A September 2018 report in the Wall Street Journal analyzed the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and found the Greater Tampa Bay area as the most dangerous place to ride bicycles in the nation, with Pinellas County as the deadliest of all area counties. The data from the NHTSA show that bicycle accident fatalities increased about one third from 2010 to 2016 and the fatality rate in Florida was more than 50 percent higher than the next highest state. The Tampa region’s fatality rate was 7 percent, almost a point higher than Florida’s 6.2 percent rate.
Analysts report the high bicyclist fatality rates in the area are due to dense population, a large population of elderly drivers, and tourists who are distracted because they are unfamiliar with local roads. It should be noted that the Wall Street Journal article relies on NHTSA data during a 10-year period to label Pinellas County as “The Most Dangerous Place for Bicyclist in America,” but the five-year analysis and recent data tell a different story. Regardless, the general trend has been a yearly increase in accidents involving cyclists, making biking in the Tampa area, including Pinellas County, a persistently risky proposition.
In this article, we examine popular bike routes in Pinellas County and some the ways that local government officials have responded to dangerous cycling conditions in the area. We also discuss common bicycle accident injuries and their potential risks for cyclists in Pinellas County. Finally, we discuss the steps to take if you or your child have been involved in a bicycle accident.
A Deeper Dive on the Data
A closer look at more recent data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reveals that in 2017, more than 6,600 bicycle accidents occurred on Florida roads, with 128 fatalities; 26 of those fatalities occurred in Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties combined. The most recent Traffic Crash Facts report from the FLHSMV reported 140 bicycle fatalities across Florida in 2016; more than 30 involved drug and/or alcohol use and in 117 of the fatal crashes, cyclists were not wearing helmets or any other safety equipment for their protection. Pinellas County saw six fatalities in 2017, and six bicycle fatalities as of November 1, 2018, which are included in more than 600 bicycle crashes in the county each year.
Pinellas County High Crash Corridors
In an effort to create and enact policies that reduce bicycle crashes and fatalities in the area, Pinellas County created a Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan. During the last decade, the county has collected, researched, and analyzed data to learn about aspects of bicycle accidents. In a 2012 report, the county identified some key characteristics of bike accidents in Pinellas County not already mentioned, such as that the majority of bike crashes in Pinellas County involve those in the 15 to 24 age group.
The other key takeaway from the 2012 report was the identification of hot spots where bicycle accidents often happen in our area. So-called “Pinellas County High Crash Corridors” vary in their specifics year-to-year, but these general areas are often at or near the top of the list:
- From 9th Avenue South to 46th Avenue along 4th Street
- From Park Street to U.S. Highway 19 along North Park Boulevard
- From Indian Rocks Road to 58th Street along West Bay Drive (State Road 686)
- From Belleair Road to Drew Street along Fort Harrison Avenue
- From Bay Pines Boulevard to Ulmerton Road along Seminole Boulevard
- From Orange Street to Race Track Road along Tampa Road
- From Gulf to Bay Boulevard, especially at the intersections of Belcher Road, Old Coachman Road, U.S. 19, and Park Place Boulevard
- Multiple intersections along U.S. 19 (34th Street), including 70th Avenue, 62nd Avenue, 22nd Avenue North, and 5th Avenue North
Pinellas County Bicycle-Friendly Initiatives
In the last decade, increased bicycle accidents and the desire to provide alternative transportation options have spurred projects to create bike-friendly cities and towns across the nation, including in Florida. Pinellas County committed to a Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan in 2013, to enhance more than 950 miles of bike lanes, shared-use trails and paths, and sidewalks. Pinellas County has upgraded roads, including those in high crash corridors, to accommodate cyclists over the past several years with the following improvements:
- Shared use lanes – A shared use lane is a bike path that shares space with a roadway. In Pinellas County, officials have put shared use lanes on roads that have speed limits under 35 miles per hour where other road improvements aren’t feasible. Additionally, shared use lanes aren’t practical for residential neighborhoods with low speed limits and low traffic volume. Shared use lanes give bicyclists a designated spot on busy roads and help prevent accidents because drivers can see the lanes and anticipate cyclists riding in them.
- Additional pavement – Some spots in the county don’t have enough pavement for bicycles or enough room for bike lanes, so the county has added additional paved shoulders in certain areas, helping to curtail accidents in which a motorist turns into a cyclist.
- Reconstruction – Some roads are completely inadequate for cyclists and need to be reconstructed to accommodate them. Pinellas County has reconstructed roads as part of their Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).
- Striping – Pinellas County has added striping to roads that have plenty of room for bike lanes, but only needed striping to install them.
- Re-striping – Re-striping roads gives the county the opportunity to make the best use of a road’s usable pavement. In some cases, the county might need to narrow vehicle lanes and or/medians and re-stripe the road to add a bike lane.
- Markings and signs – On roads that have striped shoulders and ample width, Pinellas County continues to add signs and pavement markings to accommodate cyclists.
