Bicyclists have two major safety threats: cars and ourselves.
Over the past month, there seems to have been an increase in the number of local cyclists involved in crashes. Unfortunately, the outcome of a cyclist connecting with a motorized vehicle is always the same, it’s only the extent of injury to the rider that varies. Seeing the posts on Facebook about fellow cyclists who have sustained injuries is a reminder of how easily it could be any of us.
Riding a bicycle in Florida can be deadly, and a recent study has put the state at the top of the list of the most dangerous places to take your bike out on local roads. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association’s study shows Florida had the nation’s highest proportion of bicyclist fatalities at 7.4 percent in 2015. Researchers also found that bike deaths across the country are on an incline – 12.2 percent – and are outpacing the overall rise in traffic fatalities. The study used 2015 data because it was the most recent complete data available.
Florida’s roadways were built with cars in mind, not cyclists. Decades ago, it used to be children who died most often in bike fatalities. Now, it’s adults. The study found the average age of those who died in 2015 to be 45. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis from 2008 to 2012 found our state had the highest rate of bicycling deaths in the continental U.S. In 46 percent of crashes, the driver was found to be at fault, while cyclists were at fault 30 percent of the time. Crashes at these locations typically involved drivers turning left or right, or cyclists and drivers pulling out into an intersection with cross traffic.
In part, the rise in bicycling deaths can be attributed to the dramatic increase in the number of cyclists taking to riding on the road. When I took up cycling four years ago, I rode exclusively on bike trails. With so many to choose from within a reasonable drive from my home, I had no desire to compete with vehicular traffic, and so the only time I did have to “share the road” was when I participated in an annual century ride held in Tucson, Ariz. I quickly became hooked on cycling and realized in order to become a better cyclist, I needed to expand my training beyond the relatively controlled environment of urban trail systems.
In December of last year, I began riding with Nona Cycle, and it has changed my life for the better. I’ve met like-minded people who have offered assistance, guidance and encouragement. I enjoy the fellowship of our weekly rides, post-ride Starbucks and the connection we have via social media. Because of Nona Cycle, I was able to raise money to fight diabetes by participating in Tour de Cure this past spring and will fundraise and ride in support of our local Ronald McDonald House this fall.
Our 30-mile-ish Sunday Signature Ride begins in Laureate Park and travels along Narcoossee and Rummell roads into St. Cloud and back on Narcoossee to the finish. We’re a large group, and I tell myself there is safety in numbers … but all it takes is one distracted driver or an unintentional error from one of us. One of my many fears while riding is that I’ll make an error while in the pace line that will injure someone else. Anyone who rides with a group should always “ride predictably,” know and follow the group’s rules, and be knowledgeable of universal hand signals. If you don’t know, it’s easy enough to do a Google search or ask your fellow riders for clarification.
I don’t focus on the vehicles barreling along behind us on Sunday mornings, although I am certainly aware of them. It’s easy to tell who respects cyclists and who sees us as a nuisance. Those who follow the three-foot law and allow us to cross as a group at intersections obviously are willing to “share the road.” Then there’s the group who seems to speed up as they go by, horns blaring, and not a chance in the world of giving us an extra inch of road. While they are definitely a concern, the ones we worry most about are the distracted drivers who are doing something besides focusing on what’s happening around them. We’ve all been guilty of not being 100 percent engaged while driving, however, I’ve found that the more I ride on the open road, the more cognizant I am of cyclists while behind the wheel of my truck.
I implore everyone to do their part to reduce the statistics of Florida cyclist fatalities – when you are on two wheels under your own power or behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle. Sharing the road is not going to ruin your day, but living with debilitating injuries from a cycling accident or the guilt and regret of taking someone’s life through your carelessness is something you can never undo.
Do you like to cycle or want to learn how? Join the Nona Cycle group for weekly rides: nonahood.to/nonacycle.