201911.04
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ICYMI: Bicyclists Must Follow Pennsylvania’s Traffic Laws

In September, our blog explained that Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code requires bicyclists to follow the state’s traffic laws. Today we look at what happens when a bicyclist fails to abide by the rules of the road, gets hit by a car, and then sues for personal injuries.

Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t end well for the bicyclist.

Two Stop Signs

In Matthews v. Batroney, a bicycle rider and a motorist crashed at an intersection that was governed by a stop signs for both of them. The motorist, during a jury trial, maintained that she stopped at the stop sign, or a little after it, looked both ways, but didn’t see the bicyclist entering the intersection. The bicyclist admitted that he did not stop at the stop sign that governed his lane of travel, but that he “made eye contact” with the motorist before entering the intersection. The motorist denied any eye contact. A pedestrian at the intersection who witnessed the accident testified that the car stopped before moving into the intersection, while the bicyclist did not. The physical evidence was that the contact occurred between the mid-section of the bike and the front corner of the car on the passenger side.

A jury rendered a verdict finding that the motorist was 30 percent negligent and that the bicycle rider was 70 percent negligent. Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff who is guilty of contributory negligence can recover in a personal injury lawsuit when the plaintiff’s negligence is not greater than the causal negligence of the defendant. Accordingly, the bicyclist could not recover for his injuries.

The bicyclist appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania arguing that the jury was not given proper instructions on the statutes that govern the legal duties of bicyclists who ride on Pennsylvania’s roadways.

On Appeal

In finding that the trial court properly instructed the jury on Pennsylvania’s traffic laws, the Superior Court relied upon the following provisions of the state’s Vehicle Code which set forth the bicyclist’s legal duty to stop at the stop sign:

  1. a) General rule. Every person riding a pedalcycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special provisions in this subchapter and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3501 (emphasis added by court).

Except when directed to proceed by a police officer or appropriately attired persons authorized to direct, control or regulate traffic, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line or, if no stop line is present, before entering a crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if no crosswalk is present, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a clear view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering.

75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3323(b) (emphasis added by court).

The court also found that because the bicyclist admitted to not stopping at the stop sign, he forfeited his right-of-way under another Pennsylvania statute which provides that when two vehicles approach or enter an intersection at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.

Conclusion

Unfortunately for the bicyclist, the jury verdict will stand.

PennDOT reports that from 2011 through 2017, there were 6,409 bicycle crashes on Pennsylvania’s roadways, 83 of which were fatal. In 2017, 286 injuries and four fatalities occurred at stop signs, rendering them the most dangerous traffic control device for bicyclists.

In the interest of safety, we recommend that bicyclists obey all traffic laws as required, wear helmets, and remain vigilant.