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Altamonte Springs Police Department
Thursday September 16th, 2010 :: 02:59 p.m. EDT


Do Bicycles Belong On The Roadway? See email for full story.

This has been a long and sometimes heated debate between motorists and cyclists throughout the years. What’s important and really matters is what Florida law says.

In Florida a bicycle is legally defined as a vehicle. Therefore bicyclists have the same rights to the roadways as motorists. So there you have it - the bicyclists win the debate right? Well yes and no. Yes they are entitled to space on the roadway but keep in mind a cyclist must obey the same traffic laws as the operators of other vehicles. Laws such as: stopping for stop signs and red lights, riding with the flow of traffic, using lights at night, and yielding the right-of-way when entering a roadway to mention just a few.

Let’s examine the requirement to use lights for just a moment. Most people are aware that a bike must be equipped with a white illuminated light visible from 500 feet to the front between sunset and sunrise. And you may be aware that a bicycle must be equipped with a red reflector on the rear. But did you know that in addition to a reflector a bicycle operated in the dark must also be equipped with a lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible from 600 feet? Florida law also permits and encourages additional lighting such as flashing lights to draw attention to cyclists.

Perhaps the greatest frustration to a motorist is when a cyclist does not ride as far to the right as possible therefore impeding the flow of vehicular traffic. This is surely against the law is it not? Not! Although this may cause frustration to some drivers Florida law specifically states, “A cyclist must ride as far to the right as practicable – it does not say as far to the right as possible. Practicable means capable of being done within the means and circumstances present.” Therefore a cyclist should maintain no less than 2 feet of clearance from the edge of usable pavement to have room to maneuver around obstructions and to be more visible to crossing traffic. Also keep in mind that useable pavement does not include the gutter pan or any area frequently obstructed by debris or other hazards.

Well at this point I would imagine some steam is coming from the ears of those who are not so fond of cyclists on the roadway. Perhaps you thought the law was more on the motorist side. It is clear, the rights of cyclists are protected by Florida Statute. In case you’re not 100% convinced and still have hope that the roadways belong more to vehicles than bicycles you might want to sit down before reading on.

When a lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to share safely, the cyclist is entitled to the use of the entire lane. Within this lane, the cyclist usually rides on the right half to facilitate visibility for overtaking motorists, but Florida law allows the rider to position themselves far enough left to discourage motorists from trying to squeeze past within the lane. For some reading this post you may be experiencing flashbacks of laying on the horn blasting the cyclist out of anger for not getting out of the way. You now realize that not only were you in the wrong for thinking the bike rider was creating an unlawful obstruction but are counting you’re lucky stars that your actions were not witnessed by law enforcement who could have promptly cited you for improper use of the horn!

Ok I said when a lane is too narrow to share safely, what determines if it is too narrow? Again let’s look at what Florida law says. “A cyclist is entitled to the full use of a lane less than 14 ft wide.” As a past Traffic Homicide Investigator I can attest that most roadways in Central Florida have lanes with a standard width of 12 feet or less. Therefore most roads qualify as “narrow” by definition.

Ok avid bicyclists stop jumping up and down for joy and screaming “I knew it, I told you so!” You have to obey certain laws as well.

•Cyclists may not wear a headset, headphone, or other listening device other than a hearing aid when operating a bicycle. Wearing a headset blocks out important audio clues needed to detect the presence of other traffic.
• A bicycle rider must carry any passenger who is a child under 4 years of age, or who weighs 40 pounds or less, in a seat or carrier that is designed to carry a child of that age or size and that secures and protects the child from the moving parts of the bicycle.
• A bicycle rider or passenger who is under 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet, although a helmet is highly recommended for all ages especially when riding alongside moving vehicles.
• When riding on sidewalks or in crosswalks, a bicyclist has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian. A bicyclist riding on sidewalks or in crosswalks must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and must give an audible signal before passing.
• At least one hand must be kept on handlebars when riding.
• No bicycle may be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed or equipped.

As the price of gas continues to rise, the economy continues to struggle, and the fall weather brings in cooler temperatures the amount of cyclists on the roadways will no doubt also increase. As motorists it is imperative to keep our attention focused on the road ahead of us and decrease distractions among us such as cell phone use, programming the GPS, and even changing the radio dial. Remember a good rule of thumb is to look 12 seconds ahead of you to allow sufficient time to react to roadway hazards.

Stay Safe!

Altamonte Springs Police Department
175 Newburyport Ave
Altamonte Springs, FL 32701

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 407-339-2441

Lt Darin Farber
COPS Section

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