careless driving

Not His Fault: Driver Maintains Innocence Despite Citation for Careless Driving

He received a ticket for careless driving but never took responsibility for his actions. He went right into, “it is not my fault mode” and stated that cyclists always bike too fast on the road where the collision happened. That statement is the first thing Erin Entlich remembers hearing from the driver while she was lying in the road. She found his lack of concern for her well-being alarming.

I was not cycling ‘too fast’, and it’s incumbent upon him to be watching for moving vehicles whether that’s a car or a bike or a scooter. His actions could have killed me!
— Erin Entlich

Since the driver lives on 32nd Avenue, Erin feels that he should be acutely aware of how busy of a cycling road it is. “It would not kill him to be patient and wait a few moments until I had passed to turn into his driveway.”

Erin, mom to two children, fitness enthusiast, triathlete, health coach, and yoga teacher, started biking about sixteen years ago. She likes being outside and loves the freedom and sense of fun she gets while biking, as well as the satisfaction of covering distance by virtue of her own leg power! 

On the day of the crash, June 23, 2018, she was riding eastbound in the bike lane on 32nd Avenue near Youngfield Street in Wheat Ridge, CO, around 3:00 pm. Erin was wearing a bike kit and helmet, riding under the posted speed limit, was not wearing headphones, or distracted in any way. 

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She saw that there was a car in the turn lane at the bottom of the hill going westbound. The car appeared to be stopped, and Erin had the right of way, so she continued cycling. All of a sudden, the driver turned left in front of her into a driveway. Unable to stop, Erin hit the front passenger side of the car, rolled over the hood, and then landed on the road on the other side of the car, several feet away. 

A cyclist riding behind her witnessed the crash and called 911. EMTs and police showed up moments later. After assessing her injuries, which were mostly contusions and abrasions as well as a chipped tooth, Erin waived the ambulance ride. 

In hindsight, Erin wishes she had known to go to the hospital even if you do not think it is necessary. “There’s so much adrenaline in the moment, and I wanted so desperately to be okay that in my mind if I didn’t need the ambulance, then it wasn’t that bad of a crash,” she explains. She also wishes she had known not to move after the crash and had known not to feel pressured into giving a statement to the driver’s insurance company right away because you can still be in shock or fuzzy on the details. 

Most states, including Colorado (C.R.S. 13-21-301), have laws forbidding insurance companies from contacting you for at least two weeks post-crash, since you are likely in pain, possibly on pain meds, distracted, overwhelmed, or uncertain about what your injuries even are.  Yet, many of our clients report to us that within days (and sometimes even hours!) of their bike crash, they have been contacted by the insurance company for the at-fault motorist, and they have been pressured into giving a statement which is almost always recorded. 

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Erin ended up going to urgent care first thing the next morning, as she was unable to move her left arm or heavily weight her right foot. She also had severe neck pain and whiplash; she could not lift her head without supporting her neck for a couple of weeks following the crash. Erin ended up having to do several months of vestibular therapy. She also suffered a deep bone bruise to her left shoulder. Many of her symptoms—ocular migraines, persistent headaches, and continued neck pain—did not present until later.

What surprised her most going through this experience is that her own insurance was a nightmare to deal with in terms of getting them to pay out her MedPay claim. “You assume the driver’s insurance will be difficult or provide push-back, but you think your insurance is going to protect you and, to date, they have only paid out about half of my policy amount and continue to deny certain claims,” says Erin. 

Erin knew that if she did not get back on her bike sooner rather than later following the crash, she might never ride again. Three months after the collision, she was back riding again, opting for a bike path instead of the road.

“I was nervous and anxious and hated every minute of it, but it helped me conquer my fears,” she says. She started riding again with some regularity in June 2019, about a year after the crash, and went on to ride the rest of the summer. It took about three months of regular riding for her to stop feeling anxious on the bike, though, especially if she was riding on the road. Cars turning left in front of her were a huge trigger. “I feel good now, relaxed and confident again, but I am most definitely more cautious when I ride, which maybe is a good thing.” 

