N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.1 provides that a person riding a bicycle shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle. This lawsuit raises the novel issue of whether the statute is applicable to a person riding a bicycle on a sidewalk. For the reasons set forth below, this court concludes that the statute is not applicable.
On August 12, 1988, Jordan Gibson, age 11, was riding his bicycle in an easterly direction in the vicinity of East Main Street and North Gaston Avenue in Somerville, New Jersey. From the evidence adduced during trial, it is unclear whether Jordan Gibson was riding in the roadway on the north side of East Main Street or on the adjacent sidewalk. As he crossed North Gaston Avenue, Jordan Gibson was run over by a van driven by defendant, John D'Addario, which had crossed East Main Street from South Gaston Avenue. There is a dispute as to whether defendant or Jordan Gibson "had the green light." Jordan Gibson sustained massive injuries and his father, as guardian ad litem, has brought this action seeking money damages from defendant D'Addario and his employer, Arrowhead Conditioning Company.
Defendants allege that Jordan Gibson was negligent and that his negligence proximately caused the accident and his injuries. They requested that this court instruct the jury as to a number of motor vehicle statutes, arguing that the jury is entitled to consider a violation of each as either evidence of Jordan Gibson's negligence or constituting a finding that he was negligent. See Eaton v. Eaton, 119 N.J. 628, 575 A.2d 858 (1990). Defendants' request to charge was based on N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.1 which recites that:
Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by chapter four of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and all supplements thereto except as to those provisions thereof which by their nature can have no application.
Specifically, defendants requested this court to instruct the jury that a violation of any of the following four statutes, which refer to the driver of a vehicle on a "roadway" or "highway," may be considered as either evidence of negligence or constituting a finding that Jordan Gibson was negligent.
N.J.S.A. 39:4-82 (Keeping to right);
N.J.S.A. 39:4-83 (Keeping to right at intersections; exception on one-way roadway);
N.J.S.A. 39:4-88 (Traffic on marked lanes);
N.J.S.A. 39:4-97 (Careless driving).
In addition, defendants requested that this court instruct the jury that if plaintiff violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.2 (Keeping to right; exceptions; single file) or N.J.S.A. 39:4-81 (Observing traffic signals) that the jury could consider such violation as evidence of negligence. See Model Jury Charge 5.18 (1971) entitled "Violation of Traffic Act: Evidence of Negligence."
The issue of whether Jordan Gibson should be considered the "driver of a vehicle" on a "roadway" or "highway" so as to make any of the first four mentioned traffic laws applicable to his conduct first arose during the trial when this court asked counsel whether the law applicable to this case was ...