just feel like there needs to be more and clearer laws to protect bicyclists in DC, especially now there are so many more of us on bikes in the city.

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    dasgeh's Avatar
    dasgeh is offline Queen of Family Biking & All Things Kidical
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    The laws in DC are pretty good for cyclists, except for contributory negligence. Basically, you get treated like a vehicle, except cars are supposed to pass with at least 3 feet, and you can pass stopped cars on either the right or left, splitting the lane (there's a debate on whether it's a good idea to do this, but it's legal). There's a lot in this forum and a handy pocket guide from WABA on the law. Also, the law is not favorable to pedestrians who aren't strictly obeying things like crosswalks. A friend got hit a few years ago while jay walking, and he got the ticket.

    BUT the law only helps you so much. You hear lots of stories about cops (and everyone else) not knowing the law - ticketing cyclists for things that aren't illegal, not ticketing cars when they do things that are illegal. I've found that, even though I am very interested in what's legal and what's not, I'm happier as a person if I don't worry about who's being legal and who's not while I'm out on the bike. E.g. maybe that car did just illegal pass me within 3 feet, but maybe the driver is having a horrible day, just found out his dog died, and deserves a pass. Or something.

    Not to discourage your quest to know the law. I just am trying to encourage happy cycling while on the bike.

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    baiskeli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dasgeh View Post
    The laws in DC are pretty good for cyclists, except for contributory negligence. Basically, you get treated like a vehicle, except cars are supposed to pass with at least 3 feet, and you can pass stopped cars on either the right or left, splitting the lane (there's a debate on whether it's a good idea to do this, but it's legal). There's a lot in this forum and a handy pocket guide from WABA on the law. Also, the law is not favorable to pedestrians who aren't strictly obeying things like crosswalks. A friend got hit a few years ago while jay walking, and he got the ticket.

    BUT the law only helps you so much. You hear lots of stories about cops (and everyone else) not knowing the law - ticketing cyclists for things that aren't illegal, not ticketing cars when they do things that are illegal. I've found that, even though I am very interested in what's legal and what's not, I'm happier as a person if I don't worry about who's being legal and who's not while I'm out on the bike. E.g. maybe that car did just illegal pass me within 3 feet, but maybe the driver is having a horrible day, just found out his dog died, and deserves a pass. Or something.

    Not to discourage your quest to know the law. I just am trying to encourage happy cycling while on the bike.
    Very good point - there's the law, but not everyone understands it, even the police.

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