Erin still finds herself gravitating toward bike paths, especially if she is riding alone. If she is on the road, she now prefers to be with other cyclists. At the time of the collision, she was riding alone. Erin wants other cyclists to know that just because you are riding in a bike lane and obeying the rules of the road, you are not necessarily safe. Drivers are distracted more than ever and not necessarily watching for cyclists.

Three months after the collision, the district attorney in Jefferson County Court dismissed the charge of careless driving and offered the driver a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge—failing to yield the right of way on a left turn—and paid $119.50 in fines and court fees. He got off easy.

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Erin believes that the simplest thing that we can all do is to be good bike ambassadors—obey the rules of the road. “If we want drivers to respect us, we need to bike responsibly, ride single file on roads, not run lights.” She has added more lights to her bike and now wears a super fluorescent bike helmet. Erin feels that harsher penalties for drivers is a good start to make cycling safer as well as education for both cyclists and drivers on how to make the roads safer. Erin has joined our 2020 Bike Ambassador team as one of our team co-captains.

Do you know what to do if you are involved in a crash?  View this Instagram post of ours for a detailed response.  

Nebraska Needs Stiffer Penalties for Drivers Who Injure Cyclists

$100 Fine for Careless Driving Lets Drivers Off Easy 

A driver’s poor decisions and careless driving could have cost Gary Little his life. It could have left a wife without her husband and children without their father. Gary came within inches of dying because a 17-year old driver “decided to get high and drive a 4,000-pound instrument of death,” he says.

It was the night of August 18, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska, when the driver of an SUV crashed into him. He was riding south on a bike path around 10:00 pm when the driver going northbound turned into him as he was crossing the intersection. Gary was wearing a helmet and using properly working lights. It was dark, but street lights lit up the area. 

A witness, who was also driving north, stated that the driver of the SUV pulled out in front of her from a parking lot with no turn signals and was inches away from hitting the witness’ car. The driver sped out of the parking lot and turned right onto the next road at about 40 mph with no turn signals. The witness also explained that the SUV traveled so fast that it drifted around the corner. 

Gary was not able to stop quickly enough. He was thrown to the side of the road and landed in the grass after colliding with the SUV. He was unconscious and not moving.

According to the witness, the SUV stopped, and the driver got out and started screaming. She then got back into her car and tried to leave. By this time, the witness and others, who had gathered at the scene, stood in front of the SUV to block the driver from taking off. 

The driver called someone, and another female arrived a few minutes later. She started going through the SUV and grabbing things. She then attempted to run away from the scene. By this time, the police had arrived. The witness yelled at police officers to chase the other female down. When police caught up to her, they found marijuana in her possession.  The witness stated that the SUV driver moved very slowly, appeared intoxicated, and seemed not to know what was going on. 

The witness checked Gary’s pulse. He woke up about four minutes later and was not aware of what had happened. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Gary’s injuries required surgery for a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.  Both knees had deep bruising, and he had abrasions to his forehead. 

He went through three months of physical therapy and could not ride his bike for six months.  Now for someone who has been riding bikes for over 45 years, commutes by bike every day, and is a competitive gravel racer, not being able to ride his bike was tough for Gary. His recovery is ongoing, but he says it feels great to be back on his bike!

Citation: Negligent Driving, amended to Careless Driving and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Marijuana.

Fines/Penalties:  Total - $149.00. $100 fine plus $49 in court costs for the traffic violation. The driver was assessed four points against her license. 

We reached out to a local DA in Nebraska to help us understand why the driver was not punished more severely. 

First, Nebraska currently does not have any vulnerable road user (VRU) laws on the books.

Second, in this case, the police officer cited the driver for negligent driving. “If a ticket is issued, the cop decides what offense they believe has been committed.  Whatever they put on a ticket is just a recommendation to us. We might disagree and not charge anything, we might add charges, we might charge a less serious offense, or we might charge a more serious offense,” explains the local DA.  

