Helmets in Utah

Bicyclists crashing into automobiles is a common cause of bike accidents. Each year in Utah, on average, 940 cyclists are injured and seven are killed.

Most states with high motor vehicle/bicycle fatality rates are in the Sun Belt – Florida, Arizona, and Nevada are all ranked highly. Utah, with its plenitude of days with sunshine and avid outdoors enthusiasts, is ranked #10. Children and teens make up by far the largest proportion of victims of vehicle/bike crashes – those age 10 to 14 are the most likely to be hit by a large margin. Unfortunately, reported rates of helmet use are particularly low among young bicyclists. In 2003, adults wore helmets at eight times the rate of secondary school students.

Certain risk factors make it less likely that a teen will wear a helmet: use is significantly lower among males, in rural areas, and in neighborhoods and at schools with a lower socioeconomic status. However, adult men are more likely to wear a helmet than adult women.

Utah has no legislation requiring the use of helmets. Laws and education are significant in promoting proper helmet use.

What Causes Bikers to Crash?

According to the California Highway Patrol, the following are common causes of bicycle crashes:

  • Bicycle rider using the wrong side of road
  • Auto driver making unsafe left or right turn
  • Bicyclist riding from driveway or sidewalk into path of car
  • Auto driver opening door as bicycle passes
  • Bicycle rider weaving, leaving edge of road or bike lane
  • Bicyclist making unsafe left turn
  • Bicycle without headlight or reflectors

Let’s examine some of these in more detail.

Wrong Side of the Road

Bicyclists ought to follow the flow of traffic. If they stick to the right side of the road, and avoid sidewalks, they’ll have five times fewer crashes. Don’t weave in and out of traffic, as it makes it difficult for motorists (and pedestrians!) to predict what you will do.

Making Left Turns

Even legal left turns can be unsafe for bicyclists. Different cities have different approaches – Portland, a city famous for its bike-friendliness, has clearly-marked bike boxes behind which cars must stop, and Dutch cities have separate thoroughfares for cyclists. However, in Salt Lake City and other Utah towns, it may be safest for those on bikes to execute a hook left turn. This diagram illustrates the concept:

Don’t forget the signal for a left turn: left arm straight out to your side.

Unsafe Auto Driving

Car drivers certainly have to be on the alert when it comes to defensive driving around bicyclists. A tragic accident happened in San Antonio in September, 2012, when a 17-year-old was weaving in and out of traffic and barreled into a 55-year-old bicyclist. The auto driver was going nearly 70 mph. Devan Coulter Smith, the victim, was attempting to make a turn.

Crash Causes

About half of car/bike accidents are caused by cyclists. These can result from swerving, going the wrong way, or the dreaded left hand turn.

Here are some common causes of accidents when the fault is the motorist’s:

  • Oncoming left turn
  • Right turn from behind
  • Stopping/signaling
  • Driveway yield
  • Opening car door
  • Overtaking


Car doors being swung into traffic and a biker slamming into them is an all-too-common type of crash called “dooring.” In May, 2011, a 56-year-old Montreal man experienced a dooring crash and was so critically injured that he had to be put on life support. Auto drivers need to be careful when opening their doors into traffic and watch for other cars and bicyclists. Slamming a car door onto a biker has become such a problem that Illinois and Massachusetts now charge perpetrators a $100 fine.

Texting while Biking

A twenty-first century cause of crashes is texting while biking. In a humorous article posted to Gothamist, the very real dangers of texting while biking were outlined:

“In a perfect metaphor for their disastrous season, beleaguered Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine injured himself checking a text message while biking in Central Park yesterday. It’s hard to top the first sentence of the NY Times story on it: ‘In the final days of one of the most painful seasons of his career, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine on Tuesday lay entangled with his bicycle at the bottom of a ditch next to the Central Park Reservoir.’ Of course this had to happen to him in NYC.

Valentine was reading a text from second basemen Dustin Pedroia when the accident occurred—when he looked up, he had to swerve to avoid the umbrellas of two French tourists walking in front of him.”

Though few texting while biking accidents will happen in the hometown of your team’s chief rival (and you are not likely in Dustin Pedroia’s contact list), people are increasingly tied to their cell phones. Riding a bike is not the time to check every ping. If an emergency text is received – in the bottom of the ninth! – pull over to the side of the road.

Christensen & Hymas are Utah’s Bicycle Lawyers, and are eager to assist Red Sox fans, Yankees fans, and all others. If you believe you have been the victim of a motorist-induced bike accident, or if you would simply like more information about how to stay safe on your ‘cycle, call us at (801) 506-0800 or contact us for a FREE Bike Accident Book.