Bicycling is a popular sport in Florida, particularly in coastal areas such as St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and our local beach communities, where the weather is mild year-round, and the scenery is good. Tourists and locals alike enjoy bicycling in Florida because not only is it fun, it provides a cardiovascular-intensive workout, and people of all ages can do it.
Florida also already has a high population density, particularly in areas of Pinellas County and Hillsborough County. Bicyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (78%) compared to rural areas (22%) in 2019. With more people on the road – bicyclists have a higher likelihood of getting hit in Florida.
Why Are There So Many Bicycle Accidents in Florida?
There are many reasons bicycle accidents can occur, and sadly, Florida leads the nation in bicycle fatalities! Generally, bicycle injuries can be some of the worst accident injuries. The latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 783 pedal cyclists were killed in the U.S. in 2017; 125 (16%) were in Florida.
Bicycling accidents can also be some of the most deadly and serious accidents. Deaths among Florida bicyclists age 20 and older have tripled since 1975, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration. Therefore, it is very important for vehicle drivers and bicyclists alike to be familiar with the State Laws in Florida to ensure they are doing all they can to avoid an accident.
Cyclists and motorists each share responsibility to follow state laws with respect to sharing the road. But obviously if there is an accident, the bicyclist is the one that is more vulnerable, less protected, and usually ends up with worse injuries. If you are going to go bike riding in Florida, make sure you are familiar with the common causes of bicycle accidents to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe!
Negligent Behavior by the Drivers of Cars and Trucks
Some of the most common reasons bicycle accidents occur include negligent behavior from vehicle drivers, distracted driving, impaired driving, doorings and poorly built roadways. Many of the same reasons bicycle crashes occur are the same as motorcycle crashes. In fact, in Florida, the bicycle is legally defined as a vehicle and has all of the privileges, rights, and responsibilities on public roads (except for expressways) that a motor vehicle operator does.
However, bicyclists in Florida are permitted to use sidewalks and permitted travel with or against traffic while using sidewalks. New drivers such as teens, elderly drivers and aggressive drivers are often the cause of accidents with bicyclists that could be avoided by following state laws. In the event of an accident, be sure you know what to do.
Failure to Yield
Negligent behavior from a vehicle driver can include many consist of many different actions, a combination of multiple actions or a failure to perform some action. Those actions include failure to yield, careless driving, running an intersection, swerving into a bicyclist and turning. Yielding means slowing down and giving other vehicles or bicyclists crossing your path, the right of way.
When making turns, if the way is clear, you may move forward slowly without stopping. If you see a “Begin Right Turn” sign when entering a right turn lane, you may encounter a bicyclist traveling across from you and must yield to the bicyclist. Florida traffic laws also require you to yield to bicyclists when crossing a bike lane or crossing.
For bicyclists, using hand signals is important when making turns to alert drivers when changing lanes or overtaking a vehicle. Hand signals help alert drivers who may otherwise fail to acknowledge that a bicyclist is changing directions. When exiting a side street, driveway or a parking lot that crosses a sidewalk remember bicyclists already traveling on the sidewalk have the right of way over the car exiting driveway or business.
Careless driving can include many types of driving, such as running an intersection or swerving. Sharing the road with bicyclists is vital for everyone’s safety and to avoid a bike crash. However, drivers can still be charged with carelessly driving if for example, the driver moves into the other vehicle lane to avoid a bicyclist and hits a vehicle in that lane.
Wearing reflective gear as a bicyclist can also help prevent bike crashes. While reflective clothing and gear may not prevent careless driving, it can help avoid being “invisible” to drivers. Wearing neon or fluorescent colors is recommended when riding especially at dusk or nighttime. However, it is important to note that bright colors alone have been found to be ineffective at night.
Running an intersection or stop sign is another way that careless driving can occur and result in injuries to a bicyclist. It is always dangerous to fail to follow traffic signs and accidents often occur at intersections due to someone trying to speed though a light or go before someone else at a four way stop.
Getting somewhere a minute or two sooner simply isn’t worth an accident. Unlawful speed and careless driving is listed as one of the top citations for teen drivers ages 15-19 years old. Failure to observe a stop sign is listed as the #7 reason for citations among those same aged drivers.
No matter your age, remembering to maintain a safe speed, including fully stopping at stop signs and following traffic signals at intersections can avoid a catastrophic collision with a bicyclist or other vehicle. Remember to always check the sidewalks when stopped at an intersection because the bicyclists will have the right of way to cross in front of vehicles stopped at traffic control devices.
Bicycle Accident Caused by Car Swerving or Turning into Bicyclist
Finally, swerving or turning into a bicyclist is also a frequent cause of bicyclist accidents. This can be coupled with making sure to follow traffic signals, lights and other roadway markings when turning. For example, when stopping at a stop sign or red light there are white stop lines on the road way.
You should be sure to stop your vehicle before any part of it crosses the white line of the crosswalk to avoid any pedestrians or bicyclists crossing on the crosswalk. This is essential to remember even when making a right turn which can result in a turn in front of an oncoming bicycle and result in a collision.
Maintaining a safe distance can also help avoid bicyclist accidents. Many roads have definite bicycle lanes with pavement markings that show the specific lanes just for bicyclists. Unfortunately, many roadways do not have specific bicycle lanes and some may be shared use lanes.
Shared use lanes are marked with “sharrows” which alert drivers that bicyclists may use the entire lane. Shared lane markings can reinforce the legitimacy of bicycle traffic on the street. Vehicle drivers may negligently disregard these lanes which can cause an accident.
Distracted Driving and Bicycle Accidents
Distracted driving is another top cause of bicycle crashes in Florida. Not surprisingly, distracted driving is a risky behavior that puts you as well as bicyclists sharing the road in danger. Paying attention while driving is key to prevent careless driving. This includes paying attention to all other vehicles, and your surroundings, not just bicyclists. Being too tired, talking on your cell phone, reaching for something in the vehicle, eating and drinking can all lead to distracted driving.
