Florida Bicycle Accidents that Occur on Major Roads and Streets
Did you know Florida is a cycling hotspot? Just check out how many bicycle tours and bicycle races happen every month around the state. And that’s just the bicycling events. Tens of thousands of Floridians take to the Sunshine State’s roads and trails daily for exercise and transportation.
But the cycling picture in Florida isn’t all rosy. Cyclists face significant danger on Florida roads. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), in 2018 there were over 6,500 bicycle crashes (collisions with motor vehicles) in the state resulting in 148 cyclist fatalities and 6,175 cyclist injuries. In other words, an overwhelming majority of reported bicycle crashes involved an injured cyclist; an injury rate far higher than any other type of vehicular accident. If a cyclist gets into a bicycle crash with a motor vehicle, the cyclist is likely to end up badly hurt, or worse.
In this blog post, we take a close look at bicycle accidents in Florida; where they happen, why they happen, and what motorists and cyclists can do to prevent them. If you’ve sustained an injury in a Florida road cycling accident, contact an experienced bicycle accident attorney today.
Florida Road Cycling Accidents by the Numbers
The number of bicycle crashes with motor vehicles in Florida dropped from 2015 to 2018, according to DHSMV, albeit slowly. But the number of injuries and fatalities in those accidents has not changed significantly since 2015. And if anything, preliminary numbers for 2019, as of the date of this post, suggest the trend has reversed. Through March 2019, the state was on pace for its highest number of bicycle crashes, injuries, and fatalities in a decade, according to DHSMV and National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration data.
That same data reveals that Florida has the dubious distinction of being the deadliest state in the country for bicyclists. The state is home to just 6 percent of the United States population, but in 2017 accounted for a stunning 16 percent of the country’s bicycle deaths.
Of course, reported crashes with motor vehicles are just one type of accident involving bicyclists. A 2005 Florida Department of Transportation study suggests that only a small fraction of bicycle crashes—about one-in-five—get reported to the police. And while most happen on roads (usually roads without bike lanes), many also happen on sidewalks and bike trails. In other words, the figures from DHSMV, while large and troubling, likely only represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number and impact of bicycle crashes in Florida every year.
Three Places Where Road Cycling Accidents Happen
To state the obvious, road cycling accidents happen on the road. But which roads, and in what situations?
- On the open road. As noted above, research suggests road bicycling accidents principally happen on roads that lack designated bicycle lanes. NHTSA data also shows that nearly two-thirds of all bicycling fatalities occur on roads at locations other than intersections. Real-life experience tells us why this is the case. The less room cyclists have to navigate on the road, and the less room motorists have to pass cyclists, the greater the chance of a collision.
- In urban areas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more fatal bicycle accidents happen in urban areas than rural areas, according to the NHTSA reporting. State-level data from DHSMV bears this out. Annually, the highest number of bicycle crashes happen in the most populated parts of the Sunshine State, including Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties on the East Coast, Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties on the Gulf Coast, Duval County in the North, and Orange County in the interior.
- At intersections. About a quarter of all bicycle fatalities happen at intersections, particularly those in urban areas without crosswalks. Factors that contribute to accidents at these conflict points include failures by drivers and cyclists to obey traffic laws and to yield the right of way. Trucks can pose a particular danger to cyclists, who may sit in a truck’s blind spot and face a risk of being run over when the truck makes a right-hand turn. NHTSA reports that in accidents involving large trucks and buses, the most common point of impact is on the vehicle’s right side.
NHTSA data show that fatal cycling accidents happen about the same amount of time during daylight and when it’s dark. But overwhelmingly, the most dangerous time of day is in the late afternoon and evening (from 3:00 p.m. to midnight), which is when more than half of all bicycle accidents happen, no matter the time of year.
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Why Road Cycling Accidents Happen
Researchers cite a variety of factors that contribute to bicycle accidents involving motor vehicles. Here is a summary.
Traffic Law Non-Compliance, including Speeding and Inadequate Separation
Motorists generally understand they must follow the rules of the road. Cyclists, on the other hand, sometimes lack that understanding. Who hasn’t seen a person on a bicycle roll right on through a stop sign into an intersection with crossing traffic? But as summarized by the Florida Bicycle Association, cyclists in the Sunshine State must obey traffic laws just like any other road user. The laws are in place to protect everyone: cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.
But we can’t pin all of the blame for traffic law non-compliance on cyclists. Even though motorists know, generally, how to share the road safely with other motor vehicles, they frequently lack experience and awareness when it comes to conducting themselves around cyclists. Drivers do not realize, for instance, that although cyclists must try to stay as far to the right as practicable, they have the right to occupy an entire traffic lane if need be. Motorists also frequently ignore their legal obligation not to pass a cyclist unless they can put at least three feet of distance between their vehicles and the bicycle. And the risk of a fatal accident rises exponentially when drivers speed around and near cyclists.
Bottom line: everyone using the road must follow the law. When they don’t, accidents happen.
