Nearly every year I write more or less the same article, but I believe it is the most important one of them all. It’s about bicycle safety and knowledge.
Safety goes for both motorists and bicyclists as we need to be aware of our surroundings; we need to watch for both vehicles and other bicycles; we must think ahead at times and even possibly anticipate what the other person may be doing. Whether it be a motorist or another bicyclist, safety for ourselves and others should always be on your mind. Be courteous as well!
We also need to be knowledgeable about the laws of bicycling. For one, they keep us SAFE. These laws are made to protect us to a certain extent, and they are pretty cut and dry; there really is no grey area.
I am not going to try not to completely bore you with all the codes, sections and articles that have been written in accordance with bicycle laws. I will, however, highlight some important safety rules and some basic laws that apply to bicycle safety. I feel this is important because the roads are getting busier and busier, and there seems to be a lot more bicyclists and pedestrians out there enjoying our great weather, new bike lanes and multi-use pathways.
First, I’ll get the basic laws out of the way:
1. In the State of Florida, bicycles are considered vehicles when they are in the roadway. They must travel in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic and obey all traffic rules. That said, bicycles can also ride on sidewalks in either direction. (However, it is safer to ride in the direction of traffic, since drivers do not expect cyclists to come from the other direction at driveways and crosswalks. Crash risk is three to four times as great for sidewalk riders who ride facing roadway traffic as for sidewalk riders who ride in the direction of traffic.) It also the responsibility of the bicyclist to yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and to give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian, a bell or horn usually works best.
2. LIGHTS!!! By law all bicycles must have lights when operating between sunset and sunrise. It’s a good thing to see as well as be seen.
3. Helmets: It’s a law for bicyclists 16 years of age and under to wear a helmet. Nowadays, I suggest everyone wear a helmet. Today’s helmets are so light weight and come with many vents that it doesn’t even feel like you’re wearing a helmet. After all, let’s be honest… your head is important. The average careful bike rider may still crash about every 4,500 miles. Head injuries cause 75 percent of our 700 annual bicycle deaths. Medical research shows that bike helmets can prevent 85 percent of cyclists’ head injuries.
4. Headsets are not to be worn; it’s that plain and simple. Want to listen to music? There are a lot of handlebar mount bags and smart phone mounts on the market which will let you listen to all the music you want and be safe while doing it.
5. Another law, and also a nice gesture for motorists and fellow bicyclists, is using hand signals for making turns, stopping or even slowing down.
A basic review and some other safety features that may help in your safe riding experience are the following:
1. Mirrors: a handlebar, eyeglass or helmet-mounted mirror is nice to see traffic or other riders who may be approaching from behind.
2. Some sort of bell or horn to alert other riders and/or pedestrians you are approaching.
3. Always lock your bike; it’s just keeping the honest person honest.
4. LIGHTS are required when riding at night. No exception!!
5. Helmets are required for those 16 and under, but SMART for all!
6. When in the roadway ride with traffic NOT against it.
7. Check your bicycle prior to each ride.
8. Use hand signals for making turns, stopping or even slowing down.
9. DO NOT wear headphones.
Also, a special note to motorists… Please keep in mind the “THREE FOOT RULE.” As a motor vehicle driver you must pass a bicyclist and any other non-motorized vehicle with a minimum of three feet of distance. Let’s all the SHARE THE ROADS, there’s certainly enough of them out there.
Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.