Question and Answer with Brad Tucker

Compiled from Bicycle Colorado question and answer sessions

I have noticed an increase in aggressive behavior among drivers against cyclists. As a cyclist, do I have any rights or recourse against a driver who drives in an aggressive or threatening way, but makes no contact with me and I have no physical injury?

Aggressive driving is becoming more and more of a problem for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. Because of this problem, the Colorado State Patrol's Star CSP (*277) aggressive driver program was implemented. The CSP partnered with several cellular companies to provide a phone number, free of charge, to be used to report “real time” aggressive driving behavior. The phone number is Star CSP (*277). The Colorado State Patrol (CSP) has confirmed that its hotline to report aggressive driving is available to bicyclists if they see a motorist putting a bicyclist at risk.

When observing an aggressive driver that is putting a cyclist at risk, the aggressive driver should be avoided by getting out of the way, not making eye contact or giving any indication of disapproval of their driving behavior. Contact the CSP as soon as is safely possible and be prepared to provide the following information: vehicle description, license plate number, location and direction of travel, driver description, and the aggressive driving behavior being demonstrated.

The information provided is entered into an aggressive driver database. After three complaints are received against a vehicle, the registered owner is sent a warning letter advising them of the complaints and encouraging them to take the necessary steps to correct the aggressive driving behavior. If additional complaints are received against the vehicle, a uniformed CSP member makes personal contact with the registered owner of the vehicle and takes appropriate enforcement action.

Additionally, the Colorado statutes set forth a number of crimes that can be brought against an individual who “crosses the line” with respect to their aggressive driving behavior. Some examples include the following:

C.R.S. § 18-3-206. Menacing

  1. A person commits the crime of menacing if, by any threat or physical action, he or she knowingly places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. Menacing is a class 3 misdemeanor, but, it is a class 5 felony if committed:
    1. By the use of a deadly weapon or any article used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a deadly weapon; or
    2. By the person representing verbally or otherwise that he or she is armed with a deadly weapon.

C.R.S. § 18-3-208. Reckless endangerment

A person who recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person commits reckless endangerment, which is a class 3 misdemeanor.

C.R.S. § 18-9-111. Harassment--stalking

  1. A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she:
    1. Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him to physical contact; or
    2. In a public place directs obscene language or makes an obscene gesture to or at another person; or
    3. Follows a person in or about a public place; or
    4. Repeatedly insults, taunts, challenges, or makes communications in offensively coarse language to, another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response.

It is of paramount importance that the driver of the vehicle be reliably identified. Charges would be brought against the driver, not the car, so identification of the vehicle is only part of the process. It is important to get a good look at the driver as well.

The decision with respect to whether or not to issue a summons on these charges rests with local law enforcement agencies. If a summons is issued, the decision to prosecute rests with the district attorney’s office. As the victim of a crime, it is not necessary to retain an attorney, nor is there any direct financial cost to the victim if a decision to prosecute is made.

Criminal charges, as opposed to civil claims, can ultimately result in the wrongdoer receiving punishment, but in the absence of direct pecuniary (financial) loss to the victim, restitution is not awarded. There are a number of civil claims that can be made against wrongdoers if the victim sustains damages. Civil claims are private causes of action where a private attorney is typically retained. Civil claims can be brought pro se (without an attorney), but that is often an unwise strategy unless you are proceeding in Small Claims Court.

If you are the victim of an aggressive driver, and are able to positively identify the vehicle and driver, there is really no downside of reporting the aggressive driver. In fact, as cyclists, we owe to ourselves and each other to report aggressive drivers. Working together, and through Bicycle Colorado, we can help make the road safer for all of us.

I am now car-free and commute solely by bike. Can I get any kind of bike insurance to replace my car insurance so I am covered in a crash?

Great question, Jerry. More and more of us are choosing to become car-free, utilizing only our bikes, public transportation, and an occasional rental car. Now that you have done this, it is important for you to maintain appropriate insurance to protect you. A significant portion of the cars on the road are not insured. As a cyclist, it is important that you have uninsured motorist coverage in place to pay for your damages if you are the victim of a car versus bike accident caused by an uninsured motorist. Additionally, if you do not have health insurance, it is particularly important to have medical payments coverage as well. I consulted local State Farm agent Scott Bristol, who is also an avid cyclist and competitive bike racer. It is possible to purchase coverage on you as an individual, rather than on a car that you own. Scott ran quotes for this so-called named non-owner operator policy, assuming that the insured person had a good driving record and credit score. As an example, this type of policy that would provide uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $25,000, and medical payments coverage of up to $5,000, has a premium of $145 every six months. For significantly higher coverage of up to $250,000, and medical payments coverage of up to $25,000, the six-month premium would be $260. This type of policy would protect you if you were hit and injured by an uninsured vehicle while on your bike. This would also serve as additional coverage stacked on type of the liability coverage available if the motorist was not uninsured. While there is certainly a cost to obtaining this coverage, you are saving thousands of dollars by going car-free, and you should definitely consider purchasing as much insurance protection as makes sense for your circumstances. If you have any additional questions, please contact Scott or another insurance professional. This coverage is great to have, and hopefully you will never need it!

