Being Safe On Virginia Roads During Coronavirus And What To Do If Injured
Apr 02, 2020 | Michael Duncanson
Go Home 2020, nobody likes you…
If 2020 was an computer operating system, we would re-install it and start over. It has been a wild year and we are only in April. I can already see the “Bye Felicia” or “2020 is like a bad date, we are going to do all we can to forget this year ever happened” memes on December 31, 2020. But nothing has struck this year more than coronavirus (COVID-19). It has been hard for so many Americans, especially those on the front lines in the hospitals and for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
With all the bad that COVID-19 has brought us, I believe there is some good that has come from it. I live in a Northern Virginia suburb where sidewalks, bike lanes, and mixed use paths are plentiful. On a normal, nice day there are people using those paths but nothing has compared to the number of people I have seen outside using them since we all started staying home because of COVID-19. And frankly, I think that is good – provided people maintain their social distance of at least six feet from other people and do not go out in large groups. I think we as Americans need to slow down and literally smell the fresh air more often. It will be good for both our mental and physical health in the long term.
I have seen families and people in and around my neighborhood I have never seen before either running, walking, or cycling. And I think this is great. But let’s remember, as we are enjoying some time outside of our homes, we must be cognizant that there are still road rules pedestrians, cyclists, and cars must obey and consequences if we do not.
This blog will discuss some of the more common road rules for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars and what to do if you are injured by someone else’s wrongdoing (negligence). It will also discuss why following these road rules are very important if you are injured. While I will not discuss every road rule (because it would be a book), I am going to discuss the more common ones we may not be aware of but encounter every day.
Walkers, Runners, and Cyclists Using Sidewalks and Dedicated Paths
As I said in the introduction, I think it is great that we are going outside more in these trying times (again, maintain six feet and do not go out in packs!). Exercise makes people happier and less stressed. But while out on the road and the paths, we must remember that there are road rules we must abide by and following these laws are going to be very important if you are injured while enjoying some fresh air. While I do not agree with how some pedestrian and cyclist laws are written, they are the laws right now until we change them for the better. Let’s dive in to some of the most basic road laws pedestrians and cyclists must abide by when using sidewalks and dedicated paths.
First, the crosswalk. We’ve all crossed in a crosswalk before and you probably have in the past few days and weeks being stuck at home. We all have see the crossing signals consisting of the walking man and the red hand with perhaps a countdown clock. You might be thinking to yourself, “I see that red hand more than I see the walking man!” This is one of those policies I think needs to change – have a longer walking man be visible; but I digress.
Regardless of the length of the walking man being visible, a person can only cross a crosswalk when that man is visible? If you cross without that walking man being visible, there is a jury instruction that will destroy your case. Virginia Model Jury Instruction 14.050, it states:
“A pedestrian has a duty not to start to cross a highway [street] in the direction of a “Don’t Walk” signal, and a duty, if he partially completed crossing on a “Walk” signal, to proceed to a sidewalk [safety island] while the “Don’t Walk” signal is showing.
If a pedestrian fails to perform either duty, then he is negligent.”
Secondly, it is important for pedestrians to know that they must use the sidewalk if one is present. But what is not important is what way you were walking or cycling (if allowed by local law) on the sidewalk. Some people may remember around this time last Spring a Fairfax County Police Officer was making a right turn onto Richmond Highway off of a side road and hit a cyclist entering the crosswalk.
While the cyclist in this instance was in the wrong (he entered a crosswalk when the red stop hand was visible – see paragraph above), the Fairfax County Police Department issued a statement that the cyclist was riding southbound on the northbound side of Richmond Highway. That is not illegal. There is no law that states you must be walking or cycling on a sidewalk or dedicated path in the same direction as traffic. Just remember to use the sidewalk if there is one and if there isn’t one, be sure to walk or run against traffic. Alos remember to never bike against traffic.
Now, let’s talk about road cyclists using the roads (i.e. not on a dedicated path or sidewalk).
First, what should I wear? A helmet? Bright colored clothes? The obvious answer is a resounding “YES!” While there is no statewide helmet law, the Virginia legislature has given localities the authority to mandate children 14 or younger to wear a helmet. But not wearing a helmet if you are older than 14 years old could be seen as contributory negligence if you are riding on the road, get hit, and injured (see Contributory Negligence section below for more information). The reason being, you are not being safe. It is probably going to be scene as common sense to wear a bicycle helmet when riding on the road.
Same for bright colored clothes. I am not talking about wearing an ugly Christmas sweater that lights up. But something where cars can see you – yellow, pink, orange, etc.
Remember to also have lights on your bike if it is dark outside. This is not just a safety suggestion but a Virginia law. So many times I see cyclists riding in the dark without so much as a taillight. I cringe when I see that because it is unsafe for everyone at that moment. If people cannot see you because you do not have a front and rear light and you are hit, that is most likely going to be contributory negligence. It probably will not matter that you were following all other road rules and the person that hit you was driving 50 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. Be sure to have lights!
Also, cyclists must obey stop signs and red lights. Bicycles are just like cars when it comes to these traffic control devices; you must stop. This is one of those laws that I personally believe does not make sense for cyclists (and broader safety) and I think Virginia should adopt the Idaho Stop Law or its hybrid approach that was recently adopted in Delaware called the Delaware Stop. But again, I digress.
In Virginia, cyclists must come to a complete stop and wait for either their lane of traffic to turn green if they are at a traffic light or wait for their turn while at a Stop sign. If a cyclist does not obey this traffic law and gets hit in an intersection, there is very little any attorney can do for you in Virginia.
