Around Northeast Florida, numerous beautiful bicycle trails beckon to cyclists. From the sandy shores around Little Talbot Island State Park to the 15-mile-long Jacksonville Baldwin Rail Trail, residents and tourists alike have a myriad of bike-riding options. Visit Jacksonville lists half a dozen great trails to ride.
But, what happens when a bike ride turns deadly? Cyclists must beware that riding around motor vehicles exposes them to serious risk. In 2017, there were 783 bicyclists killed in crashes involving a motor vehicle according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Florida ranks as one of the most dangerous states. In 2018, there were 6,575 bicycle crashes that resulted in 149 deaths.
In one recent crash, a cyclist was killed even though the driver was not under the influence of alcohol. Indeed, when a Gainesville man died in a bike crash in 2017, it was found that he was riding on one of the four most dangerous roads not only in his city but in the whole state of Florida. What caused such a crash? What could prevent such a tragedy? Is there legal help for a victim of a bicycle crash?
Dangerous Conditions for Bicyclists in Florida
Drivers in Florida face numerous potential distractions. Bad weather, traffic congestion, and poor road conditions can all make drivers distracted. Distracted drivers have difficulty driving safely around cyclists.
The Florida Department of Transportation classified three types of driver distractions: (1) visual – taking your eyes off the road, (2) manual – taking your hands off the wheel, and (3) cognitive – thinking about anything other than driving. While there are many potential distractions, texting includes all three, making it likely the most dangerous distraction for drivers, aside from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In 2019, Florida Statute 316.306 was made into law which made it illegal to use a cell phone while driving through a school zone or an active construction zone. While this may help address the distracted driving issue in some areas, there are still plenty of distractions making the roads dangerous for cyclists. In fact, FDOT recorded more than 2,600 distracted driving crashes in Duval County in just one year. With all of these potential dangers for cyclists, precautions must be taken when riding around motor vehicles.
How can bicyclists protect themselves against the dangers of shared roadways?
One study on bicycle injuries and fatalities found that while about half of the crashes were caused by motorists, bicyclists’ mistakes often proved deadly. According to AAA, there are some top safety tips for safer cycling:
- Wear a helmet. While most of us balk at this basic rule, helmets save heads. This one safety precaution reduces the risk of serious injury by about 85%. Helmets do the best job protecting cyclists from injury, according to Florida experts.
- Stay alert. Don’t stay looking at the ground, but practice constant scanning. Could a vehicle be coming around that curve?
- Go with the flow. Don’t ride opposite the flow of traffic. Not only does this put you at greater safety risk, it’s illegal and can earn you a ticket.
- Avoid Rush Hour. Certain intersections at peak traffic hours pose a significantly greater risk to cyclists. If possible, plan a biking route that avoids the AM and PM peak hours (in most cases 7:00-9:00AM and 4:00-6:00PM), and large intersections.
- Be Seen. If possible, avoid biking at night. Even during the day purchasing a cycling light that pulses increases visibility for drivers. According to studies, nighttime crashes result in more fatalities than crashes in the daytime.
How can bicyclists avoid colliding with a vehicle?
While there are no guarantees, AAA does recommend numerous safe choices for cyclists to reduce the risk of bicycle and motor vehicle collisions. For cyclists, here are five do’s and don’ts for making safer choices:
- Take out the headphones. We love listening to some good music while enjoying the outdoors, but headphones drown out other noises. This prevents us from remaining alert to potential dangers, like a vehicle bearing down on us.
- Keep Hands and Feet on the bike. Remember those cool tricks you pulled when you were 10? Don’t pull those tricks around cars and trucks. Keep your hands and your feet on the handlebars and pedals. Then you are ready to react to a potential hazard.
- Wear reflective material. Certain clothing and material is high visibility or even retro-reflective because it is bright-colored and can reflect light. A quick look at Amazon for a Hi-Viz running vest will show many options to stay visible while cycling around vehicles.
- Don’t Ignore Stop Signs. Pausing and looking left and right may be the moment that keeps you from colliding with a passing vehicle. Don’t assume you can coast through a stop sign, or that vehicles will yield the right-of-way. Stop. Look. Then merge into the flow of traffic. One study found that the biggest mistake cyclists made was failure to yield to motorists.
- Avoid High Speed, Narrow Roads. Riding on a rural road may be beautiful, but if there is not sufficient shoulder room to ride without impeding vehicle traffic, you are putting yourself at serious risk. Further, when the speed limit exceeds 35 mph, it takes much longer for a driver to perceive and react in time before colliding with a cyclist. When a vehicle is moving at 50 mph it takes almost 270 feet to stop (that’s close to a whole football field in length). So, cyclists should try to avoid the higher speed roads as drivers may not be able to stop before colliding with cyclists.
What if I am in a bicycle accident?
If you are in a bicycle accident, you will face a mound of emotional, physical, and social pressures. You will likely need the help of an experienced Florida bicycle accident attorney to help you navigate the confusing legal waters. Farah and Farah has a long-standing history of helping cyclists after accidents. As Jacksonville’s bicycle accident lawyers, they provide free, confidential consultation to get the best bicycle accident claim possible. Whether it was a crash with a car or truck, or a defect in the bike itself that led to the injury, having a bike accident attorney helps cyclists be able to focus on recovery. Contact our experienced team however is most convenient for you anytime, day or night.