Let's End the Confusion About Bikes and Traffic

Let's End the Confusion About Bikes and Traffic

Part of our firm’s practices is representing people who suffer injuries as pedestrians or bicycle riders. We see a large number of preventable accidents in these cases. Unfortunately, many people make tragic mistakes because they don’t understand the rights and responsibilities of bike riders and drivers. Here are a few common misconceptions:

Bicycle riders using a road must ride on or outside the white lane at the edge of the road. Actually, the area on or outside the white lane isn’t considered part of the roadway at all. This area is actually the shoulder. Bike riders are required to ride as close to the right side of the road as practical (more on that below), but they aren’t required to ride on the white line or the shoulder itself.

Many bike riders will use the shoulder when it’s wide enough. However, on many roads the shoulder is too narrow to be used safely. Other shoulders are unfit for use because they contain ruts, holes, or debris, or because they slope down too sharply. It would be dangerous for people on bikes to try to ride on those types of shoulders, and our traffic rules don’t require them to try.

Bicycles must always stick to the right side of the road. It’s true that bike riders are required to stay to the right as much as is practical. What many people don’t realize is that this general rule is subject to a large number of exceptions. Bike riders may use other parts of the road for many reasons, such as when they are making a left turn, overtaking another bike, or using a one-way street.

Perhaps the most critical exception is that bikes don’t need to hug the right side “when reasonably necessary to avoid any condition.” Under the law, “condition” can mean many things, including surface hazards such as broken glass, sand, or debris; animals (either alive or road kill); parked or moving vehicles; or fixed or moving objects. There are a lot of conditions on Florida’s roads, and bikes can be forced into the road by surface hazards motorists don’t even see.

Bikes also don’t have to stay to the right when they are in a “sub-standard width lane.” A sub-standard width lane is any lane which is too narrow for a bike and another vehicle to travel safely side-by-side. In other words, when the road’s too narrow, a bicyclist isn’t required to move to the right and allow a car to try and make a tight pass. Motorists are supposed to give bikes three feet of clearance when passing. If that’s not possible, a person on a bike isn’t required to put themselves in danger of being clipped to accommodate a motorist.

Bicycle riders don’t have to follow traffic laws. Motorists aren’t the only ones who don’t understand or follow the rules. Some people on bikes run stop signs, or cross intersections against red lights. Others ride at night without lights on their bikes. Bikes aren’t immune from traffic rules, and these types of violations can get you a ticket just as surely as things you do in a car.

Ultimately, motorists need to change their thinking about bikes. Bikes aren’t annoyances which interfere with traffic. They are traffic. For their part, people on bikes need to understand that the privilege of being in traffic carries the responsibility to follow traffic rules. In the long run, everyone needs to do their part to make our roads safer.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a preventable traffic crash, contact Roman & Gaynor to discuss your rights and what we can do to help.

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