I’ve received a number of calls from cyclists who were hit on their bikes by vehicles at intersections or exiting a business driveway. They have a common connection in that after each crash the rider said, “I thought they saw me.”
I understand the temptation to “roll through” a stop sign even when a vehicle is approaching. I’ve been thinking about two potential impacts of not stopping at stop signs or going in front of a driver exiting a parking lot or driveway.
First, failing to stop at an intersection - especially where vehicles are present or approaching - reinforces the conclusion of too many drivers that cyclists don’t think the laws governing road safety apply to them. Every time a rider or group of riders blows through a stop sign, despite vehicles being present, it reinforces drivers’ dislike and lack of respect for all cyclists. This is particularly true when riders do not have the right of way and no driver has waved
them through. Disregarding stop signs gives drivers a valid reason to feel a strong bias against all cyclists. These drivers retain their anti-cyclist bias when called for jury duty. You would be shocked to hear what many potential and actual jurors say about cyclists as law breakers.
Second, as a cyclist, you should never assume you’ve been seen by a driver until you know for certain that you’ve been seen. Just seeing a driver slowing down or even stopping does not mean they have seen you or that they expect you to proceed. From a legal perspective, if you roll through the intersection and the driver who actually had the right of way does not see you and hits you, what you did or failed to do becomes the focus of the defense. They will be looking for every argument to support the case that you share some or most of the responsibility for your injury. Lawyers call this “comparative fault.” If they feel they can prove you were 50, 75, or even 100 percent responsible for your injuries because you failed to stop
at a stop sign, they will reduce their evaluation of your claim by that percentage.
We all know most drivers don’t want to be held up by cyclists at an intersection, and they will commonly wave us through. But that is not something we should assume without an actual confirmed indication of their intent. When riders proceed without having the right of way and without having been specifically waved on by a driver, they do so at their own substantial risk of a bad outcome.
These same precautions apply when riding on a sidewalk, and you actually have the right of way over a driver wanting to exit across a sidewalk. Even with the right of way you must never assume the driver has seen you unless you have specific evidence of their awareness. Too many drivers will proceed when there is an opening in traffic without ever looking for an approaching cyclist.