May is National Bike Month, promoted by the League of American Bicyclists to showcase the many health and environmental benefits of biking – and encourage more people to give it a try. Here in Florida, though, bicycling is not without risk. As a Fort Myers bike injury lawyer, I’ve worked with many cyclists (and sometimes their surviving family members) in the pursuit of compensation from careless, at-fault drivers.
Although Florida bicycle law recognizes the right of bicyclists to share the road like any other vehicle, motorists often fail to give them the same courtesy and respect as other road users. They fail to watch out for them, slow down for them, or give them the required three-foot distance when passing. Whereas bicyclists account for about 2 percent of the nation’s traffic deaths, the rate is more than double that in Florida.
Florida consistently ranks as the deadliest state in the country for bicyclists. Nearly 50,000 were injured and more than 780 were killed nationally in a single, recent year. That same year, Florida reported 125 bicycle deaths – 16 percent of the nation’s total. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro region has repeatedly ranked No. 1 most dangerous for cyclists.
Although coastal communities like Sanibel-Captiva are extremely popular for cyclists in South Florida, it tends to be areas in Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, and Cape Coral – with lagging bicycle infrastructure – that see the highest bike accident and injury rates.
The most serious bicycle accidents are almost always those that involve motor vehicles. Bicyclists, like pedestrians, are vulnerable road users who face the greatest harm in these collisions – regardless of fault – simply by virtue of the size disparity and lack of protection between the person and the pavement.
Why is Florida So Dangerous for Bicyclists?
There are a few reasons for Florida’s undesirable high rank on the bicycle accident front. These include:
- Population density. Florida saw the second-highest population growth in the country (trailing shortly behind Texas) between 2020 and 2021 – increasing by nearly 212,000 people during that time frame. Although California continues to have the country’s largest population, it’s also a really big state. Florida is too, but we still have a greater population density, particularly around the coasts. The more people we have, the more bicyclists and drivers there are on the road – the greater likelihood they’ll interact.
- Roads built for speed. Many Florida roads were built after WWII – primarily with motor vehicles (and only motor vehicles) in mind. That means many roads are wide, with high posted speed limits, and limited-to-no bicycle lanes. Even though bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as any road user, they are often not given the same courtesy as others – if motorists bother to notice them at all. Out west, bicycling tends to be viewed as any other legitimate form of transportation. In Florida, cultural attitudes simply aren’t the same, and it can impact how other drivers react around them. While it will take time and education to shift cultural norms (which is one goal of National Bike Month), the state’s infrastructure design failures are something Florida’s Complete Streets is trying to remedy – one community at a time – but it’s not an overnight fix.
- Driver distraction. That’s a problem everywhere, of course, but it’s a major problem here in the Sunshine State. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, distracted driving crashes resulted in 56,000 crashes and 333 deaths in the state last year – the highest recorded in 8 years (and that’s probably a low estimate, given that driver distraction is harder to trace than things like impairment). Drivers who are too distracted (and too fast) are a deadly combination.
What Are an Injured Bicyclist’s Legal Rights After a Crash?
Someone involved in a South Florida bicycle accident may have substantial injuries, so it’s important to consult with an experienced Fort Myers bike injury lawyer to know your next steps. Although every case is different, here are a few potential avenues of financial compensation for your losses:
- A driver’s personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. If you’re struck by a car, truck, or SUV while on a bicycle in Florida, you may be entitled to collect damages from the driver’s PIP policy. PIP coverage is required of Florida vehicle owners, and it extends up to $10,000 in coverage for medical expenses and lost wages. You might also avail yourself of your own PIP coverage (which should be applicable even if you weren’t the one driving a car). Again, that can be claimed regardless of fault. However, that may not go very far if you’re seriously injured, which is why you’ll want to speak with an injury lawyer about more closely examining who was at-fault and whether you can pursue a claim against that person.
- Rental companies. There are hundreds of bicycle rental companies in South Florida, particularly in hot tourist spots. Most rental companies will require riders to sign a waiver, but it’s worth noting that not all waivers are enforceable and not all types of accidents are covered by them. If you’re injured while riding a rented bicycle, it’s worth talking to an attorney about your legal options.
- Bicycle or vehicle manufacturers. If the crash was caused or injury exacerbated by a defect in the bicycle, vehicle, or other consumer product, it may be possible to pursue a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
- Bodily injury liability. If the bicycle accident injuries you suffered were serious and/or permanent (or if you’re a survivor of a loved one killed in a Florida bicycle accident), you will want to look into compensation under the at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability policy. It’s worth noting that Florida law does not require BIL, but most insured drivers do carry it. If they don’t, they’re required to sign a document attesting their ability to personally cover at least $20,000 in damages. If the other driver is at fault and you’ve sustained injuries beyond a few scrapes and bruises, it’s worth looking into this avenue.
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. UM/UIM coverage is something bicyclists may have if they are also vehicle drivers/owners. It’s not required in Florida either, but highly recommended. This type of coverage would be from your own auto insurance company, and it’s extended when the at-fault party in a motor vehicle accident is either not insured (or not found, such as a hit-and-run) OR lacks adequate coverage to fully compensate for the damages caused. Bicyclists and pedestrians are at much higher risk of being struck by a hit-and-run driver than other road users, so it’s a good idea to carry UM/UIM coverage if you can.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Naples or Key West, contact Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Share the Road, FLHSMV
More Blog Entries:
Vicarious Liability in Florida Motorcycle Accidents, March 17, 2022, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog