On January 17, 44-year-old Christophe Le Canne took his bike out for a Sunday morning ride to Key Biscayne. No one knew this would be his last ride. A little after 8 a.m. Carols Bertonatti hit Le Canne with his car as he crossed Bear Cut Bridge. Bertonatti did not bother stopping to see what damage he had done, but instead continued speeding down the road, dragging Le Canne’s ruined bicycle with him while witnesses stood in shock. Le Canne died from his injuries.
While tragic and completely avoidable, Le Canne’s death is unfortunately not unique. Each year, more bicyclists are killed in Florida than in any other state in the nation. In 2008, 125 cyclists lost their lives on Florida roadways, accounting for 4 percent of all traffic-related fatalities in the state (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data).
Florida Leads Country in Bicyclist Deaths
Some try to blame the high number of cyclist deaths on Florida’s climate permitting year-long bicycling. But California -a state with similar weather and more people- consistently has lower fatality rates than Florida. Others point to Florida’s lack of bike lanes and trails as well as motorist indifference or outright hostility to cyclists as the real culprits pushing the state’s cyclist fatality rates to unacceptable levels.
Common Causes of Bicycle Accidents
Florida law treats bicycles as vehicles and requires bicyclists to follow the same rules of the road as motorists. This also means that bike riders are entitled to use the same roadways as drivers. Many motorists, however, are oblivious to this fact and believe that bicycles should move out of their way, ride on sidewalks or stay off of the road altogether.
This disrespect for bicyclists leads to many accidents. Some of the most common causes of bicycle-car accidents include:
- Motorists who travel too closely to bicycles when passing
- Motorists who fail to check for bicyclists before changing lanes or merging
- Motorists entering roadways from a driveway or side road
- Motorists turning left in front of a bicycle
- Motorists failing to yield to bicyclists in intersections
- Motorists making improper right turns in front of cyclists
- Motorists opening their car doors in front of cyclists
Intoxicated drivers are also just as much a hazard, if not more, to bicyclists as they are to other drivers.
PREVENTING BICYCLE ACCIDENTS
There is little that bicyclists can do to change the behavior of certain motorists. However, there are some steps cyclists can take to protect their own safety and help minimize their risk of being involved in a serious or fatal accident.
Avoid busy roadways
While not always practical, cyclists should stick to roads with less traffic and lower speed limits. Studies have shown that cyclists involved in a collision with a car have a higher survival rate when the accident occurs at 20 miles per hour or less. The survival rate drastically decreases with each 10 mph increase in speed. For example, the survival rate decreases to less than 10 percent for cyclists hit by motor vehicles traveling at 40 mph or greater.
Take extra precautions when riding at night
In Florida, nearly 60 percent of fatal bike accidents occurred in the evening. Since rider visibility is greatly reduced at night, cyclists should wear light-reflective clothing and make sure their headlamps and taillights are working properly.
Ride with traffic
Cyclists who ride against traffic have a two- to four-times greater risk of being involved in an accident. Also, bicyclists who fail to ride with traffic can be ticketed for violating Florida law.
While a helmet will not prevent serious injury or death in every accident, they do help save lives. According to a 2008 report by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 85 of the cyclists killed that year were not wearing helmets.
Since motorists are not always watching for bicyclists, it is important that cyclists are always paying attention to what motorists are doing. This is especially true at intersections, where drivers may not yield to bicyclists and cut them off. Like drivers, bicyclists should avoid any distracting activities while riding, including talking on a phone or listening to music. Florida law prohibits cyclists from listening to headphones while riding.
SEEKING LEGAL HELP
Under Florida law, motorists owe a duty of care to operate their vehicles in a safe manner so as to avoid hitting pedestrians and bicyclists. When motorists breach this duty and cause serious injury or death to a cyclist, then legal action may be taken.
Some of the compensation that may be available to victims of motor vehicle-bicycle collisions includes:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Permanent disfigurement
- Attorney fees and costs
For more information on pursuing a bicycle accident claim, contact an experienced attorney today.