Bicyclists in Florida must exercise caution on the road. Riding a bike can be an ideal way to get from Point A to Point B in most areas of the state. However, it’s important to be aware of the fact that Florida consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous states for cyclists. The United States in general also has a high rate of bicycle accidents when compared to most European countries.

There are ways the state and local governments can address the high rate of bicycle accidents in Florida. One is to ensure that motorists fully understand the current laws that have been enacted to protect cyclists.

Dangers to Cyclists

A recent accident highlights the way understanding and obeying the law can easily prevent a driver from causing avoidable harm. Sherry Nowotarski, a 60-year-old mother of two, was riding her bike over Tampa Bay’s Park Boulevard Bridge on October 15 when she ran over a crack in the road. This caused Nowotarski to fall from her bicycle.

A driver heading west on the bridge struck Nowotarski before she was able to get out of harm’s way. Her injuries claimed her life the next day.

Because this is a recent incident, it would be unethical to immediately assign full blame for Nowotarski’s tragic passing to anyone just yet. That said, multiple witnesses have confirmed that it did not appear the driver who struck her had moved over into the other lane to provide Nowotarski and her fellow cyclists with more space.

Apparently, this is despite the fact that the driver had room to do so when approaching them. There may be reason to believe Nowotarksi’s death could have been prevented had the driver moved over a mere six inches.

When Do Cars Have to Move Over for Cyclists in Florida?

Florida law requires drivers to make space for emergency vehicles by moving over into other lanes when possible. Many Florida motorists understand this. However, evidence suggests that a large portion of Florida drivers don’t realize that they now must also make space for cyclists when they can do so safely.

Recent amendments to Florida law require motorists to maintain at least three feet of distance when passing cyclists in the same lane. If a vehicle driver can’t ensure three feet when passing, the driver must stay at a safe distance behind the cyclist until it’s safe to pass.

This applies even when the cyclist is in a designated bike lane. It doesn’t apply when the cyclist is in a protected bike lane, which is a lane completely separated from automobile traffic by a physical barrier.

The law also provides that “no passing” zones do not apply to motorists who briefly cross the center line in order to safely pass a cyclist. 

These amendments were only added in July of 2021. Thus, it’s possible many Floridians are not aware of them. While this doesn’t excuse a driver’s failure to take basic common sense steps to prevent an accident, it does serve as a reminder that agencies throughout the state need to aggressively share information about bicycle safety laws.

Raising Awareness About Sharing the Road

Some have pointed out that Nowotarski’s passing occurred during National Pedestrian Safety Month. This is a time of year when drivers are meant to be reminded that they are not the only ones with a right to use the country’s roads. In many areas, safety of bicyclists and pedestrians is a priority. Sadly, many drivers are slow to adapt to sharing the road. Their carelessness may result in avoidable tragedies like this one.

Informing motorists of the law is one way to help limit accident rates. Another is to ensure victims are aware of their rights. If a bike accident causes a victim serious injury but does not claim their life, they may be able to recover compensation for their medical bills and other such losses. They can often do so by filing a claim or lawsuit against the negligent party who caused their accident.

The main purpose of filing a claim is for a victim to ensure they do not struggle financially because someone else was negligent. That said, when victims file claims and lawsuits, they can send messages to other motorists. Drivers may be more inclined to follow safety laws if they are reminded that not doing so will result in significant consequences.

None of this is meant to downplay the tragic nature of this recent accident, of course. Instead, it’s meant to emphasize that these accidents don’t need to keep happening in Florida.