While riding my bicycle, a driver turned in front of me, causing a crash. Under current law, in what situations is a driver charged with careless driving instead of minor offenses, such as failure to yield? What needs to exist to meet the level of "careless" driving? Can you give examples of careless driving versus failure to yield?

Under current Colorado law, C.R.S. § 42-4-1402 defines both the act of careless driving, and the classification of the potential penalty. The statute provides as follows:

  1. Any person who drives any motor vehicle, bicycle, or motorized bicycle in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances, is guilty of careless driving. A person convicted of careless driving of a bicycle or motorized bicycle shall not be subject to the provisions of section 42-2-127.
  2. Any person who violates any provision of this section commits a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense, but, if the person's actions are the proximate cause of bodily injury or death to another, such person commits a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense.

    Basically, this is a very broad statute that encompasses almost any act of roadway negligence. As you see, the penalty infraction is more significant if there is bodily injury or death involved (for a good comparison of class 1 vs. class 2 misdemeanor infraction penalties, please see the Bicycle Colorado website article supporting House Bill 1104).

    The "right-of-way" offenses are presently contained within C.R.S. § 42-4-701-712. As an example, the failure to yield the right-of-way during a left turn is defined as follows:

    The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard. Any person who violates any provision of this section commits a class A traffic infraction.

    As presently written, if violated, a right-of-way offense calls for a penalty no worse than a class A traffic infraction. Certainly, in almost any instance involving a right-of-way infraction, a citation for careless driving could be issued. The newly proposed HB 104 would provide for stiffer penalties when a right-of-way offense resulted in bodily injury or death. This new proposed law would eliminate the risk that an at-fault driver would be charged with a lesser offense at the whim of the investigating officer of District Attorney’s office. For a more complete discussion of HB 1104, please visit Bicycle Colorado.

There is a road on my commute route that has a bike path next to it. I don’t like using the bike path because there are several driveway crossings and lots of pedestrians. If I was in a crash with a car on the road, could I be “at fault” just because I wasn’t on the bike path?

It's always great to get questions from bicycle commuters! Under State law, cyclists generally have all of the rights and duties applicable to the drivers of any other vehicle on the roadway. For this reason, unless the section of roadway adjacent to the bicycle path is specifically marked as being unavailable to cyclists, you can assume that you have the right to use the roadway. While some cyclists, particularly those traveling at relatively low speeds, prefer to use bike paths whenever possible, the safe and responsible shared usage of the roadway can often be the best choice. In fact, your concerns over safety issues associated with the path are not uncommon. You would not be automatically “at fault” for using the roadway instead of the bike path. Assuming that you were in conformity to all other applicable statutes or ordinances, your presence on the roadway would not be indicative of any type of comparative fault on your behalf. Please keep in mind, however, that under current Colorado law, State statutes can be superseded by municipal ordinances when it comes to regulating the operation of bicycles. While I know of no such ordinance in Denver that would cause the roadway to be unavailable to you under the circumstances you describe, riders in other municipalities should at least be aware of the possibility that this could be the case.

With more and more people riding (which is great), it is only natural that more people are getting into accidents on their bicycles. Are there some basic things to remember to do if I am in a car accident?

This is one of the most common questions I get. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself the victim of a car versus bicycle collision, the list of things you should know far exceeds the space available with this column. There are a few basic things to try to remember.

You have the right to ask law enforcement to investigate the accident. If you fall victim to another’s careless driving, reporting the accident will initiate an investigation process, and create an official record of the occurrence. Failing to report the accident can have a serious impact on your ultimate ability to recover the damages you sustain in it. Law enforcement involvement will further assure that you are getting accurate insurance information from the at-fault party. That information will appear on the official Traffic Accident Report.

If it is a hit-and-run collision, it is potentially even more important that you report the accident and initiate a law enforcement investigation. Even if the driver cannot be located, you can still pursue damages under your uninsured motorist coverage.

