A vulnerable road user (VRU) is a term used to describe any person or group of people who are at a higher risk of injury or death when using the roadways. This includes pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and users of mobility devices such as wheelchairs or scooters. Vulnerable road users are more susceptible to accidents because they have little protection against vehicles, and their visibility can be limited, making them harder for drivers to see. As a result, it is important for all road users to be aware of vulnerable road users and to take steps to ensure their safety.
VRUs like bicyclists are especially at risk of being injured by larger vehicles like SUVs and trucks. In fact, Outside reports that these vehicles “are more deadly to vulnerable road users (VRUs) in almost any crash: they are at least 50 percent more likely to kill…Buses and vans are also particularly deadly, but their numbers are comparatively small, so they don’t move the needle like light trucks, a category that includes SUVs and pickups.”
Here's the awful science behind why these kinds of bicycle accidents can do so much physical damage to a person, per Outside and Jingwen Hu, an associate research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute:
When a car strikes a cyclist, the initial impact causes severe lower-body trauma, but it’s also likely to sweep that person’s legs out from underneath them. This is significant, because as the rider slides up the hood, they’re scrubbing speed and, with it, some impact force. An SUV or truck, by contrast, is taller, so the initial impact is likely to target the pelvis or even the chest. “That momentum is carried through your body,” says Hu. In addition, the front-end shape of a vehicle is vital…Modern truck and full-size SUVs favor blocky, muscular styling at the front end, rather than the more gently sloping transition from grille to hood that cars and some compact SUVs have. Instead of sliding onto the hood when hit by a truck, the rider’s pelvis and torso rotate with a twisting, tearing motion. With a squared-off front end, Hu says, “it’s basically the person wrapping around the vehicle.”
This impact can lead to life-altering and life-threatening injuries, including:
- Head injuries. Head injuries are the most severe and potentially life-threatening injuries from bicycle accidents. They can result in traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can lead to long-term cognitive impairment or disability.
- Fractures. Fractures or broken bones are also common injuries from bicycle accidents, particularly in the arms, legs, and wrists.
- Abrasions and contusions. Abrasions, "road rash," and contusions are common injuries from bicycle accidents, particularly if the rider falls and skids along the pavement.
- Spinal cord injuries. Spinal injuries can occur when a rider is thrown from their bicycle and lands on their back or neck. These injuries can lead to paralysis or other long-term disabilities.
- Internal injuries. Bicycle accidents can also result in internal injuries, such as damage to the organs, which may not be immediately apparent.
- Facial injuries. Facial injuries can occur from impact with the handlebars or the ground, resulting in cuts, scars, and fractures.
Some bicyclists may not survive their injuries, resulting in a potential wrongful death claim.
Safety advocates say the numbers prove cyclists and pedestrians are at risk
A group of safety advocates in Canada is using United States studies to demonstrate that large SUVs and pickup trucks cause more cyclist and pedestrian deaths than other vehicles. Bicyclist Jessica Spieker discusses being hit by an SUV while riding her bike in 2015 and suffering life-altering injuries – a broken spine, a brain injury and extensive soft tissue damage – that still affect her today. Now, she’s a member of a coalition called Friends and Families for Safe Streets, “a group of people who've survived traffic collisions, as well as loved ones of those killed or seriously injured on Toronto's roadways.”
The coalition has submitted several US studies to prove their point:
One of the studies, from 2021, estimates 8,131 pedestrians between 2000 and 2019 could have survived if they were struck by sedans instead of SUVs or trucks.
After reading the US data, the group found that Toronto data is similar.
What is Boston doing to protect bicyclists?
Massachusetts recently took a step in the right direction when former Gov. Charlie Baker signed An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities shortly before leaving office in January 2023. Some of the key components of the bill include:
- Defining vulnerable road users. The Act defines VRUs to include pedestrians, bicyclists, roadside workers, wheelchair users, scooters, skateboards, roller skates, and more.
- Safe passing. The legislation sets a safe passing distance of four feet. Massachusetts is actually one of the last states in the country to set a safe passing distance, which finally puts us in line with the rest of the nation.
- Truck safety devices. The Act requires certain trucks to be equipped with safety mirrors, side guards, and back-up cameras to help reduce VRU injuries and fatalities.
- Safer speed limits. The Act also simplifies the process for changing speed limits in certain areas from 30mph to 25mph – slower speeds save lives.
- Crash reporting. The legislation also implements a standardized crash report analysis tool.
- Red rear light requirement. Requires cyclists riding at night to use both a front headlight and a rear red light.
How can your Boston bicycle accident attorneys help?
Our personal injury attorneys have been helping victims of bicycle accidents for decades. Here are just a few of our successes:
- $350,000: Cyclist Hit By Driver; Suffers Serious Hip and Pelvis Injuries. Details
- $250,000: Bicycle Accident; Policy Limits – With Severe Orthopedic Injuries. Details
- $250,000: Bicycle Accident; Policy Limits – Car Stops Short Causing Bicycle Crash. Details
- $115,000: Dooring Bicycle Accident; Seriously Injures Cyclist, Causes Dental Fractures. Details
- $100,000: Careless Cyclist; Policy Limits – Causing Severe Arm Fracture. Details
If you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident, it is important to seek legal advice from a qualified and experienced bicycle accident lawyer. A skilled Boston attorney from Breakstone, White & Gluck can help you navigate the legal system, negotiate with insurance companies, and pursue compensation for your injuries, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Call our office or complete our contact form today to set up a consultation.