Virginia offers numerous scenic trails for cyclists in and around the state. Shenandoah National Park, for example, lies less than 75 miles from Northern Virginia. The state, which is also known as the Old Dominion, also maintains bicycle networks in its counties. Fairfax County, the state’s most populous county, contains over 350 miles of bikeways.
The League of American Bicyclists gives a grade of A to Virginia’s bicycle-related traffic laws and a grade of B to the state’s bike infrastructure. All these contribute to the state's ranking 7th nationwide on the list of bicycle-friendly states.
Cyclists can still get into accidents, though. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recorded 575 bicycle crashes in 2022. The number represents a 5.7% increase from 2021. However, fatal accidents decreased from 16 in 2021 to 11 in 2022.
It’s essential to understand your legal rights in bicycle accidents. You can find in this article explanations regarding Virginia’s damage caps and statute of limitations. It also contains useful links that will help you recover the compensation you deserve for the injuries you have sustained.
Virginia Laws on Using Sidewalks and Sharing the Road for Bicyclists
Under state law, cyclists must travel in the same flow as traffic. They should also ride on the right side of roadways. The practice is required, especially when the rider is traveling at a lower speed than nearby motorists. There are exceptions to the rule, though. Cyclists looking to avoid unsafe conditions, prepare for left turns, or pass another vehicle may use the left-hand side of the road.
On another note, there should be no more than two cyclists riding side-by-side on a single lane. Traveling two abreast is allowed as long as riders do not block the normal traffic flow. However, in cases where a faster-moving driver is seeking to overtake two cyclists, the latter should — as soon as they can — shift into a single-file line. Those who failed to do so will not be considered negligent in civil cases under Virginia law.
What about using sidewalks? State law allows cyclists to use these if they give the right-of-way to pedestrians. Before passing or overtaking pedestrians, riders must provide an audible signal to indicate their presence.
Bicyclists in the state must know the regulations regarding riding on sidewalks in certain cities. Virginia Beach, for instance, prohibits riders from using sidewalks in the Town Center. The city also does not permit cyclists to travel across the sidewalks of Atlantic Avenue during the resort season. The season is defined as the period from May 1 to September 30. Meanwhile, Norfolk forbids riders to utilize unpaved or paved sidewalks in the city’s Downtown Service District. Sidewalk use is permitted in areas under the Elizabeth River Trail, though.
Riders should be aware of how to share roads and sidewalks safely. This knowledge is critical in situations where multiple motorists, as well as pedestrians, are traveling in the same direction. In a 2022 report, the Virginia DMV states that failing to yield is the top contributor to bicycle accidents.
E-bike Laws in Virginia
In contrast to surrounding states like North Carolina and Kentucky, Virginia groups electric bicycles into three classes:
Class 3 e-bikes come with motors that help riders when they are using the pedals. Their bike’s motor ceases to assist once a speed of over 28 mph is attained.
Class 2 e-bikes are equipped with a motor operated by a throttle. Cyclists will no longer receive assistance from the motor once their bike reaches a speed of 20 mph.
Class 1 e-bikes have a motor that ceases to function once riders achieve 20 mph.
The state requires distributors and manufacturers of electric bicycles to install a label in a prominent location that contains various information about their e-bike. This comprises the motor wattage, classification number, and top-assisted speed. Under state law, these labels must be affixed to bicycles starting January 1, 2021. In addition, the electric bicycle should comply with the standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Virginia prohibits individuals from modifying or tampering with the original speed capability of their e-bikes. Individuals may change their bicycle’s motor speed capability if they also alter the label to reflect the change.
Certain cities and counties in the Old Dominion maintain ordinances that regulate the use of electric bicycles. Case in point, Virginia Beach. The city does not allow dealers to purchase secondhand e-bikes from Virginians under 18. Another rule that residents must be aware of is that dealers are required to keep records of transactions involving electric bicycles. Police officers in the city must be able to see these documents as part of their inspections.
Another example is Prince William County. Locals can only use e-bikes within 500 feet of residential areas if they are equipped with mufflers. They may also use these muffler-equipped bikes on highways.
Virginia Helmet Laws
Virginia has a statewide law requiring certain electric bicycle users to wear helmets. Under the state code, riders of class 3 e-bikes have to wear protective headgear. Such helmets must meet the standards set by either the American Society for Testing and Materials International or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
State law mentions that some jurisdictions may require bicyclists under 14 to use protective headgear. Currently, the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, and Arlington have restrictions. Some independent cities also prohibit unhelmeted cyclists under 14 from riding without helmets, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News. Other counties have different laws regarding helmet use. Loudoun County, for example, mandates helmet use for cyclists under 15.