In my practice, many cyclists try to delay or avoid medical attention. This is no time to be a hero. Get the treatment you need, and let the process play itself out. If you have health insurance, you will use that as your primary source of payment for treatment.

If witnesses offer to provide you with their contact information, definitely take them up on it. Get a business card or as much contact information as they are willing to provide.

The scene of an accident is no time to argue fault with the other party or law enforcement. There is no obligation to even speak to the at-fault party about the collision, and there is no real advantage to doing so. If a law enforcement officer appears to be wrongfully holding you responsible for the collision, it is important that you state your version of how it occurred, but there is little to be gained by engaging the officer in an argument.

Once you have received emergency treatment, photograph all visible injuries and damaged equipment.

If your injuries are serious enough that you are immediately transported from the scene in an ambulance for emergency medical care, you have the right to file a statement as a supplement to the official Traffic Accident Report. This is often an important way to document your perspective of the collision, and create an official record of that.

Following these basic tips will get you going in the right direction. There is no question, however, that you would be wise to contact an experienced bicycle attorney to further protect your rights. Hopefully, you will never have to do so. It is undeniable that many will.

If my bike is ever stolen, what do I need to prove to my insurance company that I owned it, or to the police in case it is recovered?

Depending upon the circumstances of the theft, you may well have coverage under your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. A deductible will likely apply. You will need to establish reasonable proof of ownership to your insurance company. The best way to do this is with purchase receipts, the cereal number of the bike, and a photograph of the bike. If you have not already done so, you should take this opportunity to record your bicycle’s serial number and take a photograph of it. You should then maintain these records in a safe place. This same documentation can be used to prove ownership to the police department in the event that your bicycle is ultimately recovered.

A driver ran a stop sign and hit my bike. Fortunately, I was not hurt but my bike is trashed. Do they have to buy me a new bike?

Unless you were riding a relatively new bike, it is not likely that you are entitled to a new bike. Assuming that your bike was totaled (i.e., the cost of repairs and any decrease in market value of the bike as repaired is more than the market value of the bike before the accident), your damages would be limited to the market value of the bike as it existed before the occurrence. If your bike was damaged, but not totaled, your damages would be both the reasonable cost of repairing the bike, and the decrease in market value, if any, to the bike as repaired. Additionally, you would also legally be entitled to damages for the reasonable rental value of the bike during the period of time in which repairs were being made. Hopefully the person who hit you had liability insurance, and if so, the liability insurer would be responsible for these damages.

My bike club holds weekly training rides and we let anyone join in. Is our club liable if someone crashes or gets hit by a car while on our ride? If so, what can we do to prevent someone from suing us?

These are great questions, the full answers to which could fill this entire newsletter. My racing team has recently taken steps to limit our liability for our open training rides. To begin with, you should definitely obtain waivers and releases of liability from the members of your club. I would strongly encourage you to obtain a similar waiver/release from any guest who participates in an official club training ride. Such a release will not insulate you from all liability, but will certainly help limit your liability, and potentially discourage frivolous lawsuits against your club. In that respect, please remember that there is very little that you can do to prevent someone from suing you - the key is being able to defend that case if you are sued. If your club is not a not-for-profit corporation, or other similar limited liability business format, you should consider making it one. Otherwise, the individual members of your club stand to be personally liable for any liability of the club as an organization. On your training rides, it is important to follow the rules of the road, and obey all traffic control devices. If you have obtained a written release from a guest, and are otherwise exercising reasonable care upon the roadway, it is unlikely that you will be sued if a guest is injured by the negligence of a motorist or some other third party. If you are sued, you would have a very defensible case. On the other hand, if your ride leaders are (through their words, actions, or otherwise) promoting irresponsible cycling, and an injury results, you could very likely have liability notwithstanding the use of a release. As always, the best advice is for you and the rest of your club to ride reasonably, safely, and in conformance with the rules of the road.

What is the State law about riding a bicycle on the sidewalk? Is it legal to ride on a sidewalk in Colorado? I’ve heard that it is not legal to ride on the sidewalk. If that is true, and a cyclist is hit by a car, does that automatically mean that the cyclist is at fault?

