By Matt Walthor
Last year I wrote an in depth article on bicycle safety and bicycle laws and, as a bicyclist, how we must follow them, not only for our own safety but for the safety of others as well. In my years of cycling I have seen a lot of people who don’t follow the laws, and I have ridden with a lot of them who ignore the rules. It is very important as a bicyclist to earn the same rights and share the same roadways with pedestrians and motor vehicles. We do that by following the rules of the road and sometimes going out of our way to demonstrate safe and courteous biking to others.
So, I am not going to completely bore you with all the codes, sections and articles that have been written in accordance with bicycle laws. I will simply 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 seem to be a lot more bicyclists and pedestrians out there enjoying our great weather, new bike lanes and multi use pathways.
I will get the basic laws out of the way:
• In the State of Florida, bicycles are considered vehicles when they are in the roadway and they must travel in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic and obey all traffic rules. 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 3 to 4 times as great for sidewalk riders who ride facing roadway traffic as for sidewalk riders who ride in the direction of traffic.) It is 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.
• 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.
• Helmets: It’s alaw for bicyclists 16 years of age and under, but nowadays
I suggest everyone wear a helmet. Today’s helmets are so lightweight and come with many vents. At times it does not even feel like you’re wearing a helmet and 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% of our 700 annual bicycle deaths. Medical research shows that bike helmets can prevent 85% of cyclists’ head injuries.
• 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 that will enable you to listen to all the music you want and be safe doing it.
• Another law, and also a nice gesture for motorists and fellow bicyclists, is using hand signals for making turns or stopping or even slowing down.
A quick review and a few more safety features that may help in your safe riding experience:
• Mirrors- a handlebar, eyeglass or helmet-mounted mirror is an important aid to see traffic and other riders who may be approaching from behind.
• Use some sort of bell or horn to alert other riders and/or pedestrians you are approaching.
• Always lock your bike. It’s just keeping the honest person honest.
• LIGHTS are required when riding at night, no exception!!
• Helmets are required for those 16 and under, but SMART for all!
• When in the roadway, ride with traffic, NOT against it.
• Check your bicycle prior to each ride.
• Use hand signals for making turns or stopping, even slowing down.
• 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 three feet of distance. Let’s all SHARE THE ROADS. There is enough room for all of us 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.