Love Your Brain — Wear a Helmet
No federal law in the U.S. requires people to wear bicycle helmets. Only 22 states have passed laws requiring some bicyclists to wear helmets, usually for those under 18 years old.
South Carolina is not one of those states. It does not have laws regarding bicycle helmet usage. You still have options if you suffered harm in a bicycle accident, however. Many laws in South Carolina support bicyclists’ safety, even those who don’t wear helmets. An bicycle accident injury attorney can support your right to damages and seek what you need.
South Carolina Bicycle Safety Laws
While South Carolina law does not require bicyclists to wear helmets, the state has other regulations. Consider the following from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS):
- Bike lanes are for bikes: Any lane marked for bicyclist use is for bicyclists only.
- Motorists must maintain a safe distance: Vehicle drivers must maintain a safe distance between themselves and any cyclists. When passing a bicyclist, drivers should give the cyclist at least three feet of space.
- Bicyclists deserve respect and care: No one—drivers and pedestrians alike—can harass cyclists. Harassment includes verbal and physical threats.
- Motorists should understand hand signals: Drivers should pay attention to a cyclist’s hand signals and know what these signals mean.
- Drivers should use caution at intersections: Drivers must take care when traveling through intersections, especially at night.
Bicyclists must also follow certain laws, such as:
- Riding in the direction of moving traffic
- Riding in the far-right lane of any road
- Having a white light and a rear reflector when riding at night
- Abiding by traffic signs
Bicycle Accidents Can Cause Brain Injuries
- Nearly 70 percent of cyclists who sustain brain injuries don’t wear helmets.
- Wearing a helmet can lower the risk of severe brain injuries by 81 percent.
- Bicyclists should wear adequately-fitted helmets to prevent brain damage.
Many people know that traumatic brain injuries can result from collisions. Motor vehicle manufacturers strive to make vehicles that protect occupants from these injuries. Bicyclists face a very different reality and do not have such protections.
As the weather warms up, you’ll see many tiny tots and energetic elders out for a bike ride.
Every one of them should wear a helmet—but many won’t.
Even a fairly inexpensive bike helmet can reduce the severity of a head injury. Still, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) notes that in the past few years, less than 17 percent of fatally-injured bicyclists wore helmets.
How Does a Helmet Prevent Brain Injuries?
Wearing a helmet is more than putting some foam around your head; it also protects one of your most vital organs. Brain injuries from a sudden bike crash are similar to those sustained in a car crash.
After the initial impact, both vehicles stop. However, the tissue inside the bicyclist’s skull continues to move. A helmet helps the head slow down gradually by cushioning the blow with specialized foam that doesn’t bounce back. The plastic shell allows the head to slide over the ground, protecting the neck.
According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), a helmeted head comes to a stop in about six-thousandths of a second during a crash, compared to the one-thousandth of a second for a bicyclist who wrecks without a helmet on. Even milliseconds keep the brain from reaching “the injury threshold.” Consider the BHSI’s comparison of a helmet to a thumbtack.
Thumbtacks should pierce the wall, not the thumb. The flat of the thumbtack spreads the force over a broad area of the thumb, and the sharp point concentrates that same force against a small area of the wall. In the same way, a good helmet spreads concentrated forces over a broad area of the helmet’s protective liner and the wearer’s scalp. Instead of slicing through flesh and skull, the helmet redirects force.
Not wearing a helmet compares to misusing a thumbtack, except that hardly anyone dies of thumb injuries.
How Well Do Helmets Work?
Helmets work well, according to the BSHI. When fitted and worn correctly, helmets reduce head and brain injuries by 66 percent to 88 percent.
Correctly Fitted Helmets Are the Key to Safety
A bicycle helmet should sit level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight. Use the helmet’s adjustment straps and add sizing pads to the inside of the helmet as necessary to ensure a snug fit. It should not move more than an inch in any direction.
Take these steps to ensure that your helmet fits correctly and functions as intended:
- Adjust the side straps. Use the V-shaped sliders on both side straps to ensure the helmet is level on the head and fits snugly under the chin. These slides should sit just under your earlobes.
- Adjust the chin straps. Use the buckle at the end of the chin strap to take in any remaining slack. No more than two fingers should fit between the strap and the chin.
Then, check to make sure that you have a good fit by performing these quick tests:
- The two-fingers test. When the helmet is on your head, you should be able to measure no more than two fingers’ distance between your eyebrows and the helmet’s base. It should sit low on your forehead but not cover your eyebrows.
- The yawn test. When the helmet wearer stretches their jaw into a fully-open yawn, they should feel the helmet tighten down. If not, make adjustments to the side straps and chin straps as described above.
- The eyebrow test. Check to see if the helmet moves forward and falls into the eyes. If so, repeat the above instructions to get the right fit.
If the helmet still doesn’t fit properly after following these instructions, you may need to get a different size. Remember that a child’s helmet should fit the current size of their head. Unlike clothing or shoes, never purchase a helmet one size larger, hoping that your child will grow into it.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has detailed instructions and diagrams to help you select and adjust a bike helmet so you get maximum protection.
Helmets Are Not a One-Time Buy
You don’t have to shell out big bucks to get an adequate bike helmet. The BHSI conducted lab tests on inexpensive helmets and pricey ones. It found few differences in performance. That’s a good thing——especially since you should replace your helmet once every five years.
However, any time a bike helmet gets dropped or hit in a crash, you should replace it. Even if you can’t see cracked or crunched foam, replace it anyway.