The Colorado State statutes do not specifically preclude riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. That notwithstanding, State statutes do allow municipalities to enact ordinances regulating the use of bicycles. Notably, Denver ordinances prohibit the use of bicycles on sidewalks. The only exception is where the sidewalk is used as part of the multi-use path system. Because ordinances on this issue can vary from town to town, my best advice is to ascertain what is allowed by the ordinances where you live or plan to ride. The underlying rationale behind these ordinances is that bicycles are moving at a speed greater than would be expected by a pedestrian, and as such, there is an increased safety risk associated by the fact that a cyclist has a faster closing speed on a motorist who might be existing a driveway that intersects with a sidewalk. Motorists expect higher speed vehicles to be on the roadway, and they have a duty to ascertain that it is safe for them to proceed before entering a roadway. If you are riding your bike on a sidewalk in a municipality that prohibits that, and you are involved in an accident, you will likely be subject to arguments that you were at least comparatively at fault. That comparative negligence alone, however, should not “automatically” make you at fault if there is evidence that the driver of the automobile was also partially at fault for failing to see you. Your presence on the sidewalk does not make you “fair game” for any motorist who might strike you. It would simply come down to an issue of the extent to which each of you were comparatively at fault based upon the facts of the situation. In Colorado, if the injured cyclist was found by the trier of fact (usually the jury) to be 50% or more at fault, then the injured cyclist could not recover damages. On the other hand, if the motorist was found to be 51% or more at fault, the injured cyclist could recover that percentage of the injuries and damages he would be able to prove at trial.For safe and enjoyable cycling, multi-use paths and responsible shared use of the roadway are always good options!

After the dust-up with the Larimer County Sheriff, I read the Colorado Statutes on bicycling. I don't understand the language in 42-4-1214 (8)(b) where it says there are two legal ways to make a left turn. I know how to make a left turn like a car. What is the second?

The left turn as contemplated by 42-4-1214 (8)(b) involves basically a two-step process. If you were proceeding north, wanting to turn left to go west, you would proceed in a northbound direction across the east/west lanes of travel. You would then come to a stop, as much as practicable, out of the way of traffic. You then check to make sure there is no oncoming traffic in either direction, and then proceeding westbound once road conditions, traffic control devices, and any police officer regulating traffic allow it. Basically, it is a two-step process that keeps the cyclist on the right edge of the roadway at all times.

Colorado law says I can leave the right hand lane or shoulder to "prepare" to make a left hand turn. How far in advance of the turn can I do this? It is only one block or if I need to cross multiples, can I do it for more than one block?

C.R.S. § 42-4-1412 (5)(b) allows a cyclist to depart from the general rule of riding as close to the right-hand side as practicable when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway. The statute does not define a specific distance upon which you may leave the right-hand side and enter the left lane from which you will turn. Certainly, if there is a separate turn lane, it would be reasonable to enter that lane at any point. Often, traffic conditions will dictate moving to the left in advance of that left turn lane. Basically, rules of “reasonable care” would apply. In other words, what would a reasonably prudent cyclist do under the same or similar circumstances. Each case would be evaluated based upon the specific conditions at the date, time and place. If traffic is particularly heavy, it might be safer (and perhaps even faster) to change course in the manner described in C.R.S. § 42-4-1412 (8)(b) as set forth in the answer to the question above.

Please settle a bet I have with my friend. He says that bicyclists can cross from the shoulder into the traffic lane over the white line whenever they want and I say that going from the shoulder to the lane is the same on a bike as in a car, you have to signal and yield before entering the lane. Which one of us wins the bet?

As you probably know, Colorado statutes no longer require that cyclists ride on a shoulder where available. That notwithstanding, many cyclists enjoy the separation and relative safety of riding on a paved shoulder where one exists, and where it is free of roadway debris. Inevitably, however, a shoulder will narrow, disappear, or be littered with debris that would be unsafe to ride through. In those instances, it is necessary to move from the shoulder into the roadway. As to your friendly wager, you will be happy to know that you have won the bet.

The Colorado statutory authority is as follows:

C.R.S. § 42-4-704. Vehicle entering roadway

The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed ...

C.R.S. § 42-4-903. Turning movements and required signals

(1) No person shall ... move right or left upon a roadway unless and until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal ...

C.R.S. § 42-1-102. Definitions

(46) "Lane" means the portion of a roadway for the movement of a single line of vehicles.

(112) "Vehicle" means a device that is capable of moving itself, or of being moved, from place to place upon wheels or endless tracks. "Vehicle" includes, without limitation, a bicycle, electrical assisted bicycle ...

(85) "Roadway" means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk, berm, or shoulder even though such sidewalk, berm, or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles or other human-powered vehicles and exclusive of that portion of a highway designated for exclusive use as a bicycle path or reserved for the exclusive use of bicycles, human-powered vehicles, or pedestrians ...

(82) "Right-of-way" means the right of one vehicle operator or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle operator or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed, and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other.

