“The Most Dangerous Place to Bicycle in America.”
That’s what The Wall Street Journal calls Pinellas County, Florida — part of the Tampa Bay area — in a new article published just last week, and it has people talking.
Unfortunately, talking won’t save lives.
The article is a stinging indictment of the state of bike safety in Florida (or the lack thereof). But it isn’t really “news.” We’ve known about this problem for a long, long time. In fact, we blogged about this very topic here on our site just 20 days before the Journal piece hit the press.
Florida bikers have been dying at a shameful rate for many, many years. The problem is at its worst in Tampa, but it’s almost just as bad in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, and in several other counties across the state.
It’s not just cyclists who are in danger, either; pedestrians and motorcyclists die in record numbers in Florida, too. Auto accidents of all kinds are wildly common here, but shocking as they are, the statistics have done very little to turn the problem around.
In the sections to follow, we size up those statistics (as chronicled in the latest WSJ report), asses why the situation in Florida is so bad, and consider what you can do to protect yourself right now… instead of waiting on the city, county, and state governments to get their acts together.
What the Numbers Tell Us About Bicycle Fatalities in Florida
Here’s what we learned from (or had reinforced by) the Wall Street Journal last week:
- The Tampa Bay metro area has the highest per-capita bicycle fatality rate in the United States.
- Of the four counties in the Tampa Bay region (each of which have high cyclist death rates), the rate is highest in Pinellas County.
- Florida has the highest per-capita bicyclist fatality rate in the U.S. by far: 6.2 deaths for every 100,000 people. That’s 59% higher than the rate in Louisiana, which comes in at #2 with 3.9 deaths per 100,000.
- The top four deadliest cities for bicyclists in the U.S. are all in Florida:
- Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL metro (7 deaths per 100,000 people)
- Jacksonville, FL metro (6 deaths per 100,000 people)
- Orlando, FL metro (5.8 deaths per 100,000 people)
- Miami, FL metro (5.4 deaths per 100,000 people)
- Sacramento, CA metro (4.8 deaths per 100,000 people)
- While cycling deaths in Florida declined during 2017, so far, they’re back on track — a tragic track — for 2018.
- Current models predict that 130 people will be killed while riding a bike in Florida during 2018. (As of September 23, 2018, the year-to-date total stood at 95.)
While the Journal focused on Tampa, the situation in Miami isn’t much better. As we previously reported, county-by-county bicycle death totals in South Florida currently stand as follows:
- Miami-Dade (66)
- Broward (58)
- Hillsborough (49)
- Palm Beach (39)
Why Does It Happen?
Most vehicle-bicycle collisions are caused by driver negligence. However, there are a number of factors that make these accidents more likely in Florida. These include:
- Distracted Driving — Florida has relatively lax texting-while-driving laws. A recent proposal to strengthen those laws died on the state Senate floor this year (though it could still be revived at some point in the future). For now, distracted driving rates remain very high in Florida. National data demonstrates that there is a high correlation between texting behind the wheel and cyclist fatalities.
- The Warm Weather Effect — States with warmer climates tend to see a greater number of people engaged in outdoor activities, including walking, jogging, and bicycling. This, in turn, means a greater number of cyclists and pedestrians are at risk. However, as the Wall Street Journal points out in this latest study, Florida’s bicycle fatality rate is disproportionately high, even among other states with warmer weather.
- Driver Population — Compared to other states, Florida has a high number of (A) young drivers, (B) elderly drivers, and (C) out-of-state / tourist drivers. Each of these three groups is, statistically speaking, associated with a higher rate of accident and injury.
- Poor Road Design — The Wall Street Journal points out that many of the major roadways in Tampa, Miami, Orlando, and Jacksonville still fail to offer bike lanes or other routes of safe passage for cyclists, forcing them to choose between the highway, the shoulder, or the sidewalk (none of which are entirely safe for cyclists, though bikers do have a right to use the roadways).
Moreover, as we have previously reported, many of the crosswalks, sidewalks, and intersections in the Miami area simply were not designed with pedestrians in mind, notwithstanding the fact that walkers and bikers use them all the time. We recently spoke with the Miami New Times about Miami’s five worst intersections for bike crashes. There remains ample room for improvement.
What Can You Do?
As an individual, you can’t redesign the roads in Miami or Tampa, nor can you change the weather or the experience level of those who use the roads. It is up to the state government and city/county planners to adequately address those issues through legislation, funding, engineering, highway design, and public awareness campaigns.
Sadly, despite years of advocacy on our part and mountains of data to back us up, too little has been done across the state to meaningfully protect the lives of Florida’s cyclists.
In the meantime, you can take measures to protect yourself and others, including:
- Wearing proper safety gear, including a helmet
- Sticking to bike-friendly roads as often as possible
- Refusing to use a smartphone when driving
- Always driving within the speed limit
- Remembering to look for cyclists and pedestrians
- Yielding the right of way
- Giving yourself more than enough time to make it through an intersection
Injured in a Tampa or Miami Bike Crash? Has Your Loved One Been Killed While Cycling? Call Kaire & Heffernan, LLC for a Free Consultation.
If you’ve been injured in a Florida bike crash, or if your loved one has been killed in one of these terrible accidents, please call the Miami bicycle injury attorneys at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC right away.
Both of the partners in our firm, Mark Kaire and David R. Heffernan, are avid cyclists. This issue is personal to our practice, and we are committed to getting injured bikers and their families the robust financial justice they deserve.
While our office is located in Miami, we work with bike accident victims all across the state of Florida, including in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and beyond. Contact our office to schedule a free consultation today.