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Florida’s Bicycle 3-Foot Rule Largely Unenforced

In an effort to shield bicyclists from motorists who whiz by too fast and too close, the Florida legislature passed a law in 2006 that requires drivers to maintain three feet of clearance when passing bicyclists on the road. bicycletire.jpg

But in the years since, it’s been shown that enforcement of this law is lacking.

The News-Press reports that in 2014, there were a total of 500 tickets issued statewide for the offense. Now, that is certainly better than the average of 100 tickets that were doled out in the first few years after the act passed into law.

But consider that in the same year there were 121 bicyclists killed in Florida. Thousands more were seriously injured. In fact, Florida has the highest rate of bicycle accidents and bicycle deaths in the country. This is something we must take more seriously.

Part of the problem, say law enforcement agencies, is that the law can be difficult to interpret. The language indicates drivers have to pass at “not less than three feet.” But sometimes, it is not clear where that three-foot margin should start. Many law enforcement agencies are somewhat unclear on how they should measure that distance. For example, how can they tell the difference between when a driver is 3 feet away versus when he or she is 2 feet 9 inches away?

This had led to a proposal that would extend the state’s “Move Over” laws to cyclists. As it stands, drivers are required to either move over or slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle and those with flashing lights stopped at the side of the road. By extending the rule to cyclists, proponents say, enforcement could be more consistent.

Additionally, a new study suggests police could do a better job of recording key data when a bicycle accident does occur, which could provide valuable information on prevention of future crashes. Currently, officers use old templates for accident reports that rarely allot space for the reasons behind bicycle accidents, meaning the chance to glean insight is diminished.

Researchers with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health opined that if officers were required to record information such as the bicycle environment, the impact point of the motor vehicle, the impact point of the bike, and bicycle-crash-scene patterns, we would begin to see trends that would help identify ways to keep cyclists safer.

For example, if we know dooring is a major problem resulting in bicyclist injuries and we know cyclists are paying closer attention to cars than motorists are paying attention to cyclists, perhaps there is technology (a flashing light?) that could alert approaching cyclists when a driver or passenger unhooks a seat belt in preparation to exit.

More data might also reveal the effectiveness of bicycle lanes and cycle tracks, and also might tell us the types of conditions and vehicle features that are most dangerous for those on bikes.

It’s not that the three-foot rule is not a good one. But if the laws we have in place are not sufficient to protect our cyclists, clearly, it may be time to initiate better solutions.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:
How Better Data on Bike Crashes Could Lead to Safer Streets for All, April 2, 2015, By Sarah Goodyear, The Atlantic
More Blog Entries:
Trek Bicycle Corp. v. Miguelez – Bicycle Injury Verdict Reversed, March 31, 2015, Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Blog