Tennessee is home to many sights for cyclists seeking scenic trails. The nation’s most visited national park — the Great Smoky Mountains — is located in the eastern part of the state and has miles of bicycle facilities. Nashville, the Volunteer State’s capital and largest city, added over 32 miles of bikeways from 2017 to 2021. Meanwhile, Memphis has installed 270 miles of bike lanes since 2010.
The League of American Bicyclists ranks Tennessee 19th on the list of bicycle-friendly states. The organization gave a B+ grade to its use of funding for bicycle infrastructure and recognized the adoption of a statewide Active Transportation Plan.
Even with such programs, bicycle accidents can and do occur. Crashes involving cyclists increased by 56% from 2021 to 2022. The number of fatal crashes likewise grew to 14 in 2022 from seven in 2021.
In line with this, it is crucial to understand your legal rights in bicycle accidents. This article explains Tennessee’s statute of limitations and the caps on the damages you can receive from liable parties. It additionally provides helpful links to assist you with obtaining the compensation you need for your injuries.
Tennessee Bicycle Helmet Laws
Unlike its neighbors Mississippi and Kentucky, Tennessee has laws that require cyclists to wear a helmet; the state code makes this mandatory for riders under 16. Additionally, helmets must adhere to standards from state-approved organizations, including the Snell Memorial Foundation and the American National Standards Institute.
Some cities in the state adopt similar regulations, while others have additional requirements. For instance, Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville have helmet laws similar to those under the Tennessee Code. Meanwhile, motorized bicycle riders in Chattanooga need to wear headgear with labels from different organizations. These include the Southern Impact Research Center and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Various regulations regarding helmet use have been established throughout the state since wearing protective headgear can mitigate injuries in case of a mishap. According to the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, it can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88%. The organization also observed that in bicycle accidents involving children, the most common types of injuries are head-related.
Another reason to wear protective headgear is the penalty for unhelmeted riders. Tennessee imposes a $2 fine plus court costs for violators. Incidentally, however, state law specifies that in trials involving cyclists, their decision not to wear a helmet cannot be used as evidence against them.
Municipalities in the state also have extra fines for unhelmeted cyclists. Memphis, for example, enforces a $50 penalty for those who do not use the appropriate headgear in skate parks.
E-bike Laws in Tennessee
Tennessee has different laws regarding e-bikes compared to its eastern neighbor, North Carolina. The Volunteer State classifies electric bicycles into three categories:
Class 1 bicycles are equipped with motors that assist riders when they are pedaling. Their motor ceases to help cyclists once they reach a speed of 20 mph.
Class 2 bicycles have a throttle-actuated motor. Riders do not receive assistance from the motor after their bike goes over 20 mph.
Class 3 bicycles have a motor that no longer helps cyclists when they go over a speed of 28 mph.
After January 1, 2017, distributors and manufacturers of electric bicycles in the state have been required to install labels on their products. A label should contain information about a bike’s top assisted speed, classification number, and motor wattage. Companies that manufacture or distribute electric bicycles without the required labels violate the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977.
In the same vein, individuals who knowingly changed the speed ability of their e-bikes without replacing their labels can be convicted of a class C misdemeanor.
Tennesseans should likewise be aware that people under 14 cannot use class 3 e-bikes. They may only ride as passengers on electric bicycles designed to carry another person. Those caught not following the law could face up to $50 in fines.
Some municipalities in the state have specific regulations regarding the use of electric bicycles. In Chattanooga, for instance, it is illegal to leave a dockless e-bike abandoned anywhere in the city. It also prohibits individuals from offering these bicycles for public use. Violators face a maximum of $50 in fines and might pay a daily $5 storage fee if the city impounds their abandoned bikes.
Laws on Sharing the Road and Using Sidewalks for Bicyclists in Tennessee
State law makes it mandatory for bicyclists to use the right side of the road. They need to ride in the same direction as the traffic and must signal with their hands to communicate where they want to go.
Bike riders must also be aware of laws regarding two people riding side by side. Tennessee permits the practice as long as riders do not hinder or block traffic flow. Moreover, within bicycle lanes, more than two cyclists may ride alongside each other. State law adds that the two-abreast rule does not affect police cyclists pursuing potential criminals.
With regard to sidewalk use, Tennessee allows unhelmeted riders if they are over 16 years old. The state also permits bicyclists with passengers on sidewalks if the passenger’s height is less than 40 inches. Their weight should likewise not exceed 40 pounds.
