Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Buddy System... Riding 2 Abreast in Wisconsin

            Because I know those of you reading this blog may just want the answer, and want it fast (Mark Cavendish fast), I will start with that. 


            Ok, there you go.  Memorize that statute.  Write it down and stick it in with your spare tube or in your jersey pocket.  If you really are gung ho, tattoo it on your arm.  That way you can reference it when someone pulls along side and tells you that it is the law for bicyclists to ride single file and get out of the way of cars.

            For those of you who wish to keep reading, a short story and a little more nuanced review of the law on “2 abreast” will now ensue.

            On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I joined others for a group ride leaving from Pewaukee.  Before we set out, two fellow riders told the group about their ride out to Pewaukee.  They mentioned how they were riding 2 abreast (I use 2 instead of two because 2 is used in the statute, and it is quicker to type) when a man in a truck pulled up along side them and took issue with the cyclists riding 2 abreast.  Those cyclists informed the man that it was their right to ride 2 abreast, and that the driver could easily move around them. 

            This man disagreed, sped off, and visited the local sheriff to discuss the matter.  The man then located us in Pewaukee and pulled into the parking lot where we had gathered.  He then informed us that he had talked to the sheriff and the sheriff informed him that cyclists COULD NOT ride 2 abreast.  We informed the man that not only was he WRONG, but the sheriff was wrong as well.  (Side note, if that sheriff ends up reading this, I am more than happy to come by the office and give a presentation on bicyclists rights in Wisconsin, or if he/she has free time, I suggest picking up Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 346 for a quick and good read).  A friendly discussion ensued, but one which was going nowhere because the man had “the law” on his side.  So, off we rode, 2 abreast for the next 30 miles or so, and we had a wonderful ride, even with some rain.

            So, did the man in the truck have “the law” on his side?  Heck no!  At least not in the situation described above.  But, there are limits written into the statute when riders cannot ride 2 abreast.  So, let us take a look at the wording of the statute.

            Wis. Stat. §346.80(3)(a)- Persons riding bicycles or electric personal assistive mobility devices upon a roadway may ride 2 abreast if such operation does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.  Bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device operators riding 2 abreast on a 2-lane or more roadway shall ride within a single lane.
            (b)- Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than 2 abreast except upon any path, trail, lane, or other way set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles and electric personal assistive mobility devices.

            What does the language of the statute give us?  1) Bicyclists may ride 2 abreast on a roadway; 2) Bicyclists can do so if they do not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic; 3) If the roadway has 2 lanes or more, bicyclists shall (must) ride within in a single lane; 4) Bicyclists cannot ride more than 2 abreast unless the path, trail, lane or other way is set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. 

            The third and fourth points do not need much explanation.  It is clear that if the roadway has 2 or more lanes, bicyclists shall (meaning “must”) ride within a single lane.  It is also clear that if a roadway is set aside exclusively for bicycles, you can ride more than 2 abreast.

            The first and second points need slightly more explanation.  The law uses the word “may”, which implies at times you can ride 2 abreast, and at other times you cannot.  (Of note- 2 abreast means riding “side by side”.  If one cyclist is slightly behind and off to the side of another cyclist (not directly behind), then this is not “riding 2 abreast” and Wis. Stat. §346.80 would not apply.)

            Whether you can or cannot ride 2 abreast is contingent on whether riding 2 abreast will “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

            Well, what the heck does that mean?  Really, it means that “normal and reasonable movement of traffic” can be a defense if you are cited for a violation of this statute (or if you need a defense to a driver who has pulled along side you to have a “friendly” chat).  For instance, if a car is behind you for a short time, but the road is so busy the car would not have been able to go any faster if you were not in front, then you are not impeding traffic.  You may not be impeding traffic if you just started to move again after a stop sign or red light and have not had sufficient time to get up to speed.  Also, if a driver does not have a minimum of 3 feet clearance between the car and the closest cyclist to the car, the driver must wait until he/she can move safely past (meaning wait until he/she has a minimum of 3 feet to move past the closest cyclist), and thus the cyclist(s) is not impeding traffic.

            The gist of this post is, it is your legal right to ride 2 abreast in Wisconsin, subject to the limitations in the statute.  But, be smart.  While you have the right to ride 2 abreast, at times the best (and most courteous) thing to do may be to ride single file, pull or move over and allow cars to pass, or choose a less busy road to travel.  I’m not saying you have to, but the best thing is to be safe, and that may require us cyclists giving up our right to ride 2 abreast for a brief moment on a ride to allow a car to pass by so that we may safely continue on with the ride.

            I think if cyclists continue to educate drivers about the rules of the road, in a nice and informative way, and continue to be courteous to other vehicle operators, even the most anti-cyclist drivers will come around eventually and be patient, wait until it is safe to pass, and maybe even give us cyclists a waive as the driver goes by, instead of the bird.   