Types of Bicycle Accidents
There are many scenarios that might lead to a bicycle crash, but some are more common than others. In its Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan, Pinellas County identifies some of the most common kinds of bicycle accidents involving motor vehicles.
- Left hook crashes are the most common types of bike accidents across the nation. They happen when a motorist makes a left turn at an intersection in front of a bicyclist traveling in the opposite direction. The motorist might hit the cyclist or the cyclist might crash into the passenger side fender of the vehicle.
- Right hook crashes occur when a motor vehicle driver makes a right turn and turns into a cyclist in the adjacent lane or on the shoulder.
- A driver hits a bicyclist in an intersection while making a right turn. The cyclist is traveling in the opposite direction crossing the intersection.
- Doorings occur when motor vehicle drivers and passengers open a door into the path of a cyclist who does not have the time to swerve and instead collides with the door.
What Types of Injuries Might Result from a Bicycle Accident?
According to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Health, traffic accidents involving bicycles resulted in about 850 emergency department visits in Pinellas County in 2016, with 84 of them resulting in hospitalization to recover from injuries. Bike accidents might lead to many types of injuries that range in severity depending on individual circumstances. Here are some of the most common bicycle accident injuries:
- Head traumas including mild to severe traumatic brain injuries, especially in those who aren’t wearing bicycle helmets
- Broken, fractured, and crushed bones
- Neck injuries
- Back and spinal cord injuries, some of which might lead to paralysis
- Scrapes, cuts, and road rash in accidents where a cyclist is thrown from a bike
What Should You Do After a Bicycle Accident in Pinellas County?
Even if you follow all of the traffic regulations, wear a helmet, and stay aware of your surroundings, you might still find yourself in a bike accident. Sometimes, little fender-benders don’t require an attorney and perhaps not a police report, but many bike accidents result in injury. Here are some immediate steps you should take if you, or your child, has been injured in a bicycle accident while cruising around in Pinellas County:
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible. The timing of when you get checked out by a doctor hinges on the severity of your injuries, obviously. Some injuries require a trip via ambulance to a hospital in Tampa, St. Pete, or Clearwater. Cyclists lucky enough to have walked away from a bike accident may also benefit from requesting an ambulance. No matter how severe you think your injuries are, however, it is important to seek medical attention soon after an accident. Some injuries, especially head traumas take a while to present symptoms. When it comes to your health, it is far better to be over-cautious.
- File a police report. Hopefully, law enforcement has been notified and has gathered necessary information for a police report. But, if not, it can be important to file a report with law enforcement as soon as possible after an accident. Regardless of the format the report takes, it should include critical information such as the make, model, and license plate number of the driver’s car, and his or her name, address, and insurance information. If you cannot get these things right away, or haven’t done so already because you are hospitalized, your lawyer can help you.
- Take photos. If you have the opportunity, try to take as many photos at the scene of the accident as possible. This includes photos of the car, photos of your bike, photos of injuries, and any other photo documentation that you think might be useful for an insurance claim or a lawsuit.
- File an insurance claim. As a Florida resident, you probably already know that all car owners are required to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, because Florida is a no-fault insurance state. This coverage extends to you while you are riding a bike; it also extends to your minor children. Under Florida law, PIP insurance will cover 80 percent of your medical expenses, such as emergency services, doctor visits, x-rays, medication, etc. It will also cover 60 percent of lost wages due to missing work from an injury. If you don’t have PIP insurance (because, for example, you don’t own a car), or if you have exhausted the coverage limits on your PIP policy, then you may also be able to obtain coverage for certain expenses under your own health insurance. In addition, depending upon the severity of your injuries, you may also have the right to seek compensation from the motor vehicle driver’s insurance carrier or directly from the driver.
Contact an Experienced Bicycle Accident Attorney in Pinellas County
It’s not unlikely that your insurance company or the driver’s insurance company might deny your claims or try to shift blame to you for the accident. Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, where the court reduces awards to the plaintiff based on the extent to which the plaintiff bears some of the fault for the accident. For example, an insurance adjuster might claim you weren’t using proper hand signals or following other traffic regulations, thereby contributing to the accident, or the adjuster might try to suggest you were operating your bike while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In addition, insurance companies might try to tempt you with settlement offers that may sound like a lot of money, but aren’t fair compensation for the losses that you have incurred from your injury. If you, or your child, were injured in a bicycle accident, you might be eligible to file a personal injury suit in civil court. A skilled lawyer can advise you on the right path forward for your individual situation. In the event that you file a personal injury lawsuit, you might be able to recover medical expenses and lost wages that weren’t covered by your PIP insurance. Additionally, you may make claims concerning future medical expenses and lost wages for permanent disabilities, as well as non-economic costs such as pain and suffering.
The skilled personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group have extensive experience negotiating, settling, and litigating accident cases, including those that involve bicycles. We understand the physical, emotional, and financial stress that sustaining a serious injury brings with it for you and your family. Our experienced team may be able to help. Email us or call us in Clearwater at (727) 451-6900 to schedule a free consultation to discuss the details of your case.
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St. Petersburg, FL 33712