Florida continues to rank as one of the worst states for bicyclist fatalities in the country. In fact, according to data released earlier this year by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, Florida had the most bicyclist fatalities in 2011, at 125 deaths.

Nationwide, bicyclist deaths account for 2.1 percent of all traffic accident deaths, but in Florida that rate is more than double, with bicyclist deaths accounting for 5.2 percent of all fatalities.

This is the reversal of a trend which saw bicycling deaths dropping in the United States and in Florida from 2000-2009. Bicycling deaths have increased by almost 9% from 2010 to 2011, while pedestrian deaths increased about 3%.

While some experts attribute this to Florida's booming population, there's much more to it than that. Florida also had the most cyclist deaths per million population at 6.56, a disturbing statistic when you consider the #2 state, Oregon, had 3.87 cyclist deaths per million residents.

So what should bicyclists do to avoid becoming one of these unfortunate statistics?

It sounds obvious, but it is worth repeating: helmets save lives. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute finds that 91% of bicyclists killed in 2009 did not have a helmet on at the time of the accident. In Florida only riders under the age of 16 are required to wear a helmet, (Florida Statutes 316.2065(3)(d) (note: parents or guardians may also be cited for violating the juvenile helmet rule)). Both the BHSI and I would like to see this rule apply to all riders; sadly 89% of bicyclist fatalities involve riders aged 16 years or older.

It should be noted, that Subsection 19 of the statute linked also says: “The failure of a person to wear a bicycle helmet or the failure of a parent or guardian to prevent a child from riding a bicycle without a bicycle helmet may not be considered evidence of negligence or contributory negligence.”

This means that a rider is not automatically negligent if he or she is not wearing a helmet. If a driver's actions caused the accident, riders should understand their lack of wearing a helmet will not interfere with their civil claim. Regardless, the fact remains: helmets save lives.

It's also important to know where you can ride, and where you can't.

In Florida, bicyclists are not allowed on limited access highways, such as bridges, unless there are official signs present and there is a marked, designated bicycle lane. You are allowed to ride on the sidewalk, so long as there is not a local ordinance or municipal code section that prohibits it. Likewise, bicyclists have the same rights, and responsibilities, as a pedestrian, but must yield their right of way to the pedestrian. When on the road, bicyclists must adhere to the same traffic laws as drivers of motorcycles.

Consider these additional key laws as well:

  • A bike must have a permanent, attached seat.
  • A bike may not carry more people for which it was designed or equipped.
  • A bike must have brakes that allow the rider to stop within 25 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.
  • A bicyclist must keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times.
  • Use appropriate hand signals to communicate with surrounding traffic at least 100 feet before turning.
  • When riding between sunset and sunrise a bike must have a front lamp with white light (visible for at least 500 ft.) and a reflector on the rear with red light (visible for at least 600 ft.).
  • When riding on a roadway, bicyclists may not ride more than “two abreast” and may not impede traffic.
  • Cyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians and give an audible signal when overtaking and passing a pedestrian on a sidewalk or roadway.
  • A bicyclist may not wear headphones, headsets, or other listening devices while riding, excluding hearing aids and hands-free cell phones.

Enjoy that leisurely Sunday ride. Just please stay safe.