The Orange County Register reports that “ghost bikes,” white-painted bicycles that offer a stark reminder of those killed in bicycling accidents, are being chained to posts around the county. About a dozen of the memorials have been placed in spots where bicycle riders have been killed by drivers in an effort to bring attention to this growing problem.
What Are Ghost Bikes?
While those who place ghost bikes as memorials in various locations are not completely anonymous, they prefer to stay out of the spotlight. The first ghost bikes appear to have been placed in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2003. Since then, the custom of spray-painting bikes a ghostly white and leaving them at accident sites with brief memorial messages has spread all over the world. There is even a website for the loosely-organized group at www.ghostbikes.org.
The groups follow bicycle death news closely so that they can place the ghost bikes immediately after an accident when the memorial will have greater psychological impact.
The Scope of the Problem
According to the Orange County coroner, there have been 14 bicycle-related deaths in 2012 so far, 12 of which were vehicle crashes. Although the vast majority of victims are men, two women also died in bicycle crashes in a two-day period.
The Newport city council removes the memorials 30 days after they are placed, but few cities are talking about what steps should be taken to reduce the total number of bicycle deaths. Bicycle advocacy groups are hoping that more bike trails will be planned and more money will be spent to raise awareness on the part of motorists of the dangers posed to bicycle riders every day on Orange County highways.
Liability and Legal Issues in Bike Accidents
When a bicyclist is hit by a driver, the police ask several questions before charging the driver with a crime. These questions include attempts to gather information about how fast the driver was going, whether he or she was drinking at the time of the accident, and whether the bicyclist was observing the rules of the road as well.
If the bicyclist is found to have violated any of the traffic laws applying to the given situation, the driver may not be charged. However, that does not mean that he or she will not be held liable for the bicyclist’s injuries or death if the driver was negligent or careless.
Many bicycle accidents are caused by drivers who are drinking at the time of the accident or who are traveling at unsafe speeds. Assuming that a driver has broken the law, there is little doubt that the driver may have some liability in the accident regardless of the behavior of the cyclist. In California, civil juries have the option of assigning a certain percentage of liability for an accident to two or more people. This is known as comparative liability. Comparative liability means that a driver can be held liable for at least part of the damages in a bike accident even if the bicyclist was also partially at fault.