EC Notebook #36: When Worlds Collide

by Bruce Mackey, ECI #546-C

Cycling is a safe activity, and Effective Cycling training greatly reduces the chances of being involved in a crash, making riders who follow the rules the safest of the safe (and healthy to boot). Hopefully, you’ll never need the information in this article – but then, I hoped I’d never need my patch kit or pump either.

Crashes usually happen with frightening speed and abruptness. You’re a cyclist, there’s a slow motion sequence of events during which bad things happen, and you find yourself an actor in what could be a life or death situation. What do you do?

Assess the situation carefully, and don’t become a casualty yourself. Your first priority is to ensure the safety of the injured while avoiding becoming one of them yourself.

Sadly, liability can be an issue any time you try to help an injured party. To protect yourself, learn the laws that apply where you are riding before you need to know them.

If you haven’t taken CPR and Basic First Aid classes recently, you should. These are great classes for bike clubs to arrange for their membership. The basics haven’t changed:

  • Only move the injured if absolutely necessary to safeguard their lives.
  • Clear the Airway: Make sure the injured can breathe.
  • Stop the Bleeding: Use the cleanest thing you have at hand to staunch the flow of blood.
  • Treat for Shock: Keep the injured warm and comfortable, and reassure them.
  • Summon help.

Take a deep breath; make sure you or the person calling knows where you are. Call 911 and describe the situation. If in doubt, let the operator lead you through it. When emergency services arrive, tell them as succinctly as possible about the injuries and what’s been done for the victim. The EMTs are professionals and they’ll know what questions to ask. Make sure to mention if any of the injured has one of those neat little medical information carrier systems in their helmets. You’ll know by the reflector on the outside of the helmet. These summarize everything an EMT needs to know about the patient’s medical history. Never accept any type of gratuity for giving medical assistance as this can affect your legal status in some areas.

Gather the facts. The worst time for recriminations is at the scene of a crash. Get the names and addresses of everyone involved in or witnessing the crash. I carry a little booklet and pencil in my seat pouch just in case. Ask motorists involved in the crash for their proof of insurance card. In most states, every vehicle operator is required to have one and you have a legal right to see it. If they refuse, get their license number and note that they refused to show you their card.

If injuries have occurred, most states require a police report. When the police arrive, identify yourself, tell the truth, and make sure they record your side of what happened (unfortunately, by this time, there’s usually a “your side” and “their side” of events). Note the name of the officer taking the report and the case number. Note if there are tickets issued and what the charges are. If you sense you’re not getting a fair hearing, record it and make sure the officer knows you plan to follow up. Most law enforcement officers are scrupulously unbiased at a crash scene; they’re just trying to record the facts of the crash. You have to ensure that they include events as you-and others at the scene-saw them. The law varies from state to state, so you should be familiar with the traffic laws in your state. One of the best ways to do this is to take the Effective Cycling Road I course. Your instructor will spend some time on the laws as well as on the principles behind those laws.

Once the emergency is over you MUST follow up. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible and give them the information. This may be all that is required to get proper compensation. On the other hand, you may have to hire an attorney to represent you. If so, check out cycling publications for lawyers who specialize in representing cyclists. Most of them are cyclists and you won’t have to begin your case by educating them. When you get home, write down everything you remember about the incident. Add additional facts as they occur to you and keep adding details until nothing new surfaces. This record might come in handy if you are deposed two or three years later. If you’re injured, keep an injury diary with pictures, noting your symptoms. These are useful for both legal and medical purposes and can greatly assist your doctor in prescribing and adjusting your treatment.

You owe it not only to yourself, but to all cyclists to follow up. Streets are for people, not just cars, and you have a right to travel on them with the same degree of safety as all others. Those who fail to follow up buy into the “cyclist inferiority” mentality and reduce the safety of all cyclists a notch.

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to

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