West Virginia can offer a memorable and safe biking experience. There are dedicated lanes for commuting bikers and mountain trails for thrill-seekers. The League of American Bicyclists ranked West Virginia 28th among 50 states for bicycle friendliness, while IceBike ranked it 4th among the safest states for cycling.
But that does not mean bicycle accidents and fatalities are non-existent in the Mountain State. In 2020, West Virginia recorded three pedal cyclist deaths or 1.1% of the state's total fatalities involving vehicle accidents.
These numbers highlight the importance of following road safety rules, especially because bicyclists are more vulnerable than motorists. Thus, before anyone rides in West Virginia, they must know the laws that apply to bicyclists in the state. This article will help them avoid accidents and understand their legal rights should they be involved in one.
Bicycle and E-Bicycle Definitions in West Virginia
In West Virginia, a bicycle is defined as different from an e-bicycle; hence, not all West Virginia bicycle laws apply to e-bikes and vice versa. There could be an overlap, though, depending on the type of e-bicycle. Specifically, class 1 and 2 e-bicycles are permitted to use the same roads and trails as non-electric bicycles. They also must follow the same rules.
West Virginia law defines a bicycle as a human-powered vehicle propelled by pedaling and has saddle seats. The definition extends to other human-powered vehicles with attachments but does not include tricycles. Moreover, a bicycle has no motor attached, and the wheels have a diameter of more than 20 inches.
On the other hand, an e-bicycle may have two to three wheels, pedals, and an electric motor of less than 750 watts. There are three classes of e-bicycle:
The motor provides assistance while the rider pedals and can only do so until the e-bike speed is 20 miles per hour.
The motor can propel the e-bike (even without human pedal power) and can only do so until the e-bike speed is 20 miles per hour.
The motor provides assistance while the rider pedals and can only do so until the e-bike speed is 28 miles per hour.
E-bike owners must take note of these motor power and speed limitations for e-bicycles. If they modify their e-bikes to exceed the original limits, their vehicle will no longer be considered an e-bicycle, and different laws will apply to it (if it is still legal).
Required Bicycle Equipment and Gear in West Virginia
States require specific bike equipment and gear for safe operation. West Virginia is no exception, and its bicycle equipment requirements are as follows:
A brake so the bike can skid on a clean, dry, and level pavement
A front lamp that emits a white light visible at least 500 feet from the front
A DMV-approved rear reflector visible from all distances from 50 to 300 feet to the rear
A rear lamp that emits a red light that is visible at least 500 feet from the rear
It is important to note that the lamps and reflectors are only required for bicycles used at night. Thus, those who do not intend to operate their bikes during the evening may not need to get them.
In addition to the abovementioned equipment, some bicycle gear may be required for bikers. Particularly, West Virginia requires helmets for a certain biking demographic.
West Virginia's Child Bicycle Safety Act
The Child Bicycle Safety Act in West Virginia requires all bicycle operators and passengers aged 15 years and below to wear a helmet if the bike is used on a public roadway, path, or right-of-way.
The helmet should also meet the standards set by the following bodies:
American National Standards Institute
Snell Memorial Foundation's Standards for Protective Headgear
American Society for Testing and Materials
Helmets that adhere to the standards of the listed institutions must have a certifying label.
If a bicycle passenger or operator is found to be in violation of the Child Bicycle Safety Act, their parent or legal guardian may be fined or required to perform community service.
Use of Bicycle Lanes in West Virginia
Most states do not explicitly mandate that bicycle riders use bike lanes when they are present. Thus, West Virginia is often noted for its legislation requiring bikers to stay in bike lanes if they are traveling on a roadway at less than the normal traffic speed. However, if no bike lane is provided, the law requires that riders keep to the right as much as possible, except when:
Overtaking or passing a bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
Preparing to turn left at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
Avoiding a fixed object, a parked vehicle, a turn lane, or other conditions that make it dangerous to keep right.
If a person uses a bicycle on a one-way roadway with marked traffic lanes, they can ride near the edge of the left-hand curb.
Moreover, only two bicycles can ride abreast on the same roadway unless it is exclusive to bicycles. Thus, if you are riding in a bike lane with friends, you can ride side-by-side with one or more bikers, as long as it is safe.
Other West Virginia Bicycle Operation Guidelines
Besides keeping to a bike lane or the rightmost side of the roadway, here are other regulations that bicycle riders should observe to avoid accidents:
Bikers and passengers should only ride on a permanent and attached seat.