Accordingly, when a cyclist wishes to move from the shoulder onto the roadway, he or she must signal and yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway. Relative to the issue of “right-of-way”, an approaching vehicle must be far enough back that moving into the lane does not give rise to danger of a collision. If there is adequate time and space between the cyclist and the approaching vehicle, the right-of-way requirement would seemingly be met. In that instance, however, the specific actions of both the cyclist and the motorist would likely be “under the microscope” if a collision were to occur. As with any movement upon the roadway, this movement should always be done in a cautious and reasonable manner.

What is a complete stop? Do I have to put my foot on the ground or just stop the movement of my wheels?

We are all taught at a very early age that we must stop at stop signs. This is true whether we are riding a bike, a motorcycle, or driving a car. In Colorado, the duty to stop is prescribed by statute. Specifically, C.R.S. § 42-4-703(3) states: “Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it. After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when such driver is moving across or within the intersection or junction of roadways.”

Neither the statute nor any reported case law specifically defines what is required with respect to making a "stop."

C.R.S. § 42-1-102(100) provides definitions for “stop” and “stopping” in the context of stopping when that action is prohibited. In that context, those words are described as “any halting, even momentarily.” There is no specific requirement found within state statutes with respect to either the length of time upon which a person much remain stopped, or whether a cyclist must place a foot down upon the roadway during the stop.

In the absence of any municipal ordinance otherwise, it would seem reasonable that if you are able to fully stop the forward momentum of your wheels for a period long enough to allow you to safely ascertain the absence of any vehicle in the intersection or otherwise constituting an immediate hazard, you would appear to be compliant with the state statute.

I know that Colorado has a "three feet to pass law", but I am unclear as to what is actually required of a passing motorist. Additionally, what is a motorist supposed to do if we are on a two-lane road and the lanes are separated by a double yellow line?

The driver of a motor vehicle must allow at least a three-foot separation between the right side of the driver’s vehicle, including all mirrors or other projections, and the left side of the bicyclist at all times during a passing maneuver. This requirement is set forth in C.R.S. § 42-4-1003(b). Additionally, our state statutes were amended in order to allow the driver of a motor vehicle passing a bicyclist to briefly cross a double yellow line when doing so can be done safely and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the roadway. This is permitted by C.R.S. § 42-4-1005(4)(d). This exception to the general rule was a practical and common sense approach taken by our state lawmakers. The speed differential between a motorist overtaking a bicyclist as compared to a motorist overtaking another motorist is much greater, and thus, the amount of time needed to safely pass is significantly smaller. For this reason, our state lawmakers acknowledged that there were clearly circumstances that would allow for a brief and safe crossing of a double yellow in order to accommodate the minimum three feet needed to safely pass a bicyclist.

As a cyclist, is there anything I can do to financially protect myself in the event I am in an accident while on my bike?

It is not clear to me whether you are talking about circumstances where an accident would be your fault, or the fault of another party. I will attempt to briefly address both issues. If you cause an accident while on your bicycle that results in bodily injury or property damage to another party, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will likely have liability coverage that will provide you with a defense and indemnify you up to the policy limit for those damages. Most people think of that type of coverage in the context of fire loss or theft, though it is important to remember that the liability coverage that is typically a part of those policies will protect you in the event that you negligently cause injury or damages to another while on your bicycle.

Now that Colorado is a “tort based” system rather than a “no fault” system, it is important for you to carry health insurance for medical and rehabilitation expenses associated with any injury you sustain in a bike accident, regardless of who is at fault.

Finally, there are a large number of motorists with no liability insurance. There is also a significant number of motorists who are carrying only the $25,000 minimum limits of liability required by the state. To protect yourself from a potentially financially devastating situation, I would encourage you to carry high limits of liability for your uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage. Obviously, this assumes that you own a car. If you do own a car, I would encourage you to speak to your insurance agent about increasing your UM limits to at least $100,000, and potentially considerably more than that depending upon your circumstances and what you can afford. Generally, it is not terribly expensive to increase the limits of your UM insurance coverage. With that coverage, you can be sure of having a source of recovery for any medical expenses, loss of income, disability, or other injuries and damages sustained in a bike accident caused by a motorist who carries no or very low limits of liability insurance.

I know I am not supposed to pass cars on the right when they are backed up at a stoplight, but what if there is a bike lane?

If the designated bike lane extends all the way to the edge of the intersection, you are allowed to proceed forward, even if there are cars backed up in the car lane immediately to your left. In other words, in that instance you have your own lane.

Why are drivers in Colorado who crash into bicyclists most often charged with “careless driving” instead of more serious charges?