These regulations have been established since using protective headgear decreases injury risk. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the threat of brain injury from crashes drops by around 90% if the cyclist wears a helmet. The importance of appropriate headgear cannot be overstated, especially among kids. In a Virginia DMV report, almost 10% of cyclists injured in 2022 were between the ages of 10 and 14.
Besides reducing injury risk, helmeted cyclists also do not have to worry about penalties. The Code of Virginia sets the fine at $25 for individuals who do not wear helmets. The penalty does not apply to individuals who violate state law for the first time. A cyclist who purchases a helmet after being caught without one but before receiving a fine will likewise be exempt from the $25 penalty.
Incidentally, Virginia does not consider the practice of not wearing a helmet negligence. Defendants cannot use the argument of not using protective headgear as a way to reduce the damages they have to provide for plaintiffs.
Laws about Bicycle Registration in Virginia
Municipalities across the state adhere to different regulations involving bicycle registration. For instance, Henrico County requires riders to travel with a registration certificate, which should be obtained from its chief of police. Cyclists should also attach a metallic number to their bikes to show that they are registered.
Similarly, the City of Suffolk requires cyclists to register their bicycles. They have to fill out an application form submitted to the treasurer’s office. For under-18 bicycle owners, the city makes it mandatory for legal guardians or parents to sign up in their name.
In Arlington County, registering bicycles is voluntary. Should a rider opt to obtain a license, they can do so through an application form given by the county manager. Residents in the county should note that it prohibits modifying or removing a bicycle’s serial number.
Is Virginia a No-Fault State for Bike Accidents?
Not at all. Unlike its neighbor Kentucky, Virginia is a tort state and adheres to an at-fault system. Injured Virginian bicyclists can obtain compensation for their accident-related damages from liable parties.
There are cases where cyclists may turn to their insurer and acquire damages for bicycle crash-related injuries. For example, in accidents involving uninsured car drivers, a rider who has a policy with uninsured motorist coverage can work with their insurance provider to recover compensation. Cyclists can then manage their medical expenses.
Bicyclists in Virginia should be aware that around 10.5% of motorists in the state are uninsured. The Old Dominion, incidentally, also allows drivers to travel across roads if they pay $500 for the Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee. However, this payment does not mean that motorists will be insured by the state.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Virginia?
Virginia does not impose caps on economic and noneconomic damages. Plaintiffs do not need to worry about limits on the compensation they can receive for medical expenses and loss of companionship from defendants.
However, the state does limit the punitive damages plaintiffs can receive. The Virginia Code maintains a limit of $350,000. These damages are provided to bicycle accident victims as a way for courts to punish the recklessness or maliciousness of liable parties. Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages.
Another thing that Virginians should be aware of is that the state adheres to the collateral source rule. The state code mentions that no defendant can introduce evidence about the plaintiff’s insured or uninsured status as a way for the former to decrease the damages for the latter.
What is Virginia’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Cyclists hurt in bicycle accidents across Virginia have two years to file a claim against at-fault parties. The two-year window begins on the date of the rider’s accident. It also applies in cases involving wrongful death. The difference, however, is that the timeline starts from the date of the cyclist’s death.
In cases involving different factors, the time window is also distinct. For instance, an individual whose personal property was damaged in an accident has five years to press legal action against liable parties.
Meanwhile, Virginia allows cyclists to bring claims against the transportation district or the Commonwealth within one year from the crash date.
Legal Resources for Virginia Bicycle Accident Victims
The agency registers and regulates motorists throughout the state through its Richmond headquarters. It offers Share the Road license plates for motorists seeking to support bicycle safety among other drivers. The agency also provides crash reports that help affected cyclists with their cases. They can find the request form online and mail it to PO Box 27412, Richmond, VA 23269-0001.
The agency has been developing and maintaining roads, bridges, and railways across the state since 1906. It also runs a website that allows injured cyclists to file a tort claim against the agency or its employees in cases concerning negligence. Virginians should note that such claims must only involve property damage worth $5,000 or less. They can submit a claim online or fill out a form to mail to the VDOT Customer Service Center, 1596 Deborah Lane, Salem, VA 24153.
The agency has been regulating the legal profession in Virginia since 1938. It operates the Virginia Lawyer Referral Services, a service that has existed for over 25 years. The agency takes on more than 12,000 calls per year. Injured cyclists seeking legal advice may email firstname.lastname@example.org or use the statewide toll-free number, 800-552-7977.
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