It may be surprising to learn that many accidents also occur in parking lots. Distracted driving often occurs when a driver is getting situated within a vehicle before pulling into a major roadway while within a parking lot. Bicyclists are also in parking lots frequently as they are off of the main roadways and may be stopped or taking a break from their ride. Collisions with a bicycle, even in a parking lot, traveling at a low speed can be serious. It is important to remain aware of your surroundings even in parking lots when traveling at low rates of speed for both bicyclists and vehicle drivers.
As evidenced, distracted driving frequently results in accidents with bicyclists. However, bicyclists must also do their part to protect their safety as well and remain vigilant against distracted drivers. It can be just as dangerous to ride a bike while distracted. This includes not texting while biking, wearing headphones or ear buds so that you can hear your surroundings while biking. Limiting distractions while biking is crucial for a bicyclist’s safety and keeping your eyes on the road and your surroundings will help you do that.
Drunk Drivers Cause Bicycle Accidents
Drunk drivers are a major cause of accidents. The issue of impaired drivers causes even more issues when also sharing narrow roads along our beaches in Pinellas County. Beach towns with narrow roads and lots of bikes sharing those roads include Redington Shores, Indian Rocks, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. These areas have high populations of locals who enjoy bike riding and tourists that rent bikes locally when they visit. Gulf Boulevard is one of the more dangerous streets nationwide for bicyclists and pedestrians alike with the convergence of local bars and bicyclists and pedestrians.
People may forget that driving an automobile a responsibility. Impaired driving is another common cause of bicycle accidents in Florida. Never drink alcohol and drive be it on a bicycle or a vehicle. Even one drink can affect your driving and slow your reflexes. The penalties in Florida for drinking and driving are serious and you CAN get a DUI for riding your bike while intoxicated.
Similarly, in 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. Before drinking always designate a sober driver and if you are the designated driver do NOT drink. Alcohol is not the only drug that can affect the ability to drive. Illegal drugs and controlled substances similarly can affect judgement and reflexes which make driving dangerous. In sum, impaired driving leads to a higher likelihood of an accident. Your safety is not worth the risk.
What is a “Dooring”?
Doorings are a lesser known common cause of bicycle accidents. Doorings happen when opening a car or vehicle door while a bicyclist is traveling and hitting the bicyclist or causing a fall off the bicycle when the bicyclist unavoidably runs into the door. This often occurs when getting out of a vehicle that is parked. Therefore, it is important to look before opening a car door and check for any bicyclists who may be approaching. Unfortunately, the failure to look before opening a car door can cause serious bicycle accidents especially if they are traveling at a high rate of speed and unable to stop. A bicyclist can be thrown both from the bike and over the handlebars due to the unexpectedness of a dooring.
Florida Statute 316.2005 states:
No person shall open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers. A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.
Yielding to bicyclists, as with any pedestrian is a vital rule to remember even when a vehicle is stopped. Failure to open a vehicle door when it is safe can result in serious injuries to a bicyclist and is a cause of negligence.
Potholes, Cracks in the Pavement and Other Poorly Built Roadway Issues
Poorly built roadways a huge issue and cause for bicyclist accidents. Potholes, gravel roads and debris covered roads are common roadway issues that cause bicycle accidents. Conditions also include narrow roads, sharp roads, or a lack of traffic signals which may make it harder to avoid an accident. Sometimes it can be complicated to determine what happened if a poorly built roadway caused your accident. This is why hiring an experienced attorney like Jones Law Group is important. We can help prove, through investigation and gathering evidence if a poorly built roadway, pothole, gravel road or debris caused your bicycle accident.
Poor road conditions often can result in fatal accidents. When conditions are wet, icy or there is bad weather, bicyclists and vehicle drivers should particularly be on guard and travel slowly. Bicycle accidents are more likely to occur in poor weather conditions especially if drivers are unable to see. Wet road conditions increase breaking and stopping distance so staying further away from bicyclists helps to avoid collisions. Hydroplaning can also occur when traveling too quickly during poor weather or wet road conditions which can cause accidents. Even breaking becomes more difficult after driving in heavy rain as breaks often will also become wet and fail to hold properly.
Ensuring you are taking precautions and defensive driving when there are poor weather or roadway conditions helps reduce bicyclist accidents. Defensive driving tactics include being actively looking out for possible dangers and anticipating what other travelers may do – this includes bicyclists.
Bicycling in Florida is only going to increase in the future as people are moving to Florida now more than ever. Florida is constantly improving its network of paved biking trails and connections to continue to improve bicycle infrastructure and safety. Bicycling is also being promoted in the future to save energy and achieve better health benefits. It is important for anyone living or visiting Florida to understand the rules of the road when it comes to bicyclists. Not knowing these state laws and rules can have deadly consequences for bicyclists. Avoiding distracted or impaired driving, doorings and poorly built roadways are some of the ways in which bike crashes can be avoided. It’s impossible to always prevent an accident. But these are some important safety reminders that can decrease the likelihood of one occurring.
If You Have Been Involved in a Bicycle Accident
At Jones Law Group, we regularly deal with bicyclist crashes. If you or someone you know has been injured in a bicyclist accident or crash anywhere in Florida, we can help. Hiring an experienced bicyclist attorney may be critical to the success of the case. Our years of experiences will be invaluable to a bicycle case. Contact us please contact us online or at 727-571-1333 anytime you or someone you know has been in a bicycle crash.
For more on Florida’s bike laws and how to stay safe visit https://www.flhsmv.gov/safety-center/driving-safety/share-the-road/. And always remember to #Sharetheroad.