Careless driving occurs when a person drives a car in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for the conditions and other attendant circumstances. This generally includes most car versus bicycle accidents. The fact that we, as cyclists, are more vulnerable and susceptible to injury does not impact whether a driver will be charged with careless driving or a more serious offense. In the absence of an intentional act, or acts indicating a wanton or wilful disregard for safety (as is required for reckless driving), the at-fault driver of a car is typically cited with careless driving.

Lately, it seems as if there are more and more hit-and-run collisions involving cyclists. I seem to recall recently hearing something to the effect that Colorado’s hit-and-run laws are such that a defendant who has been drinking might receive a softer sentence if later prosecuted for hit-and-run, as opposed to being prosecuted for a DUI that caused injury. This seems like a scary outcome for cyclists. Is that true?

Aside from the motivation to escape punishment for the collision, hit-and-run motorists often flee the scene because they have something to hide. That “something” is often the fact that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Presently, if a hit-and-run results in a fatality, the penalties are just as stiff for a hit-and-run driver as they are for a drunk driver who remains on the scene. Unfortunately, with respect to serious injury cases, the charges associated with fleeing the scene of a collision are a Class 5 felony, whereas a vehicular assault-DUI is a more serious Class 4 felony. It is difficult to know with any certainty as to whether or not a hit-and-run perpetrator calculates the advantage of leaving the scene when they are intoxicated, but there is no question that the law currently has a built-in disincentive for them to remain on the scene for the purpose of rendering aid or notifying emergency medical personnel. Cyclists are particularly vulnerable to these types of collisions, as the bicycle and rider are often thrown off to the side of the road following the collision. In that instance, an incapacitated cyclist can be very difficult for any other motorist to notice them and render aid. It might be time for our general assembly to consider upping the penalties for hit-and-run drivers who cause serious injury.

If I am in a crash on a local road that also is designated as a state highway, which law applies?

On all state highways, the Colorado state statutes govern regulation of vehicles and traffic control. These statutes are contained within Article 4 of Title 42 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. The state statutes do allow local authorities to enact, adopt or enforce traffic regulations on municipal or county roads as long as they do not alter or change the meaning of any of the “rules of the road” as found in the state statutes, or are otherwise in conflict with the state statutes. These regulations can include, pursuant to C.R.S. § 42-4-111(h) “regulating the operation of bicycles and requiring the registration and licensing of same, including the requirement of a registration fee . . ..” As such, when you are utilizing a county or municipal road, there is at least the possibility that additional regulations concerning the operation of bicycles might apply. Generally, however, the “rules of the road” will remain the same regardless of the type of road you are on.

When riding with traffic where should you line up at a stop light? In the lane as a car would? I often see cyclists queuing up at the front of the intersection, but didn't know if this was legal or not. Does it make a difference if there is a bike lane? Thanks in advance.

Great question, and one that the law really isn't very clear on when there is no marked bike lane. I think part of the problem is that the law doesn't seem to contemplate that bike traffic might be moving more quickly than car traffic!

On the one hand, we are supposed to be riding on the right side of the road. On the other, it is not okay to "pass on the right" unless there is a bike lane or paved shoulder. It is legal, and perhaps safest, to stop in the middle of the lane and position your bike in the lane like a car so that you are lined up where other road users are already looking.

As a practical matter that can annoy the driver of the car behind you when it is time to accelerate, and you will need to move to the right once traffic begins moving. The new "bike boxes" that are being painted in to the corners of certain intersections seemingly send the message that it is okay to move to the front and stay on the right. Many people, myself included, do this anyway when it seems safest under the conditions. Some conditions can justify this for safety's sake. There are times that I do this, even though I am technically passing on the right. Usually it is a situation where I am trying to be visible and stay out of harm's way.

When there is a marked bike lane (or paved shoulder), you are definitely free to use that lane and move all the way to the front. One intersection I ride frequently is painted such that the bike lane disappears about 100' before the intersection and reappears about 100' after the intersection.

When bike lanes end prior to the intersection, it is an indication to position your bike in the through-lane with other traffic so that other vehicles in the intersection can see you more easily and it is easier to make a left-hand turn if needed.

I know that Colorado has changed the laws, and that it is no longer a “no fault” state. How does this affect me as a cyclist? If I am in an accident with a car, who pays for my medical expenses or other damages?

You are correct. As of July 1, 2003, the State of Colorado no longer required mandatory no- fault (or PIP) coverage. Prior to the change in the law, if a cyclist was in an accident with an automobile, the automobile insurance carrier would be responsible for certain medical, rehabilitation and other expenses regardless of who was at fault for the accident. That is no longer the case.

