Host Sean Harris talks with OAJ member and Lakewood attorney, Ken Knabe, about Ohio bicycle laws and cases to educate cyclists and the public.
Sean: Hello and welcome to Civilly Speaking, OAJ’s monthly podcast on practical and timely legal issues, I’m your host Sean Harris. We’re excited today to have with us Ken Knabe from the Knabe Law Firm in Lakewood and our topic this morning is cycling cases. Ken, thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.
Ken: Thank you Sean. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Sean: Tell us about bike cases and cycling law practice, how did you get into that and what’s it all about?
Ken: Well I’m a 38 year trial lawyer and I also became a cyclist I’d say in the last 5-10 years. My practice now focus on protecting Ohio cyclists through injury representation. I handle numerous accidents with a bikes and unsafe drivers. I also have sponsorships with Bike Cleveland, I’m a corporate sponsor. I sponsor many race teams up in the Cleveland area. I’m a Velodrome kilo sponsor and I’m a League of American Bicyclists Advocate member. I also publish and lecture on bikes and bike law and I have published and lectured to the Ohio Academy, which you are now president of and also to the Cleveland Academy of trial attorneys and I’ve also taught bike law safety to many local bike clubs. I’m also involved in an exciting venture called Vision Zero Safety legislation in the city of Cleveland and we are trying to pass the vision zero ordinances that are comprehensive goal to have zero fatalities. They involve numerous things revolving around safety and equipment. My involvement is with sideguards and preventing underride, in other words a cyclist could hit the side of a large commercial truck and be sucked in under the truck and then run over by the rear wheel and guards could prevent that.
Sean: How did you get into cycling?
Ken: Well I started with a buddy of mine cycling here and there and we saw other groups whizzing by us and thought they were insane, but slowly but surely we got better. We started joining large groups, made a lot of friends. I found cycling was challenging physically, mentally and I really reaped the benefits of both those physical and mental health and also I was hit by a hit-and-run driver at about 50mph. I thought I was going to make it, but the drivers mirror hit me and slid me across the side of his car and then he left the scene. My sister was in a bad bike accident as a child when she ran over a sewer grate before the cities became familiar with bicycles and eliminated that hazard so slowly my injury practice moved to bike accidents. That’s because I had the background in injury law, I had the trial experience and now I have the cycling experience. So basically I had a calling and I answered the call and I do all sorts of things now to prevent bike accidents and bike safety, but if a fellow cyclist is injured or killed by a careless driver I take it personal and I do all I can to see to it that that cyclist and his family obtain justice.
Sean: And I gather one of the challenges or the difficulties in these cases is that each city has its own ordinances that vary widely.
Ken: That is very true Sean, but under the Ohio Revised Code none of those ordinances can conflict with the Ohio Revised Code so some of the ordinances are valid and some may not be, but yes you should also investigate what the local ordinances say.
Sean: And so what does the revised code say statewide in regards to these cases?
Ken: Well here’s the cycling laws that every cyclist should know. A bike is a vehicle under the Ohio Revised Code and they can be lawfully driven on the road except in limited access highways and freeways and under Ohio law Sean, bikes cannot be confined to the sidewalk. Many local ordinances even prohibit riding your bike on the sidewalk in a business district. So, what should you do cyclist? You should ride your bike like you are driving a car on the road. That’s called vehicular cycling. Why do you want to do that? Because you want to get the row. What’s the row? The right of way and if you ride in the direction of traffic, you obey all the traffic laws applicable to vehicles, you stop at red lights, stop signs, you don’t speed, you yield to pedestrians on the sidewalks and you ride to the right of the road, unless it’s dangerous or unsafe, there’s a pothole, there’s debris, there’s an object or if the lane is so narrow that a car cannot safely pass you and that’s when a cyclist can take the whole lane, which sometimes infuriates drivers, but they have every right to do that. Cyclists are also, and this is very important for cyclists to know, you have to have front white lights and rear red lights if you are riding your bike at night. I see many many cyclists out at night without that and if they get hit, they’re going to be blamed.
Sean: When you say lights you’re not talking about reflectors? We’re talking about illumination.
