Boulder, Colorado is a city with a lot of cyclists, and every now and then a case crosses my desk from a motorist that hit a cyclist while driving, or a driver whose car was hit by a cyclist while driving.
So what happens in those situations? Is the driver always at fault?
First of all, like I always say, every case is different, and the outcome of your particular situation will depend heavily on the facts of your case. That said, there are various things you can be charged with, including “careless driving”, careless driving resulting in bodily injury or “careless driving resulting in death,” if the accident was that serious. If the facts are bad enough, you can even be charged with vehicular homicide.
Let’s look at some potential situations.
Potential Charges: Careless Driving, Reckless Driving, Vehicular Homicide, Vulnerable Road User
Careless driving is usually a four-point ticket, and that is true even if someone is injured. However, careless driving that results in death (including the death of a cyclist, pedestrian, or someone else), it rises to a 12-point ticket. In that instance, you’ll have enough points for DMV to suspend your driving privileges.
You might also be charged with vehicular homicide, which is essentially murder by vehicle. You can also be charged with vulnerable road user, which is like a catch-all charge for an incident that involves a car colliding with a person who isn’t in a car, and that is a 12-point ticket. This is a relatively new charge.
In 2019, the legislature passed a law that says, “if a vehicle causes either injury or death to a ‘vulnerable road user,’ then it’s a 12-point offense.” This charge can be levied if you hit pedestrians, skateboarders, cyclists, or people doing anything where they’re not inside a motor vehicle and you are.
I’ve only had a couple cases where vulnerable road user has been charged. However, it appears that this charge is charged in addition to another substantive charge. In the cases I’ve dealt with, the prosecution will agree to dismiss the VRU charge if the client will plead to one of the original charges. As I mentioned, it’s a relatively new statute, and when it really comes down to it, it’s basically the same as careless driving.
Is it Always the Driver’s Fault?
Now here comes the complicated part of vehicle/vulnerable road user collisions: whose fault is it?
In my experience, the police and the DA tend to believe that it’s always the driver’s fault when a car hits a vulnerable road user (in Boulder, they are also under a lot of pressure from the large and vocal cycling community). But that’s not true in all cases. Particularly here in Boulder, some mountain roads are very steep, and visibility can be poor with very curvy mountain roads. If you’re going up the mountain, and cyclists speeding down the mountain three abreast suddenly whip around a corner, the situation can be complicated.
Typically, cyclists blame the cars, and the cars blame the cyclists. But that’s a big conversation for another day!
In my opinion, there’s a reason the word “accident” is in the dictionary. Some things that happen, just happen, and they aren’t necessarily anyone’s fault. Just this morning, I was walking my dogs and I stepped on a slick piece of ice and fell in front of my neighbor’s house. Whose fault is it? Probably nobody, it was just an accident. Could the neighbor have put salt on the sidewalk? Sure, I guess they could have. Could I have worn boots with better tread? Maybe.
But the point is: it was an accident, and sometimes accidents happen.
If You Hit a Cyclist, Hire an Attorney
Every case is different and not all situations are cut and dry. If you hit a cyclist (or anyone else) while driving, it’s time to hire an attorney and find out what your options may be.
Call us today at 303-449-1873 to schedule a complimentary consultation and find out if Barre Sakol is the right representative for your case.