It should also be noted that some cities have certain restrictions in place. For example, Nashville prohibits cyclists from using their bicycles on the sidewalks of business districts. Memphis, meanwhile, lets riders travel across sidewalks so long as they use a bell or give an audible signal before passing pedestrians.
To prevent accidents, riders should know various ways of safely sharing the road, especially during periods when many motorists are traveling. Over a fifth of all bicycle crashes involving cyclists in 2022 happened during the afternoon rush hour between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Bicycle Equipment Laws in Tennessee
Tennessee requires cyclists to have their bikes equipped with a front lamp that emits a white light visible from a minimum of 500 feet. A red rear lamp that can be seen from at least 500 feet away should also be installed. Alternatively, riders may use a red reflector on their bike’s rear instead of a red lamp.
Brakes are mandatory for bicyclists as well. They must help riders stop within 25 feet when riding 10 mph on clean, dry, and level pavement. Under state law, those who do not follow these regulations will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. Additionally, convicted individuals have to deal with fines of up to $50 and no more than 30 days of imprisonment.
In addition to the previous requirements, it is important to note that some municipalities have slightly different regulations. Memphis, for instance, allows users of fixed-gear bikes to utilize their drivetrain as brakes. The city also permits such riders to use their bicycles as long as they demonstrate compliance with braking requirements.
Another municipality, Knoxville, makes it mandatory for cyclists to install side lights or reflectors visible from 500 feet. The lights should be turned on at nighttime and in low-visibility conditions.
It is crucial for cyclists to ensure they have the proper equipment to enhance their visibility, particularly when it is dark. According to state data, over 64% of fatal accidents involving bicycle users occurred between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Is Tennessee a No-fault State for Bike Accidents?
No. Tennessee adheres to an at-fault system. Under such a setup, plaintiffs can recover compensation for bicycle accident-related damages from defendants. However, in some cases involving incidents like theft, injured bicyclists with comprehensive policies may turn to their insurance company and obtain compensation for damages.
One more reason why plaintiffs might file a claim with their insurer involves uninsured motorists. In accidents caused by drivers without insurance, claimants who possess policies with uninsured motorist coverage can contact their own insurance provider to help them deal with medical bills or funeral expenses.
Since over 23% of Tennessee motorists do not possess insurance, it is important for bicyclists to understand the need for policies with uninsured motorist coverage.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Tennessee?
State law does not place a cap on the economic damages a bike accident victim can receive from liable parties. However, Tennessee does have a limit on non-economic damages; a maximum of $750,000 can be obtained by a plaintiff to compensate for his emotional distress, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering. This cap may increase to $1 million in cases involving catastrophic injuries.
Similar to non-economic damages, the amount of punitive damages a plaintiff may recover is limited. State law imposes either $500,000 or two times the compensatory damages as part of the punitive damages.
However, there are certain situations where there is no cap on the amount of non-economic and punitive damages a plaintiff can obtain. These include:
Cases involving accidents caused by someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Cases wherein the liable party destroys, conceals, or falsifies evidence.
What is Tennessee’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Bicyclists injured in Tennessee have one year to file a claim and press legal action against the liable parties. The same one-year window also applies to cases involving wrongful death, with the timeline commencing from the date of the victim’s passing.
If an accident was caused by a negligent government entity, an injured cyclist likewise has one year to file a claim. Additionally, one should note that the state only provides 90 days to file an appeal.
In cases that only involve personal property damage, the statute of limitations is three years.
Legal Resources for Tennessee Bicycle Accident Victims
TDOT has been building and maintaining statewide infrastructure like cycling paths and roads for over a century. It is home to the Office of Multimodal Planning, which oversees projects that help tourists, people with disabilities, children, and low-income individuals commute or shop. Cyclists seeking to submit work requests for maintenance may do so online. Additionally, bike riders injured in accidents can obtain relevant public records by sending an email to the agency’s Legal Division at TDOT.RecordsRequest@tn.gov.
The department works to empower and educate Tennesseans about their financial decisions. It runs the Claims and Risk Management division, which can assist those aiming to recover compensation after figuring in a bike accident involving a state-owned highway. One may file a claim through the department’s website.
The association has been representing the interests of the state’s legal practitioners since 1881. Its website has a list of phone numbers of lawyers from Southeast, Middle, and East Tennessee that people with legal needs — including bike accident victims — may contact. One should note that an appointment involves knowing the costs of legal services and the time it takes to resolve their case.
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