Under the current law, if you are in an accident with an automobile, you should use your health insurance coverage for payment of any medical or rehabilitation expenses. There remains a small chance that PIP coverage might be available to you either through the policy of the car that struck you, or from another policy upon which you may be an insured. Generally, by now, there will be very few instances where any PIP coverage is available. If you can support a claim that the accident was caused by the negligence of the driver of the automobile, you can seek medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost earnings, damage to your bike and equipment, and other noneconomic damages from that driver through his insurance carrier.

Under the new system, if you are at fault for the accident, and you do not have health insurance coverage, you will probably be personally financially responsible for any medical expenses incurred. There are a few exceptions to this, such as an accident that happens while you are in the course and scope of your employment (good news for bike messengers), but otherwise you should consider purchasing health insurance if you do not have it.

Over the Summer, I began bike commuting to and from work. The benefits have been countless, and it has been a lot of fun. I plan to continue bike commuting through the Winter, but with the shorter days, I will often be riding in the dark. What are the Colorado laws with respect to the requirements for bike lights and/or reflectors at night?

I’m glad to hear that you plan to continue bike commuting through the Winter! There are two State statutes that specifically address this situation. C.R.S. § 42-4-204 requires certain lights and reflectors on bicycles between sunset and sunrise. C.R.S. § 42-4-221 provides the specifics as to what is required. In summary, the requirements are as follows: On the front of your bike, you need a white headlight visible for at least 500 feet. On the rear of your bike, you must have a red reflector visible to low beam car headlights from a distance of 600 feet away. On the sides of your bike, you need to either have (on both sides) reflectors visible for 600 feet from low beam car headlights, or a lighted lamp visible from both sides for a distance of 500 feet. These lights and reflectors must be used between the official hours of sunset and sunrise. Enjoy your Winter commuting, and please share this information with your friends who also ride between sunset and sunrise.

When I used to commute to work by car, I enjoyed listening to news programming or music on my way to and from work. Now that I am commuting on my bike, I’m interested in knowing if it is legal for me to wear earbuds while riding my bike. Can you please let me know?

There is a specific State statute, C.R.S. § 42-4-1411, that prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from wearing earphones while driving. Because the statute specifically makes reference to “motor vehicle” rather than “vehicle”, it is inapplicable to cyclists. The definitions contained within Title 42 address this distinction. Accordingly, while it is illegal to wear earbuds while driving a car, it is not illegal to wear them while riding your bike. Just because it is legal, however, does not mean I would recommend it. In fact, I have personally seen situations in the context of representing cyclists who were wearing earbuds at the time that they were involved in accidents with cars where the cyclist was accused of being distracted while riding. Basically, the argument is that a reasonably careful cyclist would not wear earbuds, and instead, would take full advantage of his/her ability to hear the surroundings while riding a bike on the roadway. I’ve talked to many cyclists who feel very passionate about this issue. Some cyclists enjoy wearing earbuds so much that they are willing to run the risks of doing so. If you make that choice, however, please understand that if you were to find yourself in an accident that you believed was caused by the fault of a motor vehicle driver, and you chose to pursue a claim against them, you would likely face an argument by the defense that you were comparatively at fault for being distracted by whatever you were listening to through the earbuds at the time. That isn’t necessarily an argument you couldn’t overcome, but it would be an argument you would not otherwise be facing had you not been wearing the earbuds. Ultimately, much like the use of a bike helmet, the issue comes down to a personal safety decision.

In the last issue you described what insurance pays if a car crashes into a bicyclist. Does my car, home, or health insurance pay for damage and health costs if I cause a crash while on my bike (like if I don’t stop at a light)?

Assuming you are the sole cause of the accident, there are several insurance coverage issues to consider. First of all, if you cause an accident while riding your bicycle, your automobile insurance will likely not apply at all. With the repeal of Colorado’s No-Fault Act, there would likely be no medical benefits under your automobile policy. If you cause the accident, there will be no coverage to pay for your damaged bicycle or other equipment. If you sustain injuries, and have health insurance, that coverage would apply. If you do not have health insurance, there will be no insurance coverage to pay for any injuries you sustain. If you cause any injuries or damages, your homeowners or renters insurance would likely provide coverage to you for those injuries and damages. Most homeowners or renters insurance policies provide liability coverage to the insureds that would be applicable under the fact scenario you describe. If you do not have homeowners or renters insurance, then there would be no coverage for any injuries or damages that you cause to another, and you would be personally responsible for them.