Ken: I’m talking illuminated lights. Your bike shop will tell you what you need. And also under the Ohio Revised Code have to announce your intentions with mandated hand signals so predictability is one great way to protect yourself and you have hand signals to turn right, hand signals to turn left and the hand signal when you’re stopping and they’re actually in the Ohio Revised Code and you should take a look at it. One other thing, these are laws and if you violate these laws you get a ticket, but you cannot get any points on your license for getting a ticket as a cyclist unless you’re DUI and then that will also go on your driver license. Many cyclists who get tickets do not know that. They end up pleading guilty to an offense and get points on their license. Many police do not know that and they cite you for an offense and don’t delineate that you’re riding a bicycle. So if you do get a ticket make sure that you are not getting any points.
Sean: Would you say that cycling under the influence is against the law in Ohio?
Ken: It absolutely is, absolutely is.
Sean: CUI? You ever call it CUI?
Ken: No, it’s still a DUI because it’s just the same as if you’re riding in a car.
Ken: Yes, I guess some cyclists think that they can drink and ride, that’s not the case.
Sean: Not a safer alternative.
Ken: Not a safe alternative.
Sean: Got it. Are there common types of crashes that you see that are or types of ways that people get hurt while they’re cycling?
Ken: Yes there absolutely is but before we get to that Sean, are there any new laws besides the ones I just talked about? And yes there is. On March 19th of 2017 the state of Ohio passed the statewide law about the three foot passing distance so when a car passes a cyclist they have to give them three feet. Many times I’ve been, I can feel the air of the bus you know, I can almost feel it touch me. Well they’re violating the law, they’ve got to be three feet away. I’ve had cases where cyclists were side swiped before this state law passed Cleveland had this ordinance, I used the Cleveland ordinance to establish liability because if my cyclist was side swiped, you were not three feet away.
Sean: By definition.
Ken: By definition. So it’s a great new law and benefits cyclists and keeps them safer. Also in this law is something called dead red. If you’re cycling and you get to a light and the weight of your bicycle will not trip the light to green you can proceed through that red light, but only if you do so safely and only if you’re sure that the light did not trip after waiting a reasonable period of time and Sean you asked me about cycling crashes and how can they be avoided and that’s a great question.
Sean: I thought so. I thought it was a great question.
Ken: Well, that’s why you’re president. So if you’re practicing vehicular cycling you’re in 75-80% fewer accidents. You’re riding in the direction of traffic, you’re following the traffic laws, but can you prevent cycling crashes? Not really because they’re happening because people are texting, they’re distracted, they’re on the cell phones, they have poor health, poor vision, they’re impatient, they misjudge and they have a false belief that cyclists should yield. They have just as much right to the road as the motorist and what are some of the basic ways I see cyclists being hit, they’re hit from behind. What can you do about that? Well, what needs to be done is the driver needs to be educated and looking for other things besides cars on the road like a bike. It’s always good to have a real lay on it all times when you’re on the road. That’s not legally required it’s just an extra precaution that you might want to try to do. A lot of our cyclists are hit with the left turn. You’re driving straight away all the sudden that car doesn’t see you and makes a left hand turn well those drivers have to be aware that there are cyclists out there they have to look out for. Always have a front light to and a side light just to help even though it’s not legally required.
Sean: What’s a side light?
Ken: A side light is another light you can just put on the side of your bike and it just lights you up a little more. It’s not legally required at all, but it may help you at some point. There’s also the famous right hook. You’re proceeding straight away and that car in front of you misjudges and all the sudden turns right, right into a driveway, into the intersection and bam you get hit. When passed as a cyclist, you better be vigilant to watch that car. Look for a turn signal and sometimes you need to take the whole lane so they know that you’re actually in that lane especially if you are along a string of cars and you’re hanging on the right side of the road. Another thing that you can got to watch out for cyclists is dooring. I was featured on Channel 3 on dooring accidents that’s when the motorist parks his car, la la, opens his door and here comes a cyclist, crash and there’s some pretty serious heavy duty accidents that occur because of that and how that can be avoided is, cyclists should be aware, look out for parked cars, watch for the door, and try to stay away from the door zone as a cyclist, but also the driver should practice the Dutch reach and that’s when you take your right arm and you pull that around to unlock your door and that causes you to turn right and look at what’s coming down the road so there’s a kind of a double edge solution to that.
