The crash course

By CAITLIN E. CURRAN  |  May 6, 2009

Since meeting bikers who've been in accidents has become a weekly routine for Avstreykh, he's come up with an informal set of guidelines that he usually offers up as advice for his customers. His first word of advice for those involved in any type of cycling snafu: call the police.

"Unless you ran a red light or stop sign, or were otherwise being blatantly reckless, the overwhelming odds are that you are not at fault for the accident," he says, citing the Act Relative to Bicycle Safety, legislation that became state law in January of this year.

This new law makes it illegal for motorists and passengers to open car doors if it will interfere with bicycle or pedestrian traffic, and for cars to pass cyclists if the road is too narrow to do so safely, or to make quick right turns and cutting off a cyclist riding in the lane beside them.

With this new law in effect, Avstreykh says, police can cite and fine drivers for endangering bikers more easily and establish fault in the instance of an accident.

Down for the count
Andrew Fischer is a Boston lawyer, biker, and cycling advocate, with more than 30 years of experience with bicycle-accident-related law. Several years ago, he co-authored a guide called What To Do If You Crash for the cycling advocacy group MassBike. The report, which has been through several revisions since then, is available on MassBike's Web site at massbike.org/resources/crash.htm.

If the downed biker is lying in the street or in the way of traffic, he or she should, of course, move to the sidewalk or a place away from traffic, the guide says. Beyond the necessary movements, though, the guide recommends staying put for a few moments, both to make sure no serious injuries have occurred, and to make note of the scene following the accident. Some bikers recommend taking photos, if a camera or cell-phone camera is available.

Fischer says that contacting the police immediately is not entirely necessary — though it can be helpful — but securing contact information for the parties involved in the accident is an absolute desideratum. Basically, he says, you should handle bike accidents in the same way that you'd handle a car accident.

"The essential information you need is the license plate, make and model, and the name and address on the driver's license," Fischer says on the phone from his office downtown. "The one absolute is that you want to look at the driver's license and registration and accurately." It can also be helpful, he says, to get names and phone numbers for witnesses to the accident.

Fischer is the go-to guy for this kind of stuff — nearly everyone interviewed for this article recommended I speak with him. He got his first bike case in the early '80s, when a downstairs neighbor, a Harvard professor, was hit by a car while riding to work. The neighbor rolled across the hood of the car, causing some significant dents in the process, and the driver — quite audaciously — sued him for damaging the car.

"I argued in court that this was like shooting someone and suing them for damaging the bullet," Fischer says. He won the case, and found himself a new niche in the field of law in the process.

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