Cycling is one of the greatest ways to experience the breathtaking surroundings of the Cornhusker State. Unfortunately, bicycle riders have little protection and are vulnerable to the risks of the road, such as traffic collisions. Anyone involved in a bicycle accident may suffer from minor to severe injuries, including head trauma, bone fractures, lacerations, TBI, and paralysis. In worse cases, bicycle crashes can result in death.
In 2020, a total of 303 accidents involved bicyclists and pedestrians, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation. Most of the crashes were caused by negligent motor vehicle drivers. Nonetheless, Nebraska has ranked as the safest state for cyclists throughout the country, followed by South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Tennessee. This is based on a study conducted by IceBike using data from the NHTSA. According to IceBike, the state had 15 deaths or 0.77 deaths per 100,000 people over a 10-year period (2010-2019).
This does not mean, however, that Nebraskans should be complacent when riding their bicycles. They must continue to follow various rules and regulations implemented by the federal and state governments. They should also be familiar with the different laws that can help them in case they get involved in an accident. These will be discussed in this article.
Nebraska’s Bicycle Helmet and Equipment Law
In Nebraska, cyclists are not required to wear helmets when riding their bicycles unless mandated by the local government. However, they are encouraged to wear a helmet approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Additionally, their bicycles must be equipped with various safety features, including brakes that can stop the bike while traveling at 10 mph in good weather and road conditions. When riding at night, the bicycle should have a red light on the rear, a light on the front, and reflectors on the side and pedals.
Bicycle Operation in Nebraska
Nebraska’s rules of the road apply not only to motor vehicle drivers but also to bicycle riders. Both should learn to share the road and be cautious at all times to avoid accidents that will lead to injuries and fatalities.
Three-foot Passing Law
Drivers should always be mindful and take care when traveling on a roadway. They should be aware of their surroundings and be prepared to react to unexpected events. This is especially important when passing a bicycle, as cyclists are more vulnerable to crash injuries. Most states require drivers to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet when passing a bicycle. This means you should only pass a cyclist once you have enough space to do so safely. If you feel you cannot overtake the cyclist without risk, you should wait until it is safe to do so.
Laws on Bicycles on Roadways and Bicycle Paths
Nebraska allows cyclists to ride on crosswalks and sidewalks. State law also stipulates that people riding bicycles slower than the normal traffic speed must ride as close as possible to the right-hand curb or edge. Cyclists may do otherwise when passing or overtaking another vehicle or bicycle traveling in the same direction, turning left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway, or riding on a lane with substandard width. In addition, cyclists may ride on the left side of roadways when they are on a roadway with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less.
Bicyclists cannot ride against the traffic flow and should ride in single file on a highway. They should also avoid sudden movements and be careful not to surprise motor vehicle drivers, pedestrians, and other bicyclists. In addition, they should use hand signals before turning. As much as possible, they should wear brightly colored clothes and reflectors and use bicycle paths or trails.
Cyclists should be aware of the restrictions when riding a bicycle. They should not remove their feet from the pedals and must always hold at least one handlebar. They are not allowed to carry any article or bundle that will prevent them from keeping one hand on the handlebar. They are also prohibited from clinging to any vehicle on the roadways. In addition, their bicycle may only be used to carry a few people at a time.
Nebraska’s Electric Bike Laws
In Nebraska, e-bikes are defined as bicycles powered by pedals or an electric motor of up to 750 watts and equipped with one brake horsepower. They can run up to a maximum speed of 20 mph. E-bikes have three classes:
Class 1 - pedal-assisted and can reach a maximum speed of 20 mph with human intervention
Class 2 - powered by pedals or a hand throttle and can travel up to 20 mph
Class 3 - powered by a hand throttle or pedals and capable of reaching up to 28 mph. It is also equipped with a speedometer.
E-bikes are governed by the same laws that apply to human-powered bicycles. E-bike operators may use bicycle lanes and paths but cannot ride on interstate freeways and highways. There are no age restrictions, helmet regulations, or license requirements when riding an e-bike. The state, though, encourages bicyclists to wear a safety helmet to minimize the risk of severe injuries or death.
