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No cyclist ever wants to be involved in a crash but regardless of how cautious or skilled you are on the bike, there’s every chance you’ll be involved in a crash with a motorist at some point (if you haven’t already). We spoke to some people in the know to find out what you should do if you find yourself in such a situation.
You’re just riding along on your way to work when a car pulls out of a side street, knocking you off your bike. You notice that, thankfully, the motorist has pulled over. What do you do?
Manage the shock
As Garry Brennan from Bicycle Network told us, your first and most important challenge is to manage your own shock.
“Unless you have had a crash it is hard to imagine just how difficult it is to keep your wits about you, to stay level-headed and to manage your predicament. You have had a big fright, you could be hurting and injured, you could be dealing with someone who has every intention of ensuring they are never made accountable for their crash-causing actions, you might be dealing with police, ambulance, witnesses — its all just a blur.”
Get off the road
To quote State Bicycle Operations Coordinator Sergeant Arty Lavos, “In all instances your primary objective is to make sure that there is no further risk to yourself or anyone else.”
If you’re able to pick yourself up, get yourself and your bike off the road and deal with the situation from there. You don’t want to stay on the road and risk further injury. But if you’re concerned about the possibility of spinal injuries, don’t move — you could risk further and more serious injury.
Assess yourself for injuries
Your first priority should always be your health — everything else can be sorted out later. If you think you need medical attention, don’t hesitate in calling an ambulance. And if you’re unable to make the call, ask someone nearby to do so for you (if they haven’t already).
If you’ve managed to avoid serious injury, be ready to assess the situation, take a deep breath, and act calmly.
Exchange contact details
If you’re ready and able to act, approach the driver of the vehicle. There’s every chance you’ve got reason to be upset, but confronting them aggressively won’t help the situation. Be as calm as you can and get the information you need.
You should exchange names, addresses and phone numbers with the motorist, and get their driver license number, car registration and insurance details if you can. Note down the time of the incident and where it occurred. If you don’t have a pen and paper with you, just take the details down on your smartphone, or take photos of licenses and registration plates.
Look for witnesses
While you’re talking with the driver have a look around to see if anyone else has witnessed the accident. If they have, exchange contact details with them.
Getting a witness to provide their analysis of the situation can be very valuable if the motorist changes their story after the accident. You want to avoid it being a case of your word against the motorist’s so it’s worth trying to get someone else to back you up.
Have a look around for fellow cyclists as well, on the off chance that one of them has a camera mounted to their helmet or handlebars. This might sound unlikely, but on my very first day of wearing a helmet camera to work I saw someone get doored. The cyclist saw that I had a camera on my helmet and asked if he could have a copy of the video to use in future negotiations.
Have a quick look around to see if there are CCTV cameras in the area as well. If there are, let the police know so they can contact the operators to get the relevant footage.
Take photos and notes
Any information you can collect at the time and place of the accident could be valuable later on. Take photos of any injuries you sustained, any damage your bike or the other vehicle might have sustained, and any damage to your clothing or helmet.
If you decide to take photos of other people involved in the accident, bear in mind that some people aren’t receptive to having their photo taken. But, as long as the accident happened on public property, you’re well within your rights to take photos of other people and there’s no law (in Australia) to stop you from doing so.
Tell your side of the story to the police
If anyone is injured in a road accident, or if there’s damage to property and the owner isn’t present, the police should be called.
With that in mind, and if you aren’t too badly injured, call the police and wait for them to arrive. Even if it’s cold and inconvenient and even if the driver has left you should stick around to tell your side of the story.
A police report is very important when it comes to insurance claims, Transport Accident Commission (TAC) claims and ensuring the motorist is followed up for any misdemeanours he or she has committed.
Damian Lynch, a lawyer from Maurice Blackburn gave us this additional advice: “Ask for the name and station details of any police that attend. If police don’t attend you must report the accident to police before you lodge a TAC claim.”
If police did arrive, give as much detail to them as you can. Don’t tell them what you think happened — say what you saw and heard, even if it’s not as damning as you’d like it to be. Ask for a copy of the report afterwards. And if you give formal statement (you’ll have to sign it if it’s a formal statement) get a copy of that too — it can be a pain to get a copy later on and might cost you money.
Head to hospital or a doctor
Once the police have left the scene of the accident, it’s worth reassessing your injuries. Immediately after an accident your body can go into shock and the adrenaline can mask a lot of pain. You might find that after going through the steps above, you realise that you’re injured more badly than you first thought.
Sergeant Arty Lavos from Victoria Police, who’s been involved in a couple of bike/car collisions himself, told us:
“Getting medical attention is not a bad idea as a lot of injuries may appear a few days later. It’s a good idea to get checked out for any immediate serious injuries to negate any further complications down the track.”
Even if it’s a minor injury you should go to a doctor or hospital straight away to get looked at. Ask for a list of the injuries you’ve sustained — a report like this will almost certainly be required if you lodge a claim with the TAC or pursue legal avenues against the motorist. Better to get the report when the injuries at their worst.