Sean: Now it’s interesting in the dooring crashes, do the cyclists also have a duty to stay the three feet away to avoid somebody opening a door?
Ken: No, there is no corresponding cyclist…
Ken: three feet away. It’s a parked car, you know a lot of these cars park in bike zones and bike lanes that’s illegal in and of itself. If you are in a bike lane sometimes you don’t even have more than three feet to stay in the lane. I try to ride on the outside edge of the bike lane if there are parked cars.
Sean: What should a cyclist do if they do happen to get hit by a careless driver?
Ken: Well unfortunately Sean, you know what happens a lot and these cyclists should know a few things about what they should do and I’m going to call this the big six of a cycling crash. I was just in South Africa and they had the big five and that’s all the game that could kill you, lion, boa, so I am going to call this the big six to avoid getting hurt. Number one, call the police and insist on a police report being filed. This is if you are a cyclist his by a careless driver. These are the six things you should do. Do not let the driver talk you out of it, do not let the police talk you out of it, file that report. You will need it later. It’s your documentation that it happened. I know I am preaching to the choir to you here Sean. Number two, don’t let the at fault driver move its car or your bike until the police arrive if you can. That’s so they can determine why this careless driver hit you and where he hit you or she. Seek immediate medical treatment if you’re hurt. If you are hurt seek medical treatment. If you are hurt, tell the police you are hurt and believe me if you are hurt somewhat you will be hurting a lot worse later and it’s good to document that you were injured at the scene if you were. Evidence. You need to get the drivers name, the address, the phone number, the insurance information, you are the police sometimes if you’re injured you can’t get this information and make sure that the police get that type of information. You can always use your cell phone too to take a picture of the driver license, of the license plate of the car that hit you and where the accident occurred. Don’t talk to the at fault insurance company until you get your own representation. These are pros, they are in there to settle and swoop. They’re in there to find out things that will help them and not help you. You should get your own representation. Call an attorney that’s familiar with cycling accidents, my number by the way is (216) 272-8595 and make sure that you have your representation and that you talk to a pro before being led to the wolves. Finally preserve your evidence, preserve your cracked helmet, your bloody jersey, your ripped shoes, whatever is damaged in the accident, you want to throw those clothes away, you want to wash them, don’t, they’re evidence.
Sean: Now assuming the cyclist does all that, are they able to protect themselves with insurance? How does that work?
Ken: That’s a very good question Sean and this is a very important point to any Ohio cyclists. If you own a car be sure that you have uninsured underinsured motorist coverage called U coverage. Why? Because if you are hit by a hit and run cyclist subject to the law about corroboration you can collect under your own underinsured uninsured motorist coverage. If you are hit by a motorist that has minimal insurance, minimal in Ohio is 25,000 and say that you’re really injured and your medical bills are $100,000 you want the highest amount of underinsured coverage that you can obtain within your budget and those two things will really protect you in a case of an uninsured or underinsured accident. You also want to get medical payments coverage on your auto policy and I think 5,000 is a pretty good amount to have that will help pay for medical bills until you can get to the liability insurance of the at fault party. I would watch out for Nationwide because they are one of the few companies that will not pay medical payments to a cyclist who is injured in a bicycle accident arguing that they are not “pedestrians” under the law and there is actually a reported case on that. If you have a bike and you have an expensive bike, some of them go 10-12,000 dollars you should probably get that scheduled on your home owner’s policy in case something happens to it. You can also separately purchase bike insurance if you don’t have car insurance, but that has liability coverage in case you hit someone on the bicycle and it has a small amount of U type coverage called physical contact coverage, but that also is available it’s not that great of coverage, but if you don’t have a car, it’s better than nothing.
Sean: So you’re saying and I guess it makes sense, that even though you are on a bike and you’re not driving a car underinsured motorist coverage is there to protect you from an underinsured motorist who’s driving a car and you’re not.
Ken: Yes just like your walking down the street and you get hit by a car.
Sean: Makes sense.
Ken: You can collect on your uninsured underinsured motorist coverage.
Sean: It made too much sense and I figured we’re talking about insurance company that it can be that it actually makes sense, but it sounds like it does in this case.
Ken: Every once in a while.
Sean: Ken, thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.
Ken: Alright Sean, my pleasure. Thank you.