What to do after you’ve been hit by a car on your bicycle

My girlfriend got hit by a car a couple days ago while cycling home from work.

In shock after the accident, she walked her bike to the emergency room to get stitches without exchanging information with the driver, whose negligence caused her to be hurt.

This got me thinking about she should have done instead following the accident. There were nearly 15000 reported cycling accidents involving cars in 2014. In a previous blog post, we explained what common cycling accidents were and how to avoid them. Cycling is a relatively safe mode of transportation — you have about a 1% chance of being hit by a car, but it’s always good to be prepared.

If you do get hit by a car on your bike, it’s important to follow this checklist to protect yourself from further issues.

Assess your situation

Check to see if you are capable of moving. If you are bleeding heavily, you have severe pain when you try to move, you are dizzy, or you are unable to move some part of your body, stay still. You may be in shock and unable to recognize the severity of your injuries. Moving may make your injuries worse.

Why this is important:

If you have a serious injury, moving may actually make your injury worse. Before attempting to do anything normal such as standing up and walking your bike off the road, you should make sure that the injuries you have aren’t severe enough to be compounded by movement.

Record the Driver’s License Plate

Do whatever it takes to prevent the driver from driving off.

How to do this:

Write down or take a photo, or memorize the driver’s license plate.

Why this is important:

The driver may drive off or give false contact information. This is the most critical piece of information required to track down the driver later.

Clear the Road

If you are able to move, get out of the way of traffic.

How to do this:

Pick up or drag your bicycle to the sidewalk.

Why this is important:

Staying in traffic is dangerous and will inconvenience others. It also increases the likelihood that more accidents will happen, further compounding the situation.

Find eyewitnesses

Ask nearby people for help documenting what they saw.

How to do this:

Rather than calling out for help, turn and look people in their eyes and ask them to stay to give an eyewitness account. Making eye contact and speaking directly to people one at a time combats the Bystander Effect. a psychological phenomenon that causes a group of strangers to not take action to help a person in need because they assume someone else will take action. This will greatly increase the chances one or more people will help you.

Be sure to record key witness names, email addresses, and phone numbers.

Why this is important:

You may need to call upon the witness’s account of what happened as an unbiased third party.

Call the police

Call the police or have someone else do it for you.

How to do this:

If you are shaken up or in shock, you may not be the best person to give detailed information to the operator. When the police come, be sure to record their information:

  • Name
  • Badge or ID number
  • Phone number
  • Police report number

Ask the police for a copy of the incident report. It may take a few days before it is filed.

Your local police phone number can be found here.

Why this is important:

The police will be the most important record of what just happened, especially when talking to insurance companies or lawyers. They will interview everyone involved and several eyewitnesses. Additionally, crash statistics are important for local government to know how to invest in bicycle safety programs.

Exchange Driver Information

If the driver is still there, now you can exchange information.

How to do this:

Exchange important information, write anything down that you can, and take photos of documents, such as:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Make, model and year of the car that hit you
  • License plate number
  • Insurance carrier
  • Insurance policy number

Why this is important:

This information will be useful in holding the driver accountable if there are medical expenses, property damage, or criminal charges.

Record the Damage, Surroundings, and Injuries

Take photos and notes about your injuries. The details of the accident may be very important, but you may not know for several days the extent of the damage or injuries. For this reason, documentation is very important.

How to do this:

Take a moment to relax and scan your body. Touch yourself to find any sore spots, Stretch and move, find where you are stiff or in pain. Document your pain (dull, sharp, searing, radiating, pulsing, etc), where it is located, and what causes it.

Start by taking photos of:

  • Your bike
  • The driver
  • The car
  • The intersection
  • Your injuries

Take notes about

Due to shock and adrenaline, many injuries may not be apparent immediately after an accident. Bruises may not show up after 24–48 hours and more serious issues such as fractured bones or severe sprains may not show up for half an hour.

Why this is important:

If there is a need to take legal action or engage with insurance companies, you will need all the documentation you can get. Insurance companies may look for reasons not to honor claims. If your documentation is thorough, they will have a harder time ignoring your needs. Also, because of the institutionalized bias against cyclists, your documentation will help dispel this bias in the face of facts.

Seek Medical Attention Within 72 Hours if Necessary

We all you know you are tough, but your body was not designed to sustain the force that even a low-impact car accident can generate.

How to do this:

Determine which doctor you can go to. The nearest hospital may not be accessible with your health care plan.

Get a ride to the hospital, armed with your photos, documents, and injuries.

Why this is important:

Injuries that go untreated can have very real, very profound repercussions later in life. If you discover that you have pain when you move, are dizzy or cloudy headed, have severe bruises, soreness, or stiffness, or are bleeding you need to see a doctor within 72 hours of your accident. 72 hours seems to be the magic window under which insurance companies believe a person will have plenty of time to get looked at.

This is important for two major reasons:

  1. To make sure that you don’t have serious problems like torn ligaments, fractures, internal bleeding, or a concussion.
  2. So a medical professional can document your injuries in case you need to seek compensation from the driver. Insurance companies tend to assume that a person who doesn’t seek medical attention immediately is likely to be faking their injuries.

Go to a general clinic. Only go to the emergency room if you are severely injured.

File Legal and Insurance Claims If Necessary

If you need medical care or financial compensation for your damaged property after the accident, filing a claim will help to hold the driver accountable.

How to do this:

Contact your insurance company and a lawyer that specializes in cycling accidents if one is available. Provide them your documentation, your medical report, the police report, and ask what the next steps are.

You may find this list of bicycle accident attorneys useful.

Why is this important:

Without pursuing insurance or legal claims, there is no reason for the driver to take responsibility. If they file a claim, their insurance rates could go up, their license could be suspended resulting in lost income, or there could be criminal charges.

How to be Proactive

It’s good to keep a card of useful contact numbers in your wallet in case. I keep a sharpie and the following contact information on hand at all time in a laminated card:

  • A close friend
  • Local police
  • A cycling injury attorney
  • My insurance company

In addition to these people’s names and phone numbers, I document their relationship to me in case I’m not able to make calls myself.

Conclusion

I honestly hope you never get hit by a car, but if you do, I hope this checklist proves useful.

Many car accidents are preventable with good bike lights and good situational awareness.

Cycle Safely!

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