Additionally, if there is a bike lane, a cyclist should ride in the bike lane. But, what if there isn’t a dedicated bike lane? If there is no bike lane, a cyclist must “ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway” but there are a bunch of exceptions to this law and I encourage you to read them.
Now, let’s say there is a bike sharrow in the road. What the heck is a bike sharrow? Here is a picture of one: Bike Sharrow. What do these mean? They show where a cyclist should be riding on the road. They are meant to guide cyclists on the best route possible through a certain area. That means, if they are in the middle of the lane, cyclists are allowed to be there.
Lastly, if there is a road sign that states cyclists may use full lane, then they are allowed to use the full lane. That is their legal right.
Drivers and Cars
Drivers still have responsibilities too on the road even though the roads are practically clear right now. The road rules still apply to drivers and the cars they operate but with the uptick in pedestrian and cycling traffic, drivers should be aware of how to keep themselves safe as well.
First, when cars approach an intersection controlled by a stop sign or a red traffic light, they must stop behind the white horizontal line. Entering the intersection before coming to a complete stop is against the law and unsafe for pedestrians that may be legally attempting to cross the intersection.
Secondly, if a driver sees a pedestrian in a crosswalk, that driver must yield to that pedestrian. Not doing so is not only a violation of state law, but I think it is also just plain rude not to let a person to finish safely crossing the street. Not doing so could make the driver liable for the pedestrian’s and/or cyclist’s injuries.
Now, what do you do when you come across a bicycle that you wish to go around? That answer is simple, a car may pass a cyclist but that car must give that cyclist at least three feet of space while passing.
This is really for safety of all parties. What I think drivers forget it (and I have been guilty of it myself over the years) is that there is a human being on that bicycle and even in the car in front of you. We all have families, people who love us, and people who do not want to see us injured. Remember, we are all humans. Now, if a car does not follow this passing law and the cyclist is obeying the law, that driver could be liable for the property damage and injuries the cyclist sustains.
One last thing on cars, always keep a lookout for municipal signs that say “Right Turn Yield to Bicycles.” They will look something like this picture from this article: Right Turn Yield to Cyclists.
I have mentioned contributory negligence a few times in this blog and here is where I explain it further.
Virginia is one of a handful of states (along with Maryland and Washington, D.C. in most cases) that practices that doctrine of contributory negligence. In my opinion, it is a draconian law that is unfair and needs to be overturned and rewritten by the Virginia legislature.
What this legal doctrine means is, if you are 1% at fault for your injuries, you probably will not recover any money damages. For example, let’s say you are out on a run and step into the crosswalk with the red stop hand visible and the countdown clock going. And let’s say that clock still has 25 second remaining – plenty of time for you to get across the street. While in the crosswalk a car hits you and injures you. You are most likely contributory negligent and will not recover and money damages because you started crossing the street when the red hand, not the walking man, was visible. Remember how I said following the rules was really important if you get injured by the acts of another? This is why.
What to do If You’re in a Collision and Injured
During our coronavirus isolation, if you find yourself out walking, running, cycling, or driving (essential travel only!), and get into a collision, what should you do? The answer is a lot. But, here are some simple but important steps you can take.
First, stay calm. Yelling at the person who hit you does not do anyone any good, especially yourself. It is understandable and common for you to be upset, in shock, frustrated, and/or angry. Nobody would blame you there. However, how you approach the situation is important because whatever you say and how you say it can be used against you in court. A jury might not look too kindly on a claimant that lost their cool.
Second, always call the police. By calling the police, they may create a police report. Police officers in Virginia do not have to issue police reports if there appears to be less than $1,500.00 in property damage. But if you are injured, maimed, or there is property damage of more than $1,500.00 they must write and file a police report. That also means the police officer might issue a citation to the wrongdoer. That is important because it helps you and your attorney identity the wrongdoer, their address, their insurance company, other identifiable information, and a written record on how the collision occurred.
Third, collect the other person’s or persons’ insurance information. Without it, it makes life extremely difficult for yourself and if you decide to hire a personal injury attorney. If soon after the collision you are considering hiring a personal injury attorney like us, it is probably best not to provide a statement to the wrongdoer’s insurance company. Talk to an attorney first.
Fourth, take pictures of the scene (if it is safe to do so!). We all have smartphones these days with pretty good cameras. Take pictures of any property damage (yours and the wrongdoer’s), the scene itself, and yourself if you are injured. Pictures are literally worth a thousand words and will preserve vital evidence as your case progresses.
Fifth, if you are involved in a hit and run, it is very important that you contact your insurance company immediately and let them know what happened.
Last, if you are injured, go to the hospital, urgent care, or your doctor right away. However, in this coronavirus pandemic world we currently live in, many people are scarred to go to hospitals and/or they find their doctor’s offices closed. We at ChasenBoscolo understand and we want to help. We can help guide you through these uncertain times and provide the advice necessary to ensure you get the help you need and help your case.
Just because you are injured in these uncertain times, does not mean ChasenBoscolo is not here to help. While our offices are closed, we remain open and ready to help anyone who has suffered injuries through no fault of their own and has had their life turned upside down because of those injuries.
As I stated at the top of this blog, while coronavirus is not good for really anybody, it has been great to see people and families get outside more (while practicing social distancing, of course!) and enjoy the fresh air. Honestly, I hope that continues long after this pandemic has left us. But if you find yourself just trying to enjoy some fresh air and someone breaks the road rules and injures you, we are here to help.
Stay safe everyone!