Florida is the No. 1 worst place for bicyclists who prize their safety. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics revealing the bicycle death rate in this state is 0.57 deaths per 100,000 people – the highest of anywhere in the nation. In fact, the state with the second-highest rate, Delaware, clocked in at 0.38 deaths per 100,000 people.
There are a number of issues, including the fact that we have an abundance of tourists, who are unfamiliar with the area and driving patterns. Distracted driving is a major problem, and we have cyclists year-round, so there are bound to be more crashes.
News-Press Reporter Janine Zeitlin noted all of this a few years ago, and quit riding her bicycle on public roads because of the risks. But then, as the number of bicycle-versus-car accidents continued to mount, as did severe injuries and deaths and light penalties for drivers, she began to aggressively report on the issue. According to a new article by the Columbia Journalism Review, with backing from her editors, Zeitlin not only delved into a long-term, in-depth progress on the issue, she helped set up a “Share the Road” page on the newspaper’s website, a community page on Facebook and engaged with bicycle safety advocacy groups across the region to raise awareness of the problem.
Noting that while most reporters shy away from advocacy of any kind, Zeitlin says, “You don’t have to be a reporter divorced from humanity.” She acknowledges bicycle safety is important to her, and doesn’t believe that clouds her role as a presenter of the facts.
The fact is, bicycling is dangerous here in Southwest Florida, and providing a platform to dissect the issue can help find solutions.
Zeitlin’s reporting has revealed that Lee County ranks third in the state for bicycle fatalities – which is twice as many bicyclist deaths as the entire state of Iowa – in 2014. Collier County, meanwhile, ranked seventh in the state for the rate of bicycle crashes per 100,000 that year, with 137 bike crashes total. That’s a figure that has spiked by nearly 40 percent just in the last three years. During that same time, Lee County’s crash rate increased by more than 70 percent.
It’s estimated nearly 25 million residents and tourists bike in Florida each year. There have been efforts to reduce the danger to this population, and success has been seen where communities adopt the “Complete Streets” model of traffic infrastructure design that incorporates safety features for all road users, not just those in motor vehicles.
The data also shows that bicycle accidents and deaths in Southwest Florida tend to rise in the winter and spring, so moving into the cooler months, it’s a pertinent time to bring up the issue.
The News-Press’ focus on the issue hasn’t thus far resulted in legislation that would increase criminal penalties for cyclists or raised money for additional bicycle lanes. But it has raised awareness, and that is a significant start in a place where many drivers are not watching for cyclists. As Zeitlin’s research has revealed, most bicycle-versus-car accidents in South Florida are caused by motorists, most of whom fail to yield, usually at angle intersections.
Bicycle accident victims in Fort Myers can contact our offices to learn more about their right to compensation for medical bills, lost wages and other damages.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
How a Florida newspaper reporter began advocating for better bike safety, Sept. 15, 2015, By Susannah Nesmith, Columbia Journalism Review
More Blog Entries:
$5 Million Settlement for Attack at Florida Nightclub, Sept. 20, 2015, Fort Myers Bicycle Injury Lawyer Blog