The lesson to be learned here is that if you are a cyclist, sharing the roads with cars, it is a very good idea to have both health insurance and liability insurance through a homeowners or renters insurance policy. Of course, an even better lesson is that you shouldn’t run a red light!

Recently, I got a ticket for failing to stop my bike at a stop sign. Do tickets that you get while riding a bike accumulate points on your driver’s license in the same way they would if you were driving a car?

I’m sorry to hear about your ticket. I am sure that was a painful check to write. Most of the traffic offenses that apply to motor vehicles also apply to bicycles. For our own safety, it is important that we follow the rules of the road. Also, if you have read this column before, you know that I think it is important that we act as ambassadors of our sport when we are sharing the roads with cars. The good news for you, however, is that C.R.S. § 42-4-1412(12)(b) specifically excludes bicycle citations from the statute dealing with the accumulation of points on your driver’s license. Be careful out there!

With holiday parties and New Year’s Eve coming up, I was wondering if the DUI laws apply to a person riding a bicycle. What can you tell me about that?

Colorado’s DUI statute is found at C.R.S. § 42-4-1301. It specifically speaks to any person who “. . . drive[s] any vehicle . . ..” C.R.S. § 42-4-102(112) specifically includes a bicycle under th definition of “vehicle.” Accordingly, the DUI statute does apply to any person operating a bicycle.

As my answer to the previous question indicated, however, though the criminal penalties for DUI would apply, you would not have any adverse action on your motor vehicle driver’s license. Good for you for not wanting to drink and drive! If you’re going to have “one too many,” a cab or “designated driver” would probably be a better idea than your bike.

Is it legal to ride on the sidewalk?

In Colorado, there is no State statute prohibiting a cyclist from riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. State law does provide, however, that local authorities are allowed to regulate the operation of bicycles. As such, there are some cities that limit or altogether prohibit the use of bicycles on sidewalks. In Denver, riding a bike on the sidewalk is unlawful except when done by a State employee, when done by a person delivering newspapers, when the sidewalk is part of a designated bike route, or when the rider is preparing the park the bike or has just departed from a parked bike. Colorado Springs allows riding on sidewalks except when notice is given that says otherwise, with the stipulation that certain sidewalked areas of downtown are prohibited to bicycles and do not require signage or notice at all. Boulder ordinances state that no person shall ride on a sidewalk except in certain residential or public districts and on sidewalks designated as paths. Fort Collins allows riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, except in designated downtown dismount zones. Other municipalities are certainly free to have their own laws concerning the use of bicycles on sidewalks. Accordingly, it would be wise to look into the ordinances in the town where you live, ride or work.

If my BAC is above the legal limit, can I get a DUI while riding my bicycle?

More and more cyclists are using their bicycles to go out for a night “on the town”; and as such, this question comes up all the time. The short answer is yes, you can get a DUI if you are operating a bicycle and your BAC is above the legal limit. That said, as a practical matter, unless you are clearly endangering yourself, others, or property, it is unlikely that you would be randomly stopped and given a field sobriety test while riding your bicycle. This is especially true if you are not acting belligerently, or otherwise bringing unnecessary attention to yourself. Please understand, however, that there is no question that it is a violation of the State DUI laws to ride a bicycle while intoxicated. If you should receive such a citation, however, you will not have any points assessed against your motor vehicle driver’s license, as that is an administrative remedy that applies only when a DUI occurs with the operation of a motor vehicle. While Colorado defines bicycles as vehicles, they are not motor vehicles.

Do I have to come to a complete stop and put my foot down on the ground at a stop sign or red stop light?

State statutes require all vehicles, including bicycles, to come to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights. There is no requirement, however, that you put your foot down on the ground. If you are able to bring your bike to a complete stop without putting a foot down, you have complied with the requirement under the applicable State statute. Interestingly, however, certain parts of Colorado are enacting local laws that allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. In 2011, the towns of Breckenridge and Dillon implemented regulations that describe circumstances in which cyclists may lawfully treat stop signs as yield signs. Additionally, the town of Breckenridge has implemented a regulation describing circumstances in which cyclists, after first coming to a complete stop, may proceed through red lights. Recently, the Summit County Board of Commissioners has amended its ordinances to state as follows:

“A person operating a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle approaching a stop sign or a steady red traffic control signal shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.”

Interestingly, the Summit County ordinance, which applies only in unincorporated Summit County, was supported by both the Summit County Sheriff and local Colorado State Patrol. Perhaps one day the Colorado State statutes will follow the progressive approach that we are beginning to see in Summit County.