 Rather than going to the City Attorney’s Office, the ticket went to the County Attorney’s Office.  According to the DA, there is no negligent driving charge under state laws. Instead, there is a careless driving charge (Nebraska Revised Statute 60-6, 212), which is the exact same thing except that a careless driving offense adds four points to the driver’s record compared to three points for negligent driving. This is the reason the ticket was amended from negligent driving to careless driving.

 Careless driving under Nebraska law is a traffic infraction rather than a misdemeanor. The maximum fine for a first offense is $100. A second offense within a year can cost up to $200, while a third offense would be $300. The Nebraska Supreme Court has set the waiver fine schedule for any fines that are not set by statute. 

 The DA explained that after the charging decision is made, it gets filed with the court.  He goes on to say that not everyone who gets a ticket must go to court. Most low-level traffic offenses, such as speeding, failure to yield, and expired registration, are given the option of paying by waiver and skipping court. A defendant can still have a trial by telling the clerk that they wish to have their case set for trial.

 However, most people who get a traffic ticket never appear in court.  Once the ticket is signed, no one in the County Attorney’s Office will look at it again unless it is being contested.  

 “In this case, careless driving is a waiver eligible offense.  The fine was preset at $100, and the defendant opted to pay the fine rather than have a trial,” says the DA. The driver was assessed four points against her license. The points are all set out by a schedule in the statutes, so neither the judge nor the prosecutor really have any control over how many points a person gets on their license. The judge can’t revoke a license for a careless driving charge, and the maximum penalty is already being imposed.

 The next step up from careless driving would be reckless driving which requires an element of intent behind operating a vehicle poorly.  “In this case, there was no intentional bad driving, she should have seen Gary but just didn’t,” says the DA. For reckless driving, you usually are looking for speed, location (highway v. residential), weaving, unsafe passing, violating traffic control devices, etc.  Failing to see someone would not rise to the level of reckless driving.

 “The example I often give is if you have someone cleaning a loaded gun and it goes off and hits someone, that would be negligent.  Yes, they shouldn’t have been cleaning a loaded gun, but there was never any intention of putting someone at risk. Compared to a situation where someone is trying to scare a group of people and intends to fire a shot over their heads but accidentally hits someone instead.  There they had the intent to discharge the gun, might not have intended the result, but intended the action. That would be reckless,” says the DA.  

 People often want to draw a distinction between someone who fails to yield and causes serious bodily injury, and a crash that involves property damage.  “As the law sits now, there are no distinctions in the law, all cases where someone fails to yield are treated the same regardless of the outcome (excluding death),” he says.

 This begs the question if the law should treat the situations as different?  Do you punish someone more severely for negligent driving if someone is hurt? Are they any more negligent than someone who wrecks a car? Gary would most likely argue for more severe punishment after what he has been through!

 If you are a VRU in Nebraska, whether a cyclist, pedestrian, scooter rider, road construction worker, etc. and would like to see drivers face harsher penalties for negligent or careless driving, consider one of the following: 

A Battle Every Step of the Way

Ben Boncella has been a State Farm customer for years. When he was hit by a driver whose insurance company was also State Farm, he thought the insurance company would be more willing to “take care of their own.” He realized how off-base his thinking was a week or two into the process of trying to handle his own claim.

Additionally, Ben feels that the insurance company/claims adjuster will give you zero respect if you are trying to resolve a claim on your own. “Although they try to come across as being nice and friendly, they are trying to take advantage of you by getting you to admit fault or partial responsibility for the crash.”  

Ben thought his case was clear cut, and that he would be successful in handling the claim himself; a police officer had witnessed the crash and the driver, who admitted that she was in the wrong, was cited at the scene. Yet State Farm denied responsibility to pay out his claim for bike repairs, property damage, and medical bills. “I was extremely surprised by how unwilling the insurance company was to pay my claim. I thought it would be very straightforward – they would pay for the damage to my bike and kit and cover the medical expenses I incurred as a result of the collision,” he says. “I wish I would’ve known how much of a pain the entire process of battling the driver’s auto insurance was going to be.”