Get a quote for any damages to your bike
Once you’re well enough and able to do so, head to a local bike shop and get them to assess any damage that your bike and equipment (including helmet and clothing) might have sustained. Don’t try fixing anything yourself — take it to the shop in the condition it was after the crash. Get the LBS to give you a quote for the repairs. This will be valuable when negotiating a settlement with the motorist or pursuing your legal options.
If possible, get quotes from a couple of bike shops and use the lowest quote in any negotiations. It will dispel any concerns that you’ve got a mate at the bike shop writing higher quotes for you, and it will also show that you’re negotiating in good faith.
If you have insurance for your bike this would be a good time to get in touch with the insurers and make a claim, assuming that’s what you want to do.
Lodge a TAC (or equivalent) claim if necessary
As mentioned above, the TAC is a Victorian Government organisation that insures people that are injured in transport accidents. If you were injured in the accident and you’ve incurred medical costs, it’s worth lodging a TAC claim, or equivalent if you live in a different state or territory.
Bear in mind that you can lodge a claim to the TAC even if you’re not struck by a vehicle — you’re also covered if you get doored, if you’re dazzled by car headlights and crash, or if you are cut off, crash and get injured. Just remember that you’ll need a medical report.
Be sure to lodge the claim within 12 months of the accident — it can be a hassle to do so after this time.
Choose how you’d like to proceed
After going through all of the steps above it’s worth sitting down and assessing your options. Was the accident the fault of the motorist? If so, you’ve essentially got three options in how you can deal with them.
1. Do nothing
If your bike and equipment wasn’t damaged and the TAC will cover any medical costs you might have incurred then you might choose not to follow up with the motorist, even if the crash was their fault.
2. If your bike and equipment were damaged then it’s probably worth approaching the motorist in the days after the crash in the hope of getting them to cover repair or replacement costs. This might be done with a letter of demand, including the quote for repairs as provided by your local bike shop.
If you’re unable to come to some agreement with the motorist then you might want to think about option 3.
3. Seek legal advice.
Damian Lynch from Maurice Blackburn gave us the following advice:
“You can claim for property damage against whoever caused the damage to your bike, clothing or accessories. Drivers are often insured. This claim is separate to any TAC claim. Take good quality photos of damage including any damage to your helmet.”
It could also be worth getting legal advice if your TAC claim is rejected. But act quickly — while decisions by the TAC can be challenged, this has to be done soon after the decision.
The steps listed above might seem daunting at first but as Garry Brennan from Bicycle Network told us, “If you do a lot of riding you should mentally rehearse these guidelines, and try and commit the key steps to memory so you are not completely at sea in the event that you hit the deck in traffic.”
And while it’s important to be prepared for an accident there are also a handful of things you can do right now to protect yourself in the event of a future accident. Sergeant Arty Lavos gave this advice:
“The best prevention is ride within your limits and the environment, pick a route that you feel comfortable on, prepare your bike and yourself for the ride and always scan and think of what’s ahead.
Riding a bike is no different to driving a car — you need to be concentrating, you need to obey the laws and you need to be courteous to all other road users.
Another good option is to investigate insurance for your bike.
While the TAC will cover “reasonable medical expenses” that you attract through a transport accident, they won’t pay for any damages to your bike. If a crash you’re involved in is the fault of a motorist, the motorist might cover the cost of damages. But if the fault is yours, or you’re involved in an accident that doesn’t involve a motorist or other party you won’t be covered for any damages, unless you have insurance.
If you do choose to buy bike insurance — and if you can afford a $5,000+ bike you can afford insurance! — be sure to read through several policies carefully before deciding. Find out what you will be covered for, what you won’t covered for, whether you’ll be covered if you take down another cyclist or cause damage to a parked car, and so on.
The issue of bike insurance is more than worthy of an article of its own and here’s one such article.
(It’s worth noting that if you’re injured in a crash that doesn’t involve a motorist, you’ll only be covered if you have private health insurance, if you’re a member of Cycling Australia via your local club, or if you’re a member of an organisation such as Bicycle Network).
If you haven’t already, consider adding an ICE (“In case of emergency”) number to your phone. No-one wants to think that they’ll be involved in an accident but if you are, and you aren’t able to communicate for whatever reason, it’s worth having the number programmed into your phone, under the name “ICE”, for someone to find.
Bear in mind that paramedics won’t necessarily check your phone for an ICE number and having an ICE number isn’t particularly useful if you’ve got a passcode on your phone. A better option is to invest in an …
These wristbands are available from a range of suppliers and can cost as little as $20. You can have them inscribed with vital information such as your name, address, blood type, any allergies you might have, medical conditions and the phone numbers of people to contact if you’ve been involved in a serious accident.
At the end of the day, no-one wants to be involved in a road accident, whether you’re a driver, a motorcyclist, or a cyclist, and regardless of whether you’re the one at fault or not. But as the most vulnerable of road users, we cyclists need to take extra care to protect ourselves and be prepared if we are ever involved in an accident.
Have you been involved in an accident with a motorist before? How did the situation unfold and what lessons did you learn from it? Would you add anything to the list above?