The layout of San Francisco's urban terrain, combined with its high population density and traffic congestion creates significant danger for motorists and cyclists. As the population increases, as does the popularity of cycling, the occurrence of accidents involving a bicycle and a motor vehicle also increases. Bike accidents reported to the police climbed to 593 last year from 554 in 2009 according to data compiled by The Bay Citizen, a seven percent increase.

Over the past two years the San Francisco Police Department recorded a total of 1,147 bicycle accidents. Routine road violations are the most common reasons for bike accidents, according to the data. Speeding (primarily by cyclists) and illegal turns (primarily by cars), are the first and second leading causes of accidents, respectively. "Dooring," when a parked motorist opens his or her door into the path of a cyclist,  is the third. According to the Bay Citizen data, 101 drivers  "doored" a cyclist in San Francisco during the two year period studied.

Drivers are nearly always at fault in doorings. Section 22517 of the California Vehicle Code states: "No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so."

The police normally write a report only when an injury in involved. Over the past two years, drivers were faulted by the police in 573 accidents involving vehicles and bikes — 57 percent of the total — according to the data. Cyclists were to blame in 428 accidents, or 43 percent.

There are more bikers on the streets of San Francisco than ever. There are 58 percent more than in 2006, when the Municipal Transportation Agency started doing spot counts once a year. New lanes and innovative safety measures are becoming more common, including pylon-protected bike paths on Market Street, where waves of cyclists commute downtown each day. To make the streets even safer, the city is considering extending the separated bike lanes, which currently run from Gough Street to 8th on Market, all the way to the Embarcadero. Bike advocates say the lanes solve many safety problems, including the much-feared doorings.

Avoiding Accidents

The best way for drivers to avoid accidents involving bike riders is to always be alert and vigilant behind the wheel. Be aware that cyclists are entitled to equal rights and have the same responsibilities as automobile drivers.

8 Tips for Automobile Drivers: Avoiding an Accident with a Bicyclist:

        1. Drive at a speed that is safe for conditions. Slow down on wet or icy roads as you will need more time to come to a stop.
        2. Be careful on two lane roads. A majority of accidents occur on these narrow roads where traffic is moving at a high speed.
        3. Two-thirds of bicycle accidents nationwide occur in the late afternoon and evening due to poor visibility. Be especially careful in early morning and evening hours when glare on your windshield can impair your vision. Keep your windshield clear of dirt and waste.
        4. Pull over to the side of the road, if you need to consult a map or talk on your cell phone, especially when cyclists are often present. Distracted driving is a significant cause of collisions involving bicyclists.
        5. Don't drink and drive.
        6. Always check your mirrors and proceed slowly when backing out of driveways and parking lots. Almost 75% of all bicycle accidents nationwide occur at intersections and driveways.
        7. Slow down when moving through an intersection, and always come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Watch for cyclists at other entrances to the intersection. Check your mirrors and blind spots for any cyclists behind or beside your vehicle when making turns.
        8. Don't assume that cyclists will give right-of-way.

12 Tips for Bicyclists: Avoiding an Accident With an Automobile

        1. Keep in mind that not all drivers feel it is their duty to share the road with cyclists, and few drivers check their mirrors and blind spots as often as they should.
        2. Failure to yield, riding against traffic, stop sign violations, and safe movement violations are the most common mistakes that bicyclists make to cause an accident.
        3. Wear a helmet. Although this can not protect against an accident, it can protect you from serious injury or even death.
        4. Be visible. Wear reflective tape for night riding and equip your bike with a light.
        5. Never make a left hand turn from a designated bike path. Instead, merge into left hand lane of traffic and do not cut in front of other drivers, who may not be able to see you.
        6. Do not ride alongside cars when passing through an intersection. A driver may turn in front of you without warning.
        7. Always merge into normal traffic lanes from your bike lane as you approach an intersection.
        8. Pay attention when passing parked cars, as car passengers can open their doors suddenly.
        9. Keep both hands on your handlebars to maintain maximum control of your bicycle.
        10. Equip your bike with mirrors and check them frequently while riding.
        11. Know the hand signals and make them consistently before turning.
        12. Pay attention in the late afternoon and evening hours when the sun can cause visibility problems for drivers.

The injuries that can result from an accident involving a bicycle and a motor vehicle are often catastrophic; including, brain and spinal cord injuries, fractures, abrasions, and internal and soft tissue injuries. At O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley we represent people who have suffered serious injuries as a result of others negligence on California's roads and highways.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident involving a motor vehicle, call a bicycle accident lawyer immediately. The attorneys at O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley are well known and respected throughout the legal community and among our clients. From our offices in Contra Costa County, San Francsico and Sacramento, we serve clients throughout Northern California. Our experience and expertise are available to you.

(Source: NY Times)

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