Bikers should not carry more passengers than the bicycle seats allotted for them.
Bikers should not cling, skitch, or hitch on a roadway vehicle.
Bikers should keep at least one hand on the handlebar. They cannot carry items that prevent them from maintaining control of their bicycle.
West Virginia Safe Passing Law
West Virginia is among at least 35 states with a Safe Passing law to protect vulnerable people, like bikers, from motorists. The state's Department of Transportation credits the law's passage in 2014 for improving West Virginia's ranking in bicycle friendliness. The League of American Bicyclists uses having a safe passing law as one of the criteria for rating how bike-friendly a state is.
The West Virginia Safe Passing Law states that a motorist overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction must pass to the biker's left, reduce speed, and maintain a distance of three feet. After passing the bike, they can return to the right side of the road.
A driver who violates this provision for the first time faces a $100 fine. If they are caught breaking the law again, they could incur a penalty of up to $500, depending on the number of convictions for the same offense.
Is West Virginia a No-Fault State for Bicycle Accidents?
West Virginia is not a no-fault state for bicycle and other vehicular accidents. Instead, it follows a fault-based system. Thus, the person proven to have caused the accident can be liable for the injured party’s damages.
West Virginia also follows a modified comparative fault system. It allows the defendant to pay an amount equivalent only to the percentage of their fault. Thus, if they are 70% at fault, they only have to pay 70% of the amount the plaintiff was seeking.
The rule also requires that the plaintiff's fault not exceed 50%; otherwise, they cannot claim damages or losses.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in West Virginia?
A person injured in a bicycle accident can claim compensation for economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to tangible losses like hospital expenses. Non-economic damages are intangible, as they include the psychological effects of physical injury, such as pain and suffering.
The limit depends on the type of damage. Hence:
There is no limit to the amount someone can sue for economic or special damages due to a bicycle accident in West Virginia. Instead, the amount is determined by the evidence that the plaintiff has, such as medical bills.
For non-economic or general damages due to a bicycle accident in West Virginia, the limit is $500,000.
What Is West Virginia's Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Filing a lawsuit for a bicycle accident in West Virginia is considered a personal action. According to West Virginia law, the statute of limitations is two years. If you are involved in a bike accident and want to claim damages, you must sue the party at fault within two years of the accident happening.
However, there is an exception to the rule. If the victim was a minor at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations only starts on their 18th birthday. However, you do not have to wait that long; it is best to sue as soon as possible.
Legal Resources for West Virginia Bicycle Accident Victims
Legal Aid of WV is a nonprofit organization that provides legal services, programs, and resources to West Virginians. The organization usually deals with civil legal problems, but you can always consult them with whatever your case is. For instance, if you have concerns related to courts or hearings, they have articles and videos you can look up. If you want to talk to them directly, you can call them or apply for help. They also have offices across WV that you can visit.
The WV State Bar is connected to thousands of licensed law professionals and the state's Supreme Court of Appeals. It has several programs for the public that bicycle accident victims may use. These include Tuesday Legal Connect, which allows West Virginians to call the state bar every Tuesday. Callers can ask law-related questions, and volunteer members of the bar will address them. The State Bar also compiles information on the different courthouses and counties in West Virginia.
The WV Lawyer Referral Service is another program that the State Bar initiated. For $25 or less, you can consult on your case with a lawyer. During that consultation, you can assess if the lawyer is an excellent fit for your case. If not, you do not have to work with them further. If you find an attorney you want to hire, the fee may no longer be $25 or less. You will have to negotiate future expenses. Regardless, this service remains a good way to avoid spending much and still find a lawyer to represent you.
The WV Judiciary website compiles various court forms in one place. Thus, you do not have to immediately proceed to a physical courthouse to find the necessary documents. You can check with the site first to see if they have them; if they do, you can download them, fill out the required form, and file them. The Virginia Judiciary website also compiles county court information, law-related resources, jury details, and other essential details. You can explore the site to see if it can address your other legal needs.
Through WV Free Legal Answers, you can receive legal advice virtually. However, before you can post your queries, you must first address a few questions to be qualified. After that, you can raise your queries, and volunteer attorneys will send their responses by email. WV Free Legal Answers also compiles information and contact details for other law-related resources and programs in the state. You can check if those other services are relevant to your bicycle accident case.
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