NHTSA reports that alcohol plays a role in 37 percent of fatal bicycle accidents. Slightly more accidents result from cyclist alcohol use than motorist alcohol use, but the problem is significant for both groups. We need not rehash all of the reasons why consuming alcohol and taking to the road is dangerous. Suffice to say that anyone who drinks and drives/rides puts themselves and others at extreme risk.
Accidents between motor vehicles and bicycles often happen because motorists and cyclists do not see each other. There is a variety of scenarios where this is the case:
- At night on unlighted roads, particularly when cyclists fail to wear reflective clothing and to use front and rear lamps (as required by law);
- At sunrise and sunset, particularly when glare can impair driver vision;
- In blind vehicle blind spots, especially when cyclists ride or sit in the blind spot of a large truck or bus; and
- In daylight, if cyclists wear clothing that makes them blend into the background.
Responsibility for avoiding poor visibility situations lies with motorists and cyclists alike. Motorists should maintain their headlights and always have a pair of (preferably polarized) sunglasses at the ready. Cyclists should wear bright clothing (fluorescent colors are your friend) with reflecting strips, and always equip their bikes with head and rear lamps. All parties should exercise blind-spot best practices.
Doorings—A Unique Category of Road Cycling Accident
The factors cited above involve accidents in which a motor vehicle and bicycle collide while both are typically in motion. There is a separate category of accidents involving road bikes, however, that involves collisions between bicycles and stopped vehicles. Cyclists refer to these accidents as doorings or getting doored.
A dooring happens when an occupant of a stopped (usually parked) car or truck opens a door directly into the path of a cyclist approaching from behind. The bicycle collides head-on with the open door, usually sending its rider flying over the handlebars, and even over the door, onto the pavement. What causes a dooring? Most often, it’s simple inattention on the part of the vehicle occupant, who fails to check over his or her street-side shoulder before opening the door. A safety practice known as the Dutch Reach reduces the risk of doorings. It’s a simple behavioral modification: the occupant reaches for the door handle with his or her inside hand, forcing the occupant to turn their torso slightly in the seat, giving them visibility to any vehicle approaching from the rear.
How to Avoid Road Cycling Accidents
Motorists and cyclists alike have a responsibility for taking steps to ensure cycling accidents don’t happen. Aside from the many potential causes for bike accidents here are some tried-and-true techniques for both groups to do their part to reduce the number of bicycle crashes in Florida.
3 Tips for Motorists
- Get to know cycling-related traffic laws. The Florida Bicycle Association’s resources page linked above contains straightforward explanations of the laws motorists need to follow when they share the road with cyclists. Get to know them! Understanding what rights and obligations cyclists have will help predict their behavior, and will spare you unnecessary frustration behind the wheel.
- Treat bicycles like any other vehicle, and please, be courteous. Don’t tailgate. Don’t be aggressive toward them. Don’t drive erratically around them. Don’t speed near them. They have as much right to use the road as you do.
- Check your blind spots expecting to see cyclists. Research has shown that drivers often fail to see cyclists (and motorcyclists) in their blind spots, even when they check them, because of a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness. Simply put, we’re more likely to perceive the vehicles we expect to see in our mirrors than those we don’t. So, when you look into your mirrors or turn to check a blind spot, make a mental note of expecting to see a bicycle or motorcycle. If you do, chances are higher you’ll spot one if it’s there.
4 Tips for Cyclists
- Get to know cycling-related traffic laws. Yes, this is the same tip as for motorists, but it bears repeating. As a cyclist, you use the road subject to the same basic set of laws that motorists must obey. You don’t get special privileges just because you supply your own power. You can’t ignore red lights. You can’t weave in-and-out of traffic lanes. You can’t fail to signal. These rules exist for your safety more than anyone’s.
- Ride big. In the same vein, think of yourself as a vehicle that has every right to share the road. You should try to stay to the right when you can, but if you can’t, then use the whole lane and ride with the same degree of predictability and authority as any other vehicle. Yes, that might annoy motorists, but that’s their problem, not yours.
- Be courteous. That said, recognize you are the slowest person on any road you share with motorists. If cars and trucks can pass you safely, make it easy for them to do so. Stay to the right. Wave them past, and wave a thank you when they treat you with equal courtesy. We can all get along.
- Be visible. Bright, odd color combinations might not be your fashion sense, but they can save your life. The more you contrast with your road surroundings, the better the chance motorists will see you. Also, always be sure to wear gear that has reflective strips, and never ride between dusk and dawn without head and tail lamps (better yet, use them at all times).
Road Bicycle Accidents: Dangerous but Avoidable
If you suffered injuries in a Florida road bicycle accident, contact an experienced bicycle accident attorney today. We Floridians have a responsibility to each other to reduce the number of bicycle accidents in our state. Together, we can make it happen. By following simple safety tips, and treating each other with courtesy and care, we make our state a happier, healthier place to live, work, and ride. If you have been injured in a bicycle accident with another vehicle then do not hesitate to contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA. We offer free consultations to people in your predicament and can offer expert assistance when it comes to getting you the compensation you need. To schedule your free consultation either call our office at (727) 451-6900 or contact us online.