Q: While riding I was sideswiped by a car and they ran. My injuries were quite severe and I spent some time in the hospital. Is this a no win situation for me?
Brendan Kevenides, P.C.:In my experience, hit and run crashes involving drivers and cyclists happen with disturbing frequency. Generally, a driver will take off after causing a collision for three reasons: (1) Fear of consequences; (2) He/she lacks a moral compass; (3) He/she lacks auto insurance coverage. Very often all three factors are in play to compel a driver to flee a crash. Leaving the scene of a collision in which bodily injury or property damage results is a crime.
Unfortunately, a city cyclist should anticipate the possibility of being in a hit and run crash. However, there are steps he or she can take to protect themselves both before and after such an incident:
Buy insurance: In 49 states, drivers are required to carry motor vehicle insurance coverage. (New Hampshire is the outlier.) Useful and integrated into our culture though they may be, cars and trucks have the potential to cause enormous harm. For that reason, motor vehicle owners are required by law to have insurance to compensate anyone they may injure. Nevertheless, nationally one in seven drivers, over 14%, fail to carry the necessary coverage, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Many auto policies provide uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. These provisions of a policy provide important protection if you are injured by another driver who either has no insurance, or coverage that is insufficient to compensate you for your injuries. Generally, the amount of un/underinsured coverage mirrors the amount of the policy’s bodily injury coverage. A bicyclist’s own motor vehicle insurance may provide coverage if he or she is seriously injured by a motorist who either lacks insurance or who has insufficient coverage. If you are hit by a driver that flees the scene, your insurance provider will usually treat that as if you were hit by an uninsured driver and cover you ever though you were biking at the time of the crash. However, some insurance policies require that you notify your insurer very soon after a hit and run incident, often within 30 days, or you may run the risk of coverage being denied. A carless person may buy a non-owners auto insurance policy. These policies are offered by many big name insurance companies and tend to cost considerably less than a standard policy, generally about half the premium of a traditional auto owner’s policy. Importantly, they may protect the non-car owning bicyclist who is injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
Not all insurance policies are the same. Rates may vary greatly depending on location and the specific coverage purchased. Non-owners car insurance policies may differ materially from one to the other. Also, they may not automatically come with un/underinsured coverage. Make sure that you ask your insurance agent lots of questions, making sure you understand exactly when the policy you are buying will and will not cover you.
Press record: Technology has finally gotten to the point where is it relatively easy and inexpensive for a cyclist to ride with a small video camera secured to the front of their bike, or helmet. Riding with one of these cameras recording your ride can be a tremendous help if you are involved in a crash. A review of the video after the fact may uncover the identity of the vehicle and driver involved.
Just a few short years ago, it was impractical to ride with a video camera. Many models were too big and too heavy. Even if they were small and light they could not be attached and detached quickly and easily enough to be convenient for urban riding. In the city you you need to be able to lock it up or take it with you if you hope to keep it. Now though more bicyclists are riding with small quality cameras that are weather proof and which can be clipped on and off the bike as easily as a bike light. The increasingly ubiquitous GoPro cameras start at about $200. They are small, light, weather proof and have almost limitless mounting options. The Epic Carbine HD, for about $220, is another option. I personally own this camera and can attest to its small size, lightness and ability to attach and detach from the bike or helmet with ease. Should something happen, it is nice to have an electronic witness watching your back.
Even if you do not ride with a video camera on your bike, you should try to make use of your cell phone’s camera immediately after a crash. If you are able to do so, snap a photo of the offending vehicle and its license plate as soon as possible, in other words before the driver takes off. The act of taking a photo my even make the driver feel compelled to remain at the scene. They will be on notice that they will not likely get away with fleeing.
Look for the eye in the sky: I often gets calls from bicyclists who have been hit by motorist who have fled the scene and whom the cyclist could not identify. There are ways to find a hit and run suspect, however. It is important to go the the scene of the crash as soon as possible and look for local businesses who may have security video cameras in use. A little luck is usually involved, but sometimes a security camera will have captured a crash and the vehicle that caused it. If the video is of good enough quality to have read the vehicle’s license plate number then the rest is easy. The other step that I generally take is to send a Freedom of Information Act request to the local department of transportation and police department which may also have video cameras operating in the area. If the crash occurred at a busy intersection the possibility of one of these cameras having captured the crash is increased.