Whether due to the economy, fitness goals, or the desire to reduce carbon emissions, more and more cyclists are taking to the road in Tampa Bay. Yet sadly, our area has the worst record in the country for cycling-related injuries and deaths. In 2008 alone, 107 cyclists were killed in Florida roadway accidents, while in 2010, 4,610 Florida cyclists suffered non-fatal injuries.
We could avoid being the most dangerous state in the country for cyclists if we all — motorists and cyclists alike — simply follow Florida traffic laws. To do so, of course, we must all be aware of Florida law on sharing the road. But not all motorists and cyclists know their respective rights and responsibilities.
For example, I was recently driving down Clearwater-Largo Road when I witnessed an SUV with four young men yelling at a cyclist to get off the road. The cyclist, who was lawfully riding on the right side of the right lane, did his best to ignore his harassers. At the next traffic light, I politely reminded these young men that the cyclist was riding lawfully, to which one of them insisted, “No, ma’am, there’s no bike lane on this road! He can only ride on roads with bike lanes!” He seemed sincere in his belief, but he was dead wrong.
Florida law classifies a bicycle as a vehicle, with the same rights and responsibilities to follow traffic laws as motor vehicles. For motorists, perhaps the most important — and least-understood — law is that when overtaking cyclists, you must give them at least three feet of space, even if that means moving into the next lane. If you cannot give cyclists the required space, then you must drive behind them at a safe distance until you can pass them. You might find it frustrating, even infuriating, that the cyclist in front of you prevents you from driving the speed limit, but restrain the temptation to express road rage or tailgate the bicycle, and don’t pass the cyclist until you can do so at the legally-mandated distance. If you don’t, you might find yourself facing a traffic ticket, or worse —an accident that will haunt your conscience for the rest of your life.
Cyclists, of course, must also follow the rules of the road as well as laws specific to bicycles. For example, cyclists must ride in the right half of the roadway and ensure that their bikes are equipped with proper working brakes as well as headlights and reflectors if riding after dark. Riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet (helmets are recommended for all riders, as head injuries are the top cause of cyclist-related deaths), and riders must have at least one hand on the handle bars at all time. Cyclists must also yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give pedestrians an audible warning (like “passing on the right!”) if they are about to overtake them. Cyclists are permitted to ride on sidewalks (unless local ordinances prohibit it), but must always yield to pedestrians.
For a full explanation of the traffic laws involving cyclists and motorists, visit the Florida Department of Transportation