Information on safe cycling in Florida

Don't ride without a helmet.
Don't ride against the traffic.
Always have a light front and rear at night
Courteousness to pedestrians on sidewalks.
Always carry your cell phone and ID with you on rides.
Ride with a buddy.
Wear cycling gloves.
Hydrate on those hot Florida days
Sunscreen on your arms and the back of your neck!!
Sunglasses to protect your sclera from nasty sun scarring.
Put air in your tires before your ride- saves your energy.
On long rides: drink before you're thirsty, snack before your hungry.
Don't trust that the driver sees you- s/he doesn't. Eye contact does not mean s/he won't run you over.
Don't ride drunk unless you are the back of tandem-You will get a ticket.
If the traffic is rush hour, stay on the sidewalk- cell phones can kill.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Vulnerable User" Laws- It's time    before another bicyclist is killed

I was asked to write about vulnerable user laws this month by a reader. 

To gain some perspective, let’s say you are helping set up the wedding reception for the sister of a friend whose family is wealthy, your friend gives you a bottle of wine and saeys: “Please carry this to the table over there.”  You wade through the chairs and tables,  put it down and come back.  Then your friend says: “Please take this one over, but be extra careful with this one.  This is a vintage 1767 bottle of wine bottled by Thomas Jefferson which my grandfather paid 1.75 million dollars at auction.”  How careful are you carrying that bottle?  Both bottles have wine, so what’s the difference in consequences?

Busy mom is driving errands with a child in a car seat, a cell phone in a Hyundai SUV A motor vehicle (MV) approaching an intersection.  Approaching the same intersection are bicyclists pedaling on the road.  There is also walker waiting at the pedestrian crossing, a rider on horseback and two roller bladers in the multi use lane nearby.  There is also a handicapped person in a motorized wheelchair also coming to the intersection.   At the previous light  mom started a text and kept on texting.  She's waiting for a reply.  As she approaches the intersection, she gets hears a text come in and then her phone rings.  It may be her boss.  About this time her child starts screaming bloody murder in the back.  And the light changes yellow to red as she turns to looks at what is causing her child's temper tantrum.....

On the road enter the crosswalk, with the right of way, in front of her speeding SUV is a 1767 bottle of wine bottled by Thomas Jefferson. 

You know if she rear-ends a car she gets a ticket and her insurance pays.  She may or may not injure the occupant, they are surrounded by a steel cocoon.  Now, if she hits one of the people not surrounded by a steel cocoon (the bicyclist, etc.), mom gets same deal: ticket and call the insurance company.  Though the one of those vulnerable road users may get catastrophically hurt, lose or impair a significant bodily function, be permanently disfigured, off work for two months and the bike for six’s still only a ticket and a insurance hike but, it’s still no "skin off her nose."  Here’s the kicker.... what if the woman (like so many drivers in Duval, Dade, Pasco, Collier and Escambia county drivers and the working poor) does not have bodily injury coverage to pay for the medical bills, physical injury, lost work, pain, mental anguish loss of enjoyment of life of those not in steel cocoons- bicyclists and pedestrians.  What’s that? No insurance if she hurts someone? Holy Guacamole! What?  Yes, here in the land that can’t count votes, the legislature in its finite wisdom, again this year has not made bodily insurance required of those driving the deadly weapons we cyclists know as cars, trucks and motorcycles.

So, where were we?  Oh, yeah.  Vulnerable user law.  
What if...... it were like a hate crime?  A crime against a specific class of people that were deserving of higher protection because of vulnerability?    What if the law recognized that those folks at the intersection were vulnerable and the SUV driver was on notice that hitting one of them would  carry repercussions that carried onto her bank account and affect her life as permanently as it affected the vulnerable user’s live? Beyond “feeling awful,”  a $185.00 ticket and insurance premium hike. Or what about criminal penalties?  Down to the jail, kid off to husband/boyfriend and she has to post bail?  Think that possibility might get Florida drivers to pay attention to vulnerable users on the road? 
That’s what vulnerable user laws do.  It is a recognition that road users who don’t have steel cocoons around them are vulnerable.  In Europe they have these. Ah, yes.  Europe.  Cycling heaven.... But wait....  Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Washington State, and New York also have these statutes. Whoa.  Here in the States? Are there legislatures and governors who really care?  Wow. 

Wait a minute... Florida has a legislature and a governor.   Can you even think of a state which needs it more than Florida ?  

So, how do we get the message to the SUV mom or the people who buzz us inches away yelling epithets, or criminals that come at us head on in our lane because merely because we are using the roads?   Vulnerable user laws.  Why not make hitting a vulnerable user have direct financial penalties of say $15,000.  Paid not from the insurance company but directly from the bad, distracted or vindictive driver?  Let's say the fine is due to the State of Florida and goes into bicycle infrastructure fundHow about a suspension of driver's license for a year? Maybe even a criminal penalty of six months in jail?  Do you think faced with that fine and license suspension that busy momma may leave the phone in her purse? Do you think the jerks that buzz us will think twice before assaulting us with those deadly weapons? (In Florida motor vehicles hold the same legal class as a gun- a "dangerous instrumentality.")

Seriously.  It's time.  In Florida we have lost cancer researchers, doctors, veterinarians, business leaders, CEOs, writers, math teachers, dad's, grandfathers, grandmothers, mom's, children, sisters and brothers.  These are literally the pillars of our community.  They were slaughtered because vehilce drivers do not face any criminal penalties or fines or consequences.   The police just don't ticket them.  Do we have to keep up the slaughter of bicyclist for the sake of treating vehicles like entertainment centers, childcare facilities or phone and text centers?   Enough.  Driver's need to have the sword of Damocles hanging over their very lives to take killing cyclists seriously. 

The League of American Bicyclist has a model law posted on its website. This would work in Florida.

So you dear reader,  go to the League's website and print a copy of the law.  Write a letter to your representative and ask him or her for an appointment time when you can come in and talk to him or her.  Then take the law with you, go meet them and ask him or her to submit this filed in the Senate or House.  The bills have to be filed in Tallahassee by August 31, 2014 for next years session.  We don't have time to wait.  If you ride or love someone who rides, you may be next victim of Florida's slaughter of bicyclists.  It’s time for Florida bring home to motorists a real  threat of personal financial or criminal consequence for hitting us bicyclists.

Do it.

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