When it comes to bicyclists in Florida, there is a surprising amount of vitriol expressed by motorists who share the road. There is the notion that somehow, cyclists who are injured or killed deserved their fate because they are most often the ones engaging in careless and/or reckless behavior.

bicycle2But a recent in-depth analysis of South Florida crashes over the last five years by the Fort Myers News-Press did not bear this out. In fact, the newspaper uncovered a number of misconceptions about cycling collisions and deaths – some of which may be perpetuating these negative attitudes and driver aggression on the road.

In a piece entitled, “Florida bike crashes: 7 things that may shock you,” reporters compiled a large amount of data with the aim of exploring the “Why?” of these accidents, and also, the “What can we do?”

The seriousness of this problem can’t be understated. Florida had the most bicyclist deaths of anywhere in the country last year – and it’s been that way for a while. Just in 2014, there were 120 bicyclists killed.

Over the last five years, there have been 1,400 bicycle accidents in Lee and Collier Counties. Lee County was No. 3 in the state for the most bicycle deaths. There were eight last year. Another four have been killed so far this year. Additionally, there were dozens more that resulted in serious injury.

What might surprise you is who is responsible. For one thing, it’s not the cyclists. Usually.

Sure, there are a few cases in which the cyclist was impaired or distracted or simply made an error when navigating the roads. However, the reporters learned by-and-large, it was the motorists who erred. Drivers of motor vehicles were more than twice as likely as the cyclist to be in the wrong in a bicycle-vehicle crash. Usually, the offense was failure to yield, although there were a fair number of crashes in which careless driving or running a stop sign was the cited cause.

Another misconception is that snowbirds are to blame. Not so, says The News-Press. The drivers most commonly involved in bicycle accidents in Fort Myers were 20-to-24-year-olds. After that, it was 45-to-49-year-olds.

A big part of the problem is that Florida has some of the worst drivers – and driving laws. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the number of drivers who flee the scene of a crash spiked 50 percent last year in Lee County. In Collier, it was up 41 percent over the course of the last two years. Statewide, hit-and-run collisions have gone up 25 percent.

Beyond that, a January 2015 report from the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety revealed Florida’s laws pertaining to teen drivers, impaired drivers and distracted drivers are sorely lacking in comparison to other states.

We also must grapple with roads that are too wide, speed limits that are too high and infrastructure that isn’t built for the safety of cyclists – or pedestrians, for that matter. This is compounded by the fact that Florida boasts year-round riding weather, which means on any given day – particularly in the winter – you’re going to see more cyclists in Florida than in other states.

Take, for example, the fact that the fine for committing a moving violation resulting in the serious injury or death of a cyclist is a maximum of $1,000. The actual cost can be sometimes as high as $1,700, once court fees and other add-ons are factored in.

But then consider the economic costs to the community. For a single, non-fatal bicycle accident, medical care costs average about $60,000. That doesn’t include lost wages or property damage.

It’s estimated that motor vehicle accidents cost Floridians $12 billion each year.

The worst part: These crashes are preventable. The best part: They are preventable. But it depends on every motorist out there to operate responsibly, focus their attention on the road and respect all others who share it.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Florida bike crashes: 7 things that may shock you, March 6, 2015, By Janine Zeitlin, The News-Press

More Blog Entries:

Crusoe v. Davis – Disputed Claims of Fact in a Car Accident Lawsuit, March 6, 2015, Fort Myers Bicycle Accident Attorney Blog