Routinely buying a new helmet also allows you to benefit from the latest technological advancements. The U.S. government’s safety standards for bike helmets change frequently. You want yours to bear a CPSC, ASTM, or Snell sticker.
What Happens When a Bicyclist and Vehicle Collide?
Even if you wore a helmet, you could still suffer serious injuries in a collision. If another driver struck you, you have legal options. You could seek damages through an insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance. You could also file a lawsuit.
Depending on your situation, you could recover several types of compensation, including medical bills. A bicycle accident attorney can explain your steps. They can also explain how state laws could apply to your case, then advocate for you.
Damages You Could Recover After a Bicycle Accident
Compensation in your bicycle accident case could comprise:
Through a claim or lawsuit, you could recover the costs of your past, present, and future anticipated medical expenses, including:
- Emergency room care
- Ambulance services
- Visits to a doctor
- Physical therapy
- Medical equipment or assistive devices
If the bicycle accident affected your earning power, you can seek:
- Missed paychecks
- Missed income opportunities
- Missed bonuses or promotions
- Reduced ability to earn income
Various Out-of-Pocket Expenses
A range of financial consequences could result from your bike accident, including:
- Property damage: You may need to repair or replace your bicycle or bicycle accessories, such as your helmet or cycling computer. This could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Yet, you can recover these costs.
- Home modifications: If your injuries are serious, you may need certain in-home modifications, such as wheelchair ramps.
- Transportation costs: You may have solely relied on your bicycle for transportation. If so, compensation could cover the cost of using public transportation or rideshare services.
The emotional and psychological challenges of your accident may warrant these recoverable damages:
- Pain and suffering
- Reduced ability to enjoy life
- Mental anguish
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
You Can File a Wrongful Death Case
Losing a loved one not only leaves families in grief; it can also leave them facing financial stress.
A wrongful death case can address both damages: your financial and non-financial losses following your loved one’s passing.
An attorney can seek:
- Medical expenses required before your loved one’s passing
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost earnings to your family
- Pain and suffering
How a Lawyer Can Help with a Bicycle Accident Case
A lawyer can help you build a solid bicycle accident case. This help can prove invaluable if you don’t want to handle a legal battle on your own. After all, just healing from an accident can take significant time and energy—and you should feel free to focus on your recovery.
In support of your case, your lawyer may:
- Investigate the facts of your situation
- Gather important evidence
- Handle all communications with the involved parties
- Determine how much you should seek in damages
- Identify the liable party
- Negotiate a settlement
- Take your case to trial if necessary
- Advise you through every step of your case
Your lawyer can take care of daily tasks, including filing paperwork and submitting documents. In short, a lawyer can take on all the burdens of a bike accident case for you.
Your Lawyer Can Identify the Liable Party
Identifying the liable party is crucial to your case. This determines who should pay for your losses.
Consider this scenario. You’re riding your bike in a busy downtown area, staying in the bike lane. You round a corner, then strike an Uber dropping off a passenger in the street. This causes you to fly off your bike and suffer harm.
The Uber driver acted carelessly by being in the bike lane. However, proving liability can get difficult because:
- Uber may deny liability.
- The at-fault driver may not have insurance.
- The other party could blame you for the accident.
As this scenario illustrates, accident liability can get complicated, no matter how your bicycle accident happened. An attorney can identify the appropriate liable party in your case. They may find multiple parties owe you compensation.
Common Causes of Bicycle-Vehicle Crashes
Bicycle accidents can result from several forms of driver carelessness or negligence. As the SCDPS notes, accidents between cyclists and vehicle drivers happen when drivers:
- Fail to pay attention
- Fail to yield during lane changes
- Make improper left or right turns
- Fail to look for cyclists
- Distracted driving
- Poor roadway conditions
- Poor visibility
The factors that caused your collision determine liability.
What to Do After a Bicycle Accident
Immediately after the accident, it’s crucial to call the police and report what happened. The law doesn’t just require it; the police report serves as an important piece of evidence in your case.
You should also:
Get Treatment and Follow Your Doctors’ Orders
Get medical attention immediately after your collision. This is good for your health and your case. You want to connect your injuries to the collision itself. You also want to reach maximum medical improvement.
Keep getting the necessary treatment ordered by your doctor. If they told you to take medications, take them. If they told you to attend physical therapy appointments, do so. This way, you show the insurance company that you prevented your injuries from worsening.
Watch What You Say to the Insurance Company
You don’t have to give the at-fault insurance company any statements about the accident. If it asks for a recorded statement, decline. Such statements can hurt your case and affect how much you can recover.
Get a Consultation From a Law Firm
Many injury firms offer free case reviews. During this call, you can learn more about your next steps for seeking financial recovery.
You can also learn more about the process of recovering compensation and what a bicycle accident lawyer can do to help. If you have questions about your legal options, a case review offers clarification.
A Bicycle Accident Lawyer in South Carolina Can Help
You don’t have to advocate for yourself after a bicycle accident. If you got injured in a crash, a lawyer can stand by your side and navigate the confusion. They can tell you what damages you could seek and who bears liability for your losses.
It doesn’t matter whether you wore a helmet or not when your accident happened. Under South Carolina’s legal system, you can seek damages.
Bert Louthian has been practicing law in Columbia with his father, Herb, since 1985. After receiving his Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina, Bert launched his legal career in his father’s firm. With 80 years of legal experience between them, Louthian Law, P.A. remains Family-Owned and Family-Focused.
Bert understands that when life goes wrong – when you or someone you love gets hurt or suffers a loss, it can feel like nothing will ever be right or fair again. He gets up and goes to work every day to prove that feeling wrong – and does everything in his power to make things right again.