Due to Florida’s beautiful weather, it is theoretically a great place to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, it has been largely designed for automobiles. In 2011, although Florida represented 6% of the U.S. population, it accounted for 17.4% of all bicycle fatalities across the nation. While some initiatives have been taken to make Florida, and Sarasota in particular, more bicycle-friendly, many still have questions about what rights and responsibilities bicyclists have when travelling the same roads as cars.
- Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers.
Florida Statute Title XXIII, Chapter 316.2065 states that “Every person propelling a vehicle by human power has all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle.” While many automobile operators often feel that bicyclists should get out of their way, under the law, bicyclists have the same rights to travel roads as drivers do. Of course, this also means that bicyclists have the same responsibilities, including stopping at stop signs, signaling turns, and moving with the flow of traffic.
- Bicyclists should be on the right side of the right lane.|When available, bicyclists should use marked bicycle lanes. Unfortunately, not all roads are equipped with these features. In this case, the law says bicyclists should ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” There are a few exceptions, such as when passing another bicycle, when preparing for a left turn, or when avoiding a conflict with another object.
- Sidewalks are an option.
According to the Florida statute, “a person propelling a vehicle by human power upon and along a sidewalk, or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, has all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian.” Basically, wherever you ride your bicycle, you’ve got to consider the other people sharing that space. If you’re riding on a sidewalk, yield to pedestrians, and if you have to pass a pedestrian, to avoid scaring them to death, it’s a good idea to let them know you’re passing with an audible signal, be it a honk, bell, whistle, or “on your right!” if you’re passing on their right.
- Sidewalks can also be dangerous.
While riding on a sidewalk can get you out of the roadway, it can also make you less visible to drivers. This means, you may be more subject to getting hooked by a car making a right-hand turn or one coming out of a driveway. If you’re riding on the sidewalk, although you have wheels, consider yourself a pedestrian and take precautions.
- Light it up.
Florida law requires bicycles ridden between sunset and sunrise to “be equipped with a lamp on the front exhibiting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and a lamp and reflector on the rear each exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of 600 feet to the rear.” To cut down on bicyclists having to replace batteries so often, in 2012, the law was changed to allow for blinking lights.
- Only bicyclists under the age of 16 need to wear a helmet.
While it is not against the law for motorcyclists or bicyclists to wear a helmet, considering the statistics of bicycle fatalities in Florida, it’s still a really good idea to wear one.
The Florida Department of Transportation is working in collaboration with Smart Growth America on the “Complete Streets Implementation Plan” which is designed to “implement policies and professional practices that will ensure streets are safe for all ages and abilities and balance the needs of different modes of travel (including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and freight handlers).” In the meantime, although Florida is a beautiful place to ride a bicycle for most of the year, it can also be quite dangerous. Ride aware, and ride safely.