Legal Brief – Rights and The Right Hook

by Josh Zisson
October 21, 2013

Source: Momentum Mag

Josh Zisson

Josh Zisson

The “right hook,” when a driver is traveling in the same direction as a bicyclist and turns right across the rider’s path into a driveway, private road, or parking space, can happen with almost no warning. The rider is either struck from the side as the car turns, or gets cut off and collides head on with the side of the car. While a right hook can happen with almost no warning, knowing your rights can help you be prepared.

It is important to understand the right hook for a couple reasons. First, by being aware of this kind of crash, you can anticipate it and take steps to avoid it. You can slow down and let them cross in front of you, try to make the right turn with them, or stop completely. Second, the right hook is a perfect illustration of why we need well-written, bike-specific legislation on the books.

In nearly every right hook case I have handled, I heard the same refrain from the accused motorist, “But she ran into me!”

Insurance adjusters and even police officers often echo this defense, all in a wrongheaded effort to shift the blame to the bicycle rider. The result is that even when a rider had the right of way – they were proceeding straight after all – and the motorist failed to check that the path was clear before turning, the simple fact that the car was struck by the bike can inject doubt into an otherwise clear case.

It may not be obvious, but the right hook perfectly illustrates the need for better bike laws. Because, like “dooring,” it is a crash that only really happens to bicyclists. Without a statute that directly addresses such a scenario, it becomes an uphill battle to prove that the driver was at fault. However, a well drafted law can dispel any doubt, and ensure that bikers’ rights are protected.

Here in Massachusetts, proud home to what I’d argue are the best bike laws in the country, we have such a law on the books. General Law Chapter 90 Section 14 states, in part, that “no person operating a vehicle that overtakes and passes a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction shall make a right turn at an intersection or driveway” unless it is safe to do so. The driver must ensure that they are turning safely and not into the path of a bicyclist.

In just about every right hook case I have handled, the driver’s insurance has attempted to deny liability, and this law was enough to change their tune. If your state doesn’t have a law like this on the books, then contact your local advocacy group and make sure they are on the right track.

Josh Zisson is a bike lawyer in Boston, MA. He rides the safest bike on the road and writes about bike safety and the law at Follow him on Twitter at @BikeSafeBoston