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Insurance Coverage for Bicyclists and Changes on the Horizon

            I never really thought about insurance coverage, should I be involved in a collision or hit-and-run while riding my bike, until I started law school a few years ago.  I’m betting many of you reading this blog entry might not have thought about this until reading this post.

            In case you don’t really feel like reading all about insurance coverage and whether you are insured/ covered while riding your bike, I will give you the short version in this paragraph.  The answer is, if you have auto insurance you most likely have coverage while riding your bicycle, because if you remember from earlier posts, a bicycle is a vehicle under the Wisconsin Statutes.  For a bicycle not to have coverage, there would have to be a specific exclusion in your insurance policy.  The insurance policy could give you coverage for collisions you cause, or collisions you are involved in where the at-fault person is either uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM).  If the at-fault person has insurance coverage for his/her vehicle, then the at-fault operator’s insurance company would most likely be liable to the injured party for damages.

            A more interesting situation arises with hit-and-run incidents.  In a recent case, Zarder v. Humana Ins. Co., 324 WIs.2d 325 (2010), the Supreme Court of Wisconsin was faced with the issues of what defines a “hit-and-run” driver and based on that definition did the minor bicyclist have insurance coverage under his parents policy for a uninsured at-fault driver.  The quick answer is, in this particular case, the Supreme Court held that the injured cyclist could recover under his parents UM policy.

            The longer explanation is as follows.  First, the court discussed a standard rule of contracts- that ambiguous terms must be construed against the drafter of the contract because the drafter has the ability to define all terms of a contract.  Secondly, the court looked to the definition of a “hit-and-run” driver under the policy language.  The court found that the term “hit-and-run” was undefined in the insurance contract and that there were two reasonable conclusions a person could find as the definition of a “hit-and-run” driver.  “A reasonable insured could conclude that a hit-and-run vehicle is a vehicle which strikes an insured and then flees the scene of the accident without stopping.  However, a reasonable insured might also conclude that a hit-and-run vehicle is one that strikes an insured and then leaves the scene of the accident without the driver providing identifying information.  Id. at 346 (emphasis added.)  Thus, a hit-and-run driver could be one who hits a person/vehicle, stops and checks on the operator of the vehicle and leaves without identifying himself/herself and providing such identifying information to the person who was struck by the hit-and-run driver.  (This is what happened in Zarder.)

            This case was significant in that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin identified two ways in which a driver could be classified as a hit-and-run driver if the insurance policy does not specifically define the term “hit-and-run”.  Mainly, that a driver can be a hit-and-run driver even if he/she stops to check on the condition of the person he/she hit, if the driver then leaves the scene without providing any identifying information.

            However, thanks to our new Governor, Scott Walker (chills just went down my spine when I wrote that, and not the good kind), changes are on the horizon.  (The following changes go into effect on November 1, 2011)

            First, it is roll back the clock time.  The minimum coverage amounts for liability insurance will be rolled back to the limits set forth in 1982, which are $25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person and $50,000 for bodily injury or death of more than one person.  This will also apply to uninsured motorist (UM) coverage.  (Currently it is $100,000/$300,000)

            Second, underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is defined by statute, and to see if UIM coverage applies you compare the negligent driver’s liability insurance limit with the insured’s (injured party's) policy.  Thus, there is no coverage under the insured’s UIM policy if the negligent driver’s liability limits are at least as great as the limits of the insured’s UIM coverage.  However, UIM remains mandatory but the minimum coverage is reduced to $50,000/$100,000.  (Currently it is $100,000/$300,000)

            Third, insurance companies will no longer be required to provide written, or verbal, notification to a purchaser of insurance that a purchaser can buy umbrella coverage such as UM/UIM.

            Lastly, phantom drivers (example- a driver who causes you to run off the road/ hit a barrier, but does not actually hit your vehicle) are defined in the bill and the bill requires the accident to be reported to the police or other authorities within 72 hours of the accident, and collaboration in the form of a statement under oath that must be submitted to the insurance company within 30 days of the accident, or coverage will be denied.

(Author’s note:  there is other changes the bill makes, but I have not discussed them all for the sake of brevity.)

            So, the moral of the story is if you are involved in a collision on your bike, you may be covered by the at-fault operator’s insurance.  If that driver does not have insurance, you may be covered under your auto insurance if you have UM/UIM coverage and no exclusions apply.  So look at your insurance policy and be aware of what is and is not covered if the unfortunate occurs and you are involved in a collision that involves damages that you wish to recoup (bodily injury, hospital bills, future care, property damage).

            The greater moral of the story is, if you can afford the premiums, buy UM/UIM coverage for you and your family.  Increase the limits of your policy because it is more likely than not that if you are involved in a collision, you will need more than the minimum limits of $25,000/$50,000.  Buy an umbrella policy that will give you more coverage.  The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is ensure that you have plenty of insurance coverage should the unfortunate happen.

            As always, ride safe and enjoy the ride.  Yay bikes!