Bang! You didn't see it coming, or perhaps it unfolded in all-too-alarmingly-obvious fashion. Maybe you've been in a collision with a motor vehicle, hit something in the road, lost control without warning, been deceived by a slippery surface or ... maybe you're not even sure what the hell just happened. All you really know is, you've just been in a crash.
Having an accident on a bicycle can be a confusing experience, and there are a lot of things to deal with, even though you may be in shock or in pain.
In almost a decade of keen riding, covering many thousands of kilometres every year, I've had two "offs" – once when I was hit by a car, and once due to equipment failure. Both times I was fortunate to escape significant injury, and both times I was helped by those nearby – concerned strangers as well as friends.
In hindsight, there are things I should have done differently. It's hard to be completely on top of such situations, but here are some key things to remember:
Get out of danger. If you are able to move, and are in a risky spot – say, in the middle of the road – get yourself to safety. If you're unable to move, or it's unwise, be willing to accept or ask for help from others.
Call for help. Yes, we're all hard men and women on our bikes, but there's no shame in phoning for an ambulance if you need one. Especially if the alternative is riding to hospital while injured.
Exchange contact details. If you've been in a collision with another road user, this is crucial – even if you don't think you'll need them. I heard of a bloke who got doored by someone in a parked car, banging his hand. He thought it would be fine, but only later, when the shock wore off, did he find he'd badly damaged his fingers. With no contact details, he was unable to seek compensation.
Get witness details. One person's word against the other isn't ideal. When I got hit by that car driver, it was seen by an off-duty police officer – so there was never going to be any argument about who had right of way. On the flipside, a mate of mine was hit in a bike lane by a turning truck. A couple who saw it happen told him: "You're on a bike, you have to give way." The police arrived, made a more sensible interpretation of the law and promptly issued the truckie with a hefty fine.
Take pictures. Most of us are carrying a camera phone these days. A few snaps of the scene could come in handy later, especially if the circumstances of the incident are disputed. There's no law against taking pictures in a public space, even of private cars.
Make a police report. If you've been in a collision with another party, and the police didn't attend the scene, go and make a statement. Do it as soon as possible, while the details are fresh in your mind. Make sure you get an event number so you can follow up the incident.
Get checked out. If there's any doubt about your medical wellbeing, see a doctor or go to hospital. Concussion can be deceptive, as can internal bleeding, and if something needs stitching, it should be done promptly.
Get your bike checked out, Some would say that the second thing to do, after managing to stand up, would be "look at the bike"! Wherever you see it on your list of priorities, make sure your bike is properly inspected if it has taken a knock. Carbon fibre is an especial worry, but a hairline crack in any material might subsequently fail with dire consequences. If your helmet received an impact, it's best to replace it.
Seek advice. Ask bicycle advocacy organisations for advice and support regarding legal or insurance issues, especially if you feel you are being fobbed off. You may be able to claim from CTP or TAC, the other party's insurance or your own insurance (even household contents insurance). And a reminder: cyclists can buy personal insurance, with third party injury and property cover, for about $100. It's cheap because bikes seldom do much damage, compared with other vehicles.
I'm no accident or insurance lawyer, and the advice above is general in nature, culled from various sources including Bicycle NSW, Bicycle Network, government agencies and road safety groups. Every incident is different – but thinking about what to do in advance will help you be ready for any eventuality.
Do you have advice about what to do in a crash? Have you had any good or bad experiences?