Bicycle Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility
In May, New Port Richey resident Shawn Michael Grady died when a pickup struck the bicycle he was riding on Rowan Road. The truck fled the scene of the accident, but its driver later turned herself into New Port Richey police.
Grady’s tragic death serves as a potent reminder of the importance of Florida motorists “sharing the road” with bicyclists. In 2015, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that Florida claimed the unfortunate distinction of the nation’s largest number of bicycle fatalities and largest rate of bicycle deaths per million residents.
In this post, we’ll outline some of the steps drivers can take to bring those statistics down, and some useful tips for keeping bicyclists (and drivers) safe on Florida roads.
1. Observe the “Three Foot Law”
Florida law requires drivers of any vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle to give the bicycle at least a three-foot horizontal berth. This “Three Foot Law” protects motorists and cyclists alike. First, it prevents vehicular collisions like the one that killed Shawn Michael Grady. Second, it reduces the force of potentially destabilizing airflow, which can throw bicyclists off balance and lead to a crash when in close proximity to a moving vehicle. Third, it serves as a brake on motorists, requiring them to slow down behind bicyclists on all but the widest roads, and to wait until they can verify there is no oncoming traffic and it is safe to pass (within the three-foot margin mentioned earlier).
Let’s examine that last aspect of the “Three Foot Law” in a little more detail. Many two-lane or residential roads in Florida are not wide enough for both a motor vehicle and bicycle to travel in the same direction side-by-side, keeping at least three feet between them, and without impeding oncoming traffic. To pass a bicyclist safely on these roads, a car or truck needs to at least partially cross the center line; while a common situation, this can also be dangerous to both bicyclists and motorists, particularly when they approach blind curves or other features that make it hard to see traffic coming in the opposite direction.
To properly navigate this scenario as a responsible driver, you must first slow down behind the bicyclist until you know it’s safe to pass. You should not honk or do anything that might startle the cyclist; the bicyclist will know you’re there (or figure it out quickly). A responsible cyclist will do his or her part by waving you past when your view of the road ahead might be obstructed. When it is safe to pass, Florida law requires you to always do it at a safe speed.
2. Be Courteous
Nobody likes a jerk. Unfortunately, aggressive, inattentive, or discourteous drivers can also cause serious traffic accidents. Anyone who has ridden a bicycle on public roads can tell stories of motorists yelling, honking, or otherwise failing to share the road in a courteous manner. However, that sort of behavior is more than just plain rude—it can also constitute careless driving under Florida law by endangering life, limb, and property of the bicyclist targeted. A glass bottle thrown from a car passing a bicycle, for example, can easily injure or even kill a rider. A taunt, shout, or sudden maneuver can throw a bicyclist off guard, potentially causing a crash.
Common courtesy does more than make Florida roadways more pleasant—it also prevents potentially serious traffic accidents.
3. Open Car Doors With Care and Master the “Dutch Reach”
Cyclists who ride in neighborhoods and on city streets fear getting “doored“ for good reason. An ill-timed car door opening in front of a bicycle can throw a rider head over heels, leading to broken bones, brain trauma, or worse (let alone the property damage due to a destroyed bicycle).
Florida law requires you to open your car door with care at all times. When you are parallel parked on a street where a bicyclist might be riding, make sure there are no cyclists approaching before you open the door. Check side and rear view mirrors, and remind passengers to do the same before exiting the vehicle.
Better yet, train yourself to practice the “Dutch Reach”, the simple act of opening your car door with the hand farthest from the door. By forcing you to reach across your chest to pull the door handle, the Dutch Reach positions your body to make it easy to look over your shoulder and observe whether a bicyclist (or another vehicle or pedestrian) is approaching. Research has shown that the Dutch Reach reduces “doorings” and their accompanying injuries. Using the same technique to reach for your shoulder belt before pulling out into traffic can also reduce car-on-bike collisions.
4. Be Aware of Blind Spots
Most bicyclists take up a fairly small portion of a driver’s vision when they drive. From a driver’s perspective, all they might see of a bicyclist at times is a glimpse of the bicyclist before they slip into their blind spot at either side of the car where the mirror angle does not reach. Bicyclists should be aware of these blind spots as well and ensure they keep a good distance for visibility and also move out of blind spots as fast as possible. Drivers can compensate for blind spots by maintaining good awareness of bicyclists as they move in and out of them.
5. Understand the Consequences
Drivers and cyclists alike have a responsibility to obey traffic laws and operate their vehicles in a way that keeps others safe. Although caring about the wellbeing of your fellow Floridians is enough of a reason to share the road, drivers should also understand that ignoring the rules above can also result in serious legal consequences.
Careless driving that injures or kills a bicyclist can result in criminal prosecution. Even if your negligence doesn’t result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction, you may also be held civilly liable for the cyclist’s medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If a jury deems the conduct sufficiently reckless, careless drivers can also face punitive damages totaling in the millions of dollars.
Take it from the professionals: no time saved by speeding around a bicycle, operating a vehicle irresponsibly, or refusing to maintain awareness of surroundings through simple techniques like the Dutch Reach is worth the potentially life-altering consequences. Every Floridian deserves to reach their destination safe and sound, no matter what type of vehicle they choose for transport.
Safety Tips for Bicyclists
Wear a helmet – it doesn’t matter how good of a cyclist you are, life happens and you can get thrown from your bike by an inattentive driver, whether you suffer a concussion or worse is up to you. 97 percent of bicyclists that died in accidents weren’t wearing helmets. Helmets can reduce the chance of head injury in an accident by 85 percent.
Increase visibility – visibility is key for such a small mode of transport that can be missed by a driver moving at high speed. Visibility is especially key at night when a vast portion of bicycle accidents take place. Increase visibility with flashing lights, bright colors and a fun helmet doesn’t hurt either.
Be aware of traffic – bicyclists should maintain even more awareness of traffic than drivers since they are much more vulnerable. Bicyclists should keep with the flow of traffic and avoid moving against it as much as possible or the chance of an accident drastically increases.
Follow the highway code – just because you’re on a bicycle, doesn’t mean you have free reign of the roads. Observe all lights and signals that are applicable to cars like red lights and emergency lights. Also, don’t ride on the pavement unless there is a path or lane designated for bicycles
Experienced Legal Counsel Can Help
At Dolman Law Group, we represent Floridians who have been injured in bicycling accidents and their families. When a bicycling tragedy strikes because a motorist failed to share the road, rest assured that our team of experienced personal injury attorneys can help you understand and protect your legal rights, and how to recover the compensation you deserve.
For a free consultation, contact us via our website, or by phone in our New Port Richey office at (727) 853-6275.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652