North Carolina's scenic highways and byways are a haven for cycling enthusiasts of all levels, from families out enjoying nature and amateur athletes exercising, to collegiate and professional bicyclists training for upcoming competition. With so many people sharing the roads, however, there is always the risk for collisions. A recent North Carolina bicycle accident highlights these dangers.
In December 2011, a member of a local North Carolina college bicycling team was out for an afternoon training ride when tragedy struck. The 19-year-old cyclist was fatally wounded when a truck traveling in the opposite direction veered across the road and struck her head on.
According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the North Carolina Highway Patrol reported that there were no signs that the driver was traveling at excessive speed or had been drinking prior to the accident. The driver, however, did tell the authorities that he may have fallen asleep.
Sadly, this accident serves as a reminder of the dangers that motorists pose to even the most experienced bicyclists, and that accidents can happen at any time of day (as this accident occurred at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon). The teenage cyclist was an experienced rider who had competed at some of the highest levels of the sport - the Winston-Salem Journal notes that she had competed at the USA Cycling National Championships and had just become a member of a professional female cycling team.
North Carolina Bicycle Accident Statistics
Between 2004 and 2008 there were 4,954 accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles - with 1,042 in 2008 alone - reported to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, according to numbers compiled by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. During that time period, there was an average of 25 bicyclists killed and another roughly 850 cyclists injured per year. With nearly two-thirds of accidents occurring in more heavily populated urban areas.
During the ten-year span of 1997 to 2007, Highway Safety Research Center numbers indicate that Mecklenburg County was the most dangerous county (in terms of total accidents) for bicyclists with 1,221 bicycle accidents occurring during that time span.
Counties home to other urban areas also ranked highly for the total number of bicycle accidents during that same time span. Wake County ranked second with 1,025 accidents, Guilford County ranked third with 713 accidents and New Hanover County was fourth with 571 accidents. Ranking eight, thirteenth and twenty-first respectively were Forsyth County (277 accidents), Buncombe County (222 accidents) and Catawba County (135 accidents).
According to the Highway Safety Research Center, the majority of bicycle-motor vehicle accidents involved passenger vehicles (58.7 percent) on local streets (61.5 percent) with speed limits of 35 mph or slower (63.9 percent). So it is not surprising that the age group accounting for the most accidents from 2002 to 2008 was children under the age of 16. This age group made up 29 percent of the total number of accidents, with children between 11 and 15-years-old accounting for 17 percent of all accidents.
Since cyclists lack the safety barrier that a car provides, bicycle-motor vehicle accidents can frequently result in cyclists suffering devastating injuries such as broken bones, head and neck injuries, brain trauma, and severe road rash.
Bicycle Riding Safety Tips
While not all accidents can be avoided, by taking proactive steps to protect themselves, cyclists can reduce the chances of accident or injury.
- Always wear a helmet - children under the age of 16 are required to wear a bicycle helmet when they ride in North Carolina. However, all riders should wear a helmet, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes, helmets are the "most effective" way to prevent bicycle crash-related head injuries
- Follow the rules of the road - obey traffic signs, signals and lane markings.
- Wear bright colored clothing - be visible to drivers
- Ride defensively - always be on the lookout for vehicles that may not see you, such as cars backing out of drive ways or turning in front of you
If you do experience a bike accident resulting in injuries, speak with an experienced North Carolina personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can help you seek compensation for any medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.