Bicycling down the street on a balmy spring day is fun. It’s energy efficient, and it’s good exercise. Your bicycle may even be your primary means of transportation.
But unless you follow the rules for safe bicycling, a simple ride through the neighborhood can become dangerous. Motorists don’t always like to share the road with cyclists, and they may not know how to do it safely. Many drivers don’t understand that bicycles have as much right to use the road as cars and trucks do.
And that, unfortunately, leads to accidents. There were 6,425 bicycle crashes in Florida in 2012, with 116 cyclists killed and 6,058 injured, according to state statistics.
Cyclists can protect themselves by knowing the traffic rules, understanding safe biking behavior and making sure that they are both visible and predictable.
Here are five tips for bicyclists from the Florida Bicycle Association:
- Be visible. Florida bicycling laws require cyclists riding between sunset and sunrise to have a front headlamp that’s visible from 500 feet in front of the bike and a red reflector and red light on the rear that is visible from 600 feet behind the bike. Additional lights, reflectors and reflective clothing are allowed, and they can help make it easier for motorists to see bicycles on the road.
- Ride with the flow of traffic and in the proper lane position. Florida law requires cyclists who are traveling at a slower speed than the rest of traffic to ride in a designated bike lane or as close as practical to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. The Florida Bicycle Association cautions riders that this does not mean they should ride along the very edge of the road. In fact, the edge of the road can be dangerous because that’s where debris and other hazards tend to be. On roads that are too narrow to accommodate a car and a bicycle side by side, cyclists are entitled to full use of the lane. Riding a few feet away from the right-hand edge discourages drivers from trying to squeeze past a bicycle without changing lanes and helps cyclists avoid hazards at the edge of the roadway.
- At intersections, ride in the lane you’d use if you were in a car. That means making left turns from the left turn lane and moving out of the right lane if it is for right turns only and you’re going straight. The bicycle association warns that crosswalks are the worst places to bike across busy intersections.
- Obey traffic laws. In Florida, bicyclists have the same rights as motorists and are legally required to obey all traffic signs and signals. When cyclists follow the rules of the road, they make their behavior more predictable for motorists, reducing the chance of an accident. Cyclists should use hand signals to let motorists know when they plan to make a turn. Signal in the last 100 feet before the turn, but don’t signal continuously if it’s safer to keep both hands on the handlebars.
- Don’t wear headphones. Listening to music while riding is fun, but it’s actually illegal in Florida for a cyclist to wear a headset, headphones or any kind of listening device other than a hearing aid. Headphones can prevent a rider from hearing important audio cues of an approaching car that would help avoid an accident.