Nebraska’s Drunk Driving Law
Nebraska’s drunk driving law applies only to operators of any motor vehicle. However, cyclists who ride a bicycle while intoxicated may be taken into protective custody by law enforcement officers. If a drunk cyclist endangers cars, inflicts injuries on other people, or causes damage to property, they may face a civil lawsuit and be asked to pay for the damages.
Pointers for Cyclists Involved in a Bicycle Accident in Nebraska
If you get involved in a bicycle accident in Nebraska, you should stay calm and call 911 immediately. Provide accurate information when talking to the police. You should file a police report as soon as possible. Be careful not to apologize for the accident, as your statement may be used against you if the case goes to court. Do not assume you are fine because your injuries may not manifest right away in the moments after the crash.
Moreover, if safe to do so, leave your bike and look into the accident scene, observe the area, and check on road debris and skid marks. Take pictures or videos of the scene and your visible injuries. Write down information about the other people involved in the accident, including their license plates, contact numbers, and insurance details.
Finally, inform your insurance company, if any, about the accident. You need to document medical expenses and how the accident affected your life on a daily basis. It may be advisable to hire an experienced bicycle accident lawyer to help you with your case.
Is Nebraska a No-fault State for Bike Accidents?
No, Nebraska is an at-fault or tort state. This means that the negligent party or their insurance company is financially responsible for the damages suffered by the victim. If you get injured in a bicycle accident, there are three ways to recover damages. You can either file a personal injury claim with your insurance provider, file a third-party insurance claim, or file a personal injury lawsuit.
In addition, the state follows a modified contributory negligence system, under which bicycle accident victims may seek compensation even if they are partially at fault. The percentage of their fault will be deducted from the total damages. However, if they are found to be equally or more negligent than the other party, they will not be eligible for compensation.
For instance, if you suffer $100,000 in damages and the court finds out you are 20% at fault, the defendant must pay you $80,000. But if the court determines that you and the other driver are 50% responsible for the collision, you will not be eligible for any compensation.
How Much Can One Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Nebraska?
Nebraska generally does not impose caps on economic and non-economic damages related to bicycle accidents. The amount of compensation varies from case to case, depending on the severity of the victim’s injuries and how the incident has affected their daily lives.
Economic damages or special compensatory damages are financial losses related to the accident. These include present and future medical bills, lost wages and earning capacity, bicycle replacement or repair costs, and funeral expenses.
Non-economic damages or general compensatory damages are intangible losses related to the accident. These include physical pain and mental suffering, lost companionship and enjoyment of life, and emotional anguish. When calculating non-economic damages, the court may consider the accident's impact on the victim’s personal and professional relationships, as well as their daily routine or lifestyle.
In some bicycle-related personal injury or wrongful death cases, punitive damages may be awarded if the defendant engages in reckless and intentional actions. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their malicious or willful conduct and deter others from engaging in similar behavior.
To qualify for punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions were motivated by malice or oppression. This means that the defendant must have acted with the intent to harm the plaintiff or with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
What Is Nebraska’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Nebraska’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases, including bicycle accidents, is four years. This means the plaintiff should file the lawsuit within four years of the date of the accident. For wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the victim’s death.
The deadline may be delayed if the injuries are not discovered immediately or if the defendant hides from their liability. Furthermore, if the injured person is a minor, the statute of limitation’s clock begins when the minor turns 19 (age of maturity). The parents, however, may file a claim for medical expenses within four years of the accident date.
The statute of limitations is implemented to further urgency and efficiency in the processing of claims. It also encourages victims to be more proactive and protects defendants who may lose pieces of evidence to disprove plaintiffs’ claims. If a victim fails to file a claim within the deadline, they may be barred from seeking compensation from the negligent party or their insurance company.
Legal Resources for Nebraska Bicycle Accident Victims
Bike Walk Nebraska advocates for safer and more accessible transportation throughout the state. It also works on making Nebraska more bicycle-friendly. In addition to advocacy, the organization provides various resources, such as brochures, toolkits, and videos, to help people learn about the benefits of active transportation and how to make their communities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
Nebraska Bicycle Guide is a brochure published by the NDOT to educate riders about the bicycle laws being implemented throughout the state. It also gives cyclists safety tips and essential contact information in case of emergencies.
The NDOT web portal is a convenient and easy way to report bicycle accidents virtually. The portal can be accessed from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection. By providing accurate and timely information, you can help the government identify and address areas where improvements are needed.
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