Although similar, America and Europe differ in a few specific ways. From our irrational dislike of the metric system, to our disparate date and time system, we have always remained apart from Europe in certain matters.
So it really doesn’t come as a surprise that Europe and America are different when it comes to biking as well.
America has been experiencing a biking surge, and slowly amassing a larger bike culture. We’re waking up to the bike phenomenon that Europe has known about all along. At Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., we’re pretty serious bikers ourselves, so we could write at length about the benefits of biking, but in order to keep this article a reasonable length, let’s boil it down to these: biking is great for the environment, it’s good for your health, and it’s amazing for traffic.
With these known positive attributes, and with a growing generation of avid bikers, why is it still so dangerous to ride a bike in America? According to the National Highway and Safety Administration, bicyclists accounted for 2.2% of all traffic deaths in 2016, and 70% of all fatal bike accidents take place in urban areas.
If we compare biking in America to biking in Europe, right away we’ll notice that biking in Europe is a central part of life, which means drivers are far more used to sharing the road with bicyclists and displaying a greater amount of patience and respect. In America, where we like to live fast, there is a generally negative attitude towards bikes on the road—they are seen by many as slowing down traffic and being a nuisance to drivers. Drivers don’t want to share the road, and they might not have to if cities’ infrastructure didn’t force bikes to get in lanes with cars.
But that’s not the case yet in America. And cars do have to get along with bicycles.
European cities have a lot more bike lanes and bike paths, allowing bikers to safely get to major points of interests, to the grocery store, and to work. They have endless and secure bike stands, and overall make biking a much more convenient activity, which encourages more people to take the bike over a car. The U.S. is slowly getting better, but it will take time and effort to change our infrastructure into a more bike-friendly one. Princeton, we’re proud to say, is one of those emerging bike-friendly cities. However, cars are by far the main mode of transportation in America, and bikes on the road are often treated like they “get in the way.”
Biking in Europe is just part of their culture, and treated as a useful and essential tool. Most people are not concerned with the newest, trendiest bike. The bike is just a way of getting to a place; it’s not a status symbol. Because of that, there’s no perceived gap between car drivers and bicyclists.
In America, some bike riders are perceived as elitists who think they are living a healthy lifestyle and are environmentally superior to car-drivers. (It’s not like bicyclists don’t own cars as well…) There’s an animosity that sometimes seems to exist between the two communities, which you don’t see in Europe.
How to Stay Safe on a Bike (Regardless of Continent)
We’re in the land of the cars, but our advice for staying safe on your ride is universal. Here’s what we recommend to protect yourself:
- Wear a helmet: Just like when you’re riding a motorcycle, you are much more likely to avoid brain injury after a spill if you wear a helmet. Take your time to pick a DOT-approved, properly fitting helmet to ensure the best protection.
- Pick the right bike: A bike that’s too big or too small for you will be harder to control, and can result in an accident. Even pedals that are a tad too far away can make a big difference.
- Have reflectors: This is vital, especially at night. Make sure you are very bright and visible to passing cars. By all means wear reflective clothing, if that’s your style.
- Drive defensively: As a bicyclist, you must be more vigilant than a car driver. They have a whole car protecting them, you only have your body. Stay on top of everything going on around you, be alert when making a turn, drive in the same direction as the traffic, assume that nobody can see you and act accordingly, obey the rules of the road, and don’t be distracted by music or your phone.
- Work on your skills: If you’re not a very experienced rider, don’t throw yourself into the busiest New Jersey street and hope for the best. The best outcome is that you’ll be honked at, yelled at, and flipped off…the worst is you’ll be hit by a vehicle. Start out slow and take your bike somewhere reasonably safe, like an empty parking lot or a park. Practice your skills. Take a biking course.
Of course, even if you make a small mistake on the road, cars and trucks don’t have the “right” to hit you. Drivers actually have a greater duty of care to bicyclists and pedestrians, since they are more vulnerable to serious harm. There’s also a legal doctrine in New Jersey called “last clear chance” that may apply to a bicycle accident case, meaning that one person could have done something to avoid the collision at the last possible second. If that person—say, a car driver—did not take evasive action when he could have, he would be assigned a higher amount of negligence in the collision and be on the hook for the bicyclist’s injuries and damages.
It can get complicated, so if you or a loved one has been hit while riding a bicycle, we recommend talking to our New Jersey bike accident attorneys at Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C. We ride, and we know the law—we’ve handled hundreds of bicycle accident cases successfully, including our latest when a triathlete was struck by a car.
As a bicyclist, you deserve to be on the road just as much as a car, and distracted or aggressive drivers have no excuse. Let us fight to get you the maximum compensation you deserve. Call (609) 240-0040 for a free consultation.