Delaware provides multiple trails for bicyclists in the state. Over 200,000 people visit White Clay Creek State Park to ride and hike on its paths. The state and its cities have allocated bicycle lanes on roadways. For instance, Wilmington, the most populous city, has more than 58 miles of bikeways. The state capital, Dover, on the other hand, maintains over 38 miles of paths for cyclists.
The First State, according to the League of American Bicyclists, has a lot going for it in terms of bicycle friendliness. LAB has graded the state’s use of state and federal funds for bicycle infrastructure an A-minus. It has also given a B-minus to Delaware’s traffic laws and cycling safety programs. These factors have helped the state rank 9th on the list of bicycle-friendly states.
Unfortunately, bicycle accidents still occur. The Delaware State Police recorded 122 accidents involving bicyclists in 2021. In terms of fatalities, the number increased to seven in 2022 from two in 2021.
This article helps cyclists comprehend their legal rights in bicycle accidents. It contains information about Delaware’s statute of limitations, damage caps, and insurance regulations. It also includes links that can assist them in obtaining compensation for their injuries from at-fault parties.
The “Delaware Yield” Law
It may be initially puzzling, but the regulation refers to a simple idea. “Delaware Yield” means that cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs. The rule applies to two-lane roads. Cyclists must yield to vehicles that have the right of way at intersections.
The state has been enforcing such laws since the passage of the Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act in 2017. The stop-as-yield rule improves safety among cyclists as they become more visible to motorists. As stated by the advocacy organization Bike Delaware, individuals have an easier time seeing moving objects than stationary ones. The organization additionally stresses that the Delaware Yield allows riders to use intersections faster. They can thereby decrease the risk of vehicle collisions.
Since the act's passage, Delaware has seen fewer bicycle crashes at intersections with stop signs. The state police recorded a 23% decrease in accidents between the 30-month periods of 2017 to 2020 and 2014 to 2017. Similar laws across the country yielded comparable results. For instance, Idaho saw an over 14% reduction in bicycle accidents after the first year of implementing the rule.
Delaware Laws on Sharing the Road and Using Sidewalks for Bicyclists
Delaware bicyclists have the same rights and duties as motorists. One of these duties is riding on the right side of the road. The cyclist should do so, except in various situations. These include:
Overtaking vehicles or other cyclists.
Avoiding pedestrians, moving objects, or animals.
Preparing to go left at intersections.
Riding on paved roadway shoulders.
Another law bicyclists should be aware of is riding with another bicyclist side-by-side. Delaware permits the practice as long as the number of cyclists traveling abreast does not exceed two. But it does allow more than three on roads specifically for riders. The state also recognizes that cyclists riding side-by-side do not hinder regular traffic flow when there is no approaching traffic. On laned roads, however, riders should travel two abreast within a single lane.
The laws regarding sidewalk use are likewise different. The state generally lets bicyclists on sidewalks if they yield to pedestrians and provide audible signals before passing or overtaking them. It also provides the same duties and rights as pedestrians to conventional bicycle users riding on sidewalks.
Some cities in Delaware, however, maintain certain regulations for bicyclists using sidewalks. One example is Wilmington. It outright bans riders from sidewalks at any time. Another city, Dover, prohibits cyclists from using sidewalks in its downtown shopping area. Those caught by city authorities have to pay fines between $10 and $100.
Newark, meanwhile, does not allow bicyclists on the sidewalks that run on both sides of East Main Street, from South College Avenue to Tyre Avenue. Interestingly, the city lets horse riders use bicycle paths.
Helmet Laws in Delaware
Under state law, cyclists under 18 cannot use their bikes without the appropriate helmet. According to the Delaware Code, riders should purchase protective headgear approved by various organizations, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Snell Memorial Foundation, and the American National Standards Institute. The state also permits bicyclists to use helmets that meet the Consumer Products Safety Commission standards.
Residents of certain cities must know that their municipalities have slightly stricter requirements. For example, Newark prohibits riders under 16 from using bicycles without the proper headgear. The city imposes a $25 fine for first-time offenders. Legal guardians or parents of unhelmeted children may also be subject to paying fines. The fine increases to $50 for successive offenses.
Why are helmet laws mandatory in Delaware? Because the state seeks to decrease the risk of head injuries for its cyclists. In Senate Bill No. 174, lawmakers cited reports from the National Conference on State Legislatures that show a reduction of head injuries between 85% and 88% because of helmet use. Through the bill’s passage in 2008, Delaware increased its age limit from 16 to 18.
The significance of using proper headgear, especially among teenage riders, cannot be understated. Around 16% of bicyclists injured in 2021 were between the ages of 15 and 19. There was also one fatality from that age group recorded in 2021.