When State Farm outright denied liability after months of working at it himself, Ben decided to contact and hire our firm. “As soon as Megan got involved, their tone changed immediately, they became more responsive, more cooperative, and the process of getting this resolved was expedited,” he says. 

The big takeaway from the whole process for Ben? It doesn’t matter how obvious the case/incident, the cyclist will always have to fight every step of the way. He was in a bike lane, riding below the posted speed limit, wearing brightly colored clothing, at a safe time of day, traveling on a route commonly used by local cyclists, had lights on his bike, a police officer witnessed the crash, the driver was cited on the scene, etc. “It doesn’t matter that you do everything right, and it’s extremely obvious. Insurance companies are out to make money, so they make you fight for everything. Do not give up!”

It was the morning of June 8, 2018, around 6:30 am when Ben was riding his bike to work heading north in the bike lane on Garrison Street in Lakewood, CO, and was coming up along vehicles that were stopped at a red light. Ben was wearing a cycling kit, a helmet, and sunglasses along with a backpack full of work clothes.

As he was riding through the intersection at Garrison and West 1st Avenue, the driver of a Ford Ranger pick-up truck failed to yield to Ben while making a right-hand turn, causing a front to side collision. Officer Arellano, who witnessed the crash, stated that Ben was not speeding and was riding properly in the bike lane with safety attire/equipment. Ben was not able to stop quickly enough to avoid the collision since the vehicle turned right in front of him.  He crashed into the front right side of the vehicle. 

The driver stopped immediately after hitting Ben and told the officer that she saw Ben but did not think he would be at the point of the turn. Officer Arellano stated that the driver was clearly at fault and that she needed to be better aware of the road and her surroundings to include checking the bike lane before turning. There were no obstructions, weather, or road conditions that would have affected her view of Ben or her ability to wait for him before turning according to Officer Arellano.

Ben was treated at the West Metro Fire Station, which is located directly across the street, where his injuries were cleaned up and bandaged. Ben finished his ride into work, but he went to St. Anthony's Hospital to get treated when his symptoms worsened after a few hours.  He had road rash on the left side of his body and had a CT of his head and spine done as well as x-rays of his chest and wrist.


Citation:  Careless driving, pleaded down to an unsafe vehicle charge.

Fines/Penalties: Two points assessed to the driver’s license and $134 in fines.The driver has two past convictions in 2004 in Lakewood and Denver, where she was also charged for driving an unsafe or defective vehicle.

Ben feels like it is way too easy for drivers to get charges reduced.

She should have pleaded guilty to the charge the police officer cited her with because that’s what actually happened. If we keep letting people off easy, they’re never going to get any better and cyclists aren’t going to be any safer.
— Ben Boncella

Eventually, Ben was back on his bike, but it was painful and he obviously wasn’t 100% healed physically. It took awhile before the swelling, bruising, road rash, and soreness went away, but he was eventually back to his normal riding and workouts. 

He was nervous to get back on the roads after the crash and rode a lot more bike paths afterwards.  Gradually, Ben transitioned back to more and more road riding, but even to this day (a year and a half later), he is still nervous riding through intersections. “Drivers don’t use their turn signals enough or check their passenger side mirrors before making right hand turns,” he says. 

If he could wave a magic wand, Ben would make the punishment for drivers who hit cyclists much more severe.  “All it takes is a quick Google search and you can read hundreds of stories and articles about drivers hitting and killing cyclists yet only having to pay a small fine or do some community service. It’s sad to see how little the life of a cyclist is valued in these situations.”

Ben recommends that every cyclist get educated about local cycling laws/regulations and follow them when riding. Ride defensively when you need to, but also be courteous and respectful to drivers as much as possible.

Although Ben initially tried to deal with State Farm on his own, he was glad that he handed over the case to our team. “When I spoke with Megan about having her take over my case, she was extremely up front and honest about what would be involved, the timeline, the outcome, the financial side of things, etc. In the end, things worked out almost exactly as she had initially described them to me. The whole team was incredibly well organized and thorough. I’m not happy to have gone through this, but I’m glad that I had such a great team of people on my side fighting for me.”