Too often we read in the news about fatal accidents involving a cyclist in Florida roads. Many people ask about fault and liability in the event of these incidents. Even more riders are concerned about the lack of criminal action taken against negligent or even hostile automobile drivers when a cyclist is injured. Concerns about cyclist safety laws should be raised to your local state legislators. However, consider that it is already “illegal” to hurt or kill someoone with a car. Martin Law Firm aggressively prosecutes civil cases against car drivers who injure or kill cyclists. That being said, we’d rather you be safe and unhurt and not in need of our services. The first step in safety is to fully understand the rules of the road. Below we’ve written out a brief summary of the laws in Florida. This isn’t comprehensive, so we encourage you to educate yourself further.
A Bicycle is a Vehicle
Under Florida law, a bicycle is a vehicle and a bicyclist is a driver. The bicycle riders enjoy the same rights and must obey the same rules as a motor vehicle driver. A big difference is that the unarmoured biker is much more susceptible to injury when an accident occurs. Florida Statute 316.2065 contains the bicycle regulations. Some of the statutes deal with wearing protective gear while others dictate how a bicyclist may travel the roadways. A bicycle rider under the age of sixteen must wear a properly fitted helmet. Proper rules are extremely important since the number of accidents involving bicyclists is very high. A study done by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles looked at the number of bicycle injuries and fatalities that occurred on the highways during a ten year time span. The number of bicycle accident injuries in 2000 was about 4,585 and the number of fatalities in that year was 83. Ten years later, in 2009, the number of injuries stayed almost the same with around 4,376, and the number of fatalities increased to 100.
The Bicyclist is at Risk
A new report by the League of American Bicyclists shows that the majority of bicycle accidents are caused by negligent driving of a motor vehicle. This report was compiled by analyzing bicycle accident fatalities reported in 2012. The study showed that nationwide, 42% of fatal accidents are caused by the negligence of a driver. A staggering 36% involved hit and run cases and 12% involved drunk drivers. In some cases the bicyclists were found negligent also, for example in 23% of fatal crashes the bicyclists were travelling in the wrong direction and 17% of crashes involved bicyclists failing to yield. In order for the driver to be found responsible for any crash they must have acted negligently, and the studies show that driver’s are often responsible for not following the laws or failing to pay attention.
Differences Under the Law for a Bicyclist
Although a bicyclist and a motor vehicle driver abide by some of the same regulations, the law acknowledges the differences between the two modes of transportation. If a bicycle lane exists than the bicyclist must use that lane if they are travelling at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic. If a bicycle lane does not exist, than the bicyclist must stay as far to the right as possible. There are three exceptions to this rule where a bicyclist may deviate from the bike lane or the lane furthest to the right: 1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction 2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway 3) When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition or potential conflict … which makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge or within a bicycle lane. The rule also differs for one way roads with at least two marked lanes. A bicyclist is permitted to travel on the left most portion of such a roadway. If a bicyclist is travelling at least at the same speed as the normal speed of traffic, then the bicyclist may travel in the same lane spaces that automobiles use as long as they are going fast enough. The rules even address how many riders may ride side by side. No more than two bicyclists may ride side by side, and riders must ride single file if riding side by side will impede traffic.
Special Passing Rules
Florida Statute 316.083 governs the passing of a vehicle by another vehicle. Normally a motor vehicle must pass another motor vehicle on the leftmost lane. The Statute establishes a specific rule for passing a bicycle. When passing a bicycle or other non motorized vehicle a driver must pass the bicycle or non motorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than three feet. Turning and when a signal is required before turning are addressed in Florida Statutes 316.155 and 316.157. A turn signal must be used in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement. A signal of an intention to turn must be given for not less than the last 100 feet before the vehicle makes a turn. The signal must be given continuously but a bicyclist using a signal hand need not do so continuously if both hands are needed to operate the bicycle. All in all the rules are designed to provide adequate space and notice when making turns or passing, but it is essential that all drivers follow these to ensure the safety of bicycle drivers as well as motor vehicle drivers.
When a lawsuit is brought sometimes the issues of liability are clear, and one party is found completely at fault for the accident. For example, in one case a bicyclist had gotten of his bicycle and was walking it across the street, a motorist didn’t see the cyclist and hit them in the middle of the street. In that case the motorist was found completely at fault based on negligence. Another case where the driver was found completely at fault involved a situation where the motorist was pulling forward out of a driveway and hit an oncoming cyclist who was traveling down the sidewalk. The driver was found at fault for failing to yield.
Failure to Yield
Cases where the driver fails to yield are quite common because the motorists often times believe they are faster than the bicyclist and thus can complete a maneuver before the bicyclist come close. In other cases, it is not clear who should be held responsible for an accident. For example one case involved a twenty-two foot long box truck existing a service station, and a bicyclist ran into the side of the truck. At first the court held completely in favor of the truck, but the bicyclist appealed the judgment and the court stated a jury should apportion liability holding each party partially responsible. In that case the cyclist was riding on the sidewalk when the truck pulled out onto the sidewalk before being able to pull onto the highway. The truck driver stated he could not see the bicyclist coming, and the bicyclist somehow failed to stop before running into the truck. In such a case the jury apportions liability because the bicyclist was negligent for failure to pay attention and the truck driver was negligent possibly for pulling onto the sidewalk and obstructing it as well as not paying attention.
You must understand that a bicyclist operates at a much heightened risk compared to the operator of a car. Even if, as a bicyclist, you follow all the rules, you can still get hurt. While this firm will aggressively pursue a case against anyone who injuries a cyclist, no amount of money will bring you back to full health after even a minor cycling accident. Ride safe and be careful!