Cyclists who do not wear helmets are not negligent, according to state law. The fact that a rider is unhelmeted cannot be used as evidence in trial proceedings. Interestingly, in Delaware, individuals who belong to religious groups are permitted to cite their religious practices as a valid defense for not wearing helmets.
Delaware Bicycle Equipment Laws
Riders should install their bicycles with the required equipment. One of these is the front lamp. This device should emit a white light that can be seen by nearby motorists or pedestrians from a minimum distance of 500 feet. Another mandatory component is the red reflector, which must be easily visible from 600 feet when positioned in front of a car’s lower headlight beams.
An additional required part is the braking system. State law mandates cyclists install brakes that help them stop within 25 feet of level, clean, and dry pavement at a speed of 10 mph.
During nighttime, riders cannot travel on roads without reflectors on both sides of the bicycle visible for 600 feet. They may use lighted lamps installed on both sides instead of reflectors.
Besides these requirements, a city in Delaware has an ordinance that mandates cyclists equip their bikes with signaling devices. Wilmington prohibits riders from riding on the road without bells or other devices that can be heard from a minimum distance of 100 feet. Whistles or sirens, however, are not permitted.
E-bike Laws in Delaware
Delaware categorizes electric bicycles into different classes, like its neighbors, New Jersey and Maryland. The First State designates e-bikes into three types, namely:
Class 3 electric bicycles. These bikes come installed with a motor that helps riders when they are using their pedals. The motor no longer assists cyclists once they reach a speed of 28 mph.
Class 2 electric bicycles. These bikes are equipped with a motor that can be controlled by a throttle actuator. The motor stops helping riders when the bike achieves 20 mph.
Class 1 electric bicycles. These motor-equipped bikes aid bicyclists when they are pedaling. The motor ceases to assist once the bike goes over 20 mph.
E-bike owners should know that Delaware does not allow modification or tampering with a bicycle’s speed capability. This is only allowed if the owner replaces the bike’s label after the modification. They must also be aware of their city’s policies regarding e-bikes. Under state law, state or municipal agencies may restrict electric bicycles on specific paths after a public hearing.
Is Delaware a No-Fault State for Bike Accidents?
No. Delaware cyclists, unlike those in New Jersey, can recover compensation for accident-related injuries from at-fault parties.
Delawarean motorists are required under state law to obtain an insurance policy with personal injury protection. This coverage add-on allows plaintiffs to acquire damages for their medical and childcare expenses, as well as funeral costs, from defendants.
In some situations, injured riders could file a claim with their insurance company. Those with uninsured motorist coverage policies may contact their insurer in accidents caused by non-insured drivers. Cyclists must know that Delaware ranks 38th on the list of states with the most uninsured drivers.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Delaware?
Plaintiffs in Delaware do not face caps on the economic and non-economic damages they can receive from at-fault parties. Bicycle accident victims may also use the collateral source rule, meaning they can press a claim for the full reasonable value of their medical expenses, not only the amount compensated by insurance companies.
Sometimes, bicycle crashes occur because of the negligence of governmental entities and their employees. In such situations, there are caps on the damages a plaintiff might receive. Under state law, accident victims may only receive $300,000 for a single event. However, suppose the governmental entity owns a liability insurance policy worth over $300,000. In that case, the damages a plaintiff can obtain should not exceed the policy’s limit.
What Is Delaware’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Bicycle accident victims throughout Delaware have two years to press legal action against liable parties. The two-year window starts from the date of the bike crash. Surviving family members whose loved ones died in bicycle accidents also have two years to file a claim for damages from at-fault parties.
Another situation where the two-year window applies is in crashes where the cyclist’s personal property is damaged. However, if the cyclist is a minor, they must turn 18 before filing a claim. Delaware provides three years after the plaintiff reaches the age of majority to press legal charges.
Legal Resources for Delaware Bicycle Accident Victims
Since 1923, the agency has been contributing to the safety of Delaware residents, including bicycle users. It operates the Collision Reconstruction Unit, which investigates crashes and has experience with hit-and-run accidents. It also runs Crime Lab, the unit that manages a photo storage program and provides the necessary images for requesting insurance companies and attorneys. Cyclists may obtain their crash report through mail at the Traffic Operations Section, P.O. Box 430, Dover, DE 19903.
The association has been working to advance legal practice in Delaware since its founding in 1923. It maintains the Access to Justice Program, which allows attorneys in the state to support pro bono programs. It also operates the Online Lawyer Referral Service. Cyclists seeking representation may access the association’s website to connect with legal practitioners.
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