Recently, The News-Press launched a series on bicycle safety in Southwest Florida, analyzing five years’ worth of crashes and examining what needs to be done differently. Reporter Janine Zeitlin even penned an opinion piece detailing why she no longer rides her bicycle on public roads in Southwest Florida, despite enjoying the activity. (The reason: She doesn’t feel safe.)
The precursor to the larger series looked at “7 Things That May Shock You” about bicycle accidents in Southwest Florida. The research destroys the misconceptions many have about why these crashes occur, and why they’re so deadly.
Last year, Florida was No. 1 in the nation for bicycle fatalities, tallying 120 total deaths in 2014. There are many reasons for that, including the fact Florida is filled with wide roadways that have high speed limits. We have yearlong riding weather, which means more cyclists are out on any given day than might be in northern states. We also don’t have the kind of safety infrastructure that supports cycling, and the criminal penalties for mowing over a cyclist are relatively low.
That’s part of the reason the Florida Department of Transportation has made this a top priority.
The recent newspaper analysis discovered there have been 1,400 crashes involving bicycles in Lee and Collier counties in the last five years. In looking for the “Why?” and “What can be done?” researchers were surprised by some of what they found.
The first is that Lee County ranks No. 3 in terms of bicycle fatalities statewide in 2014. Eight cyclists lost their lives here that year. Compare that to Iowa, where there were four cyclist deaths in the entire state that year.
When deaths per 100,000 population was factored in, Lee County’s rate was 11th – which was still double that of Miami.
The second point noted is that snowbirds aren’t primarily to blame for crashes. There is a common misconception that it’s the 91-year-old driving a boat-sized Buick who is responsible for cyclist deaths. More than likely, though, the at-fault driver is probably between the ages of 20 and 49. The most common offender was between the ages of 20 and 24, while the next highest was between the ages of 45 to 49.
The third point of note is bicyclists who run red lights aren’t most often to blame. There are lots of drivers who blame cyclists for being reckless, careless or somehow deserving of being hit. However, what The News-Press discovered was that motorists were more than twice as likely to be the cause of the crash, and in most cases, it was because they failed to yield. Other common causes were careless driving and running stop signs.
Fourthly, Florida has some of the worst drivers in the country. This is a fact. Hit-and-run crashes have spiked by 50 percent in Lee County over the course of the last two years. In Collier County, it’s up more than 40 percent. Statewide, drivers flee in one-fourth of all crashes. There is also has weak laws pertaining to distracted driving, impaired driving and teen driver safety.
Fifthly, it wasn’t pick-up truck bullies behind most of the crashes. Anecdotally, it seemed they were responsible for a large number of crashes. But in fact, trucks were only responsible for 74 recent bike crashes in Lee, compared to 384 involving cars. SUV drivers were involved in 72 crashes, van drivers 47 and other vehicles 16.
The sixth point is the penalties for a driver who injures or kills a cyclist are low. The maximum fine for a moving violation resulting in death is $1,000. Other court costs and fees could be imposed too. Often, no criminal charges are filed. A bill that would increase the fine for injuring a vulnerable road user (i.e., pedestrian or cyclist) to $2,000 has been proposed, but has yet to pass.
Finally, the newspaper noted Floridians shoulder an economic burden of about $12 billion annually for all motor vehicle related crash. Treatment for a non-fatal crash injury can start at around $61,000. While private insurance may foot the bill for about 70 percent of that, the rest is covered by taxpayers and taxpayer-funded programs, like Medicare and Medicaid.
These figures also don’t include the losses of wages (particularly if there is a death or disability) or the enormous pain and suffering that comes along with all this.
That’s what our Fort Myers bicycle accident attorneys are here to help with.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Florida bike crashes: 7 facts that may shock you, March 6, 2015, By Janine Zeitlin, The News-Press
More Blog Entries:
Report: 1 in 5 Drivers Involved in Serious Crash, Many Still Drive Carelessly, March 4, 2015, Fort Myers Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog