Florida authorities have long recognized how dangerous it is for motor vehicle drivers to get too close to those on bicycles.
That’s why in 2006, they initiated a law requiring drivers to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when passing them.
When it first passed, the measure was hailed as a necessary move to protect those on two wheels. However as the years have worn on, the effectiveness has been questioned.
In 2011, five years after the law passed, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported there had only been a few hundred tickets – 337, to be exact – issued statewide for the offense during that time.
In Palm Beach County, which has one of the highest rates of bicycle injuries and fatalities in the state (which has the highest in the country), there were just four citations issued. Broward County, meanwhile, issued 55 while Miami-Dade issued 15.
Calls for greater enforcement were made.
Now, here we are, four years later. Has anything changed?
According to a recent report by the Fort Myers News-Press, there were 500 tickets total issued in Florida last year for illegal passing of bicyclists.
This sounds like great improvement over the 337 issued the first five years – until you consider that of those 500, only eight were found guilty.
Florida was the sixth state in the U.S. to pass a 3-foot rule, and that was only after a series of crashes.
However, analysts from Rutgers University, who recently conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of such laws, say it seems in Florida, the measure is more or less an educational tool rather than a powerful deterrent. This is troubling for the state that holds the title as deadliest for bicyclists.
For one thing, the way the law is written raises a lot of questions. The language indicates a driver has to pass a cyclist at “not less than three feet.” But there is no specification on where that three-foot measure starts. How do law enforcement authorities measure it?
Typically, law enforcement officers say, the only real way to definitively prove a violation is if the motorists strikes the bicyclist. Clearly, then, the driver wasn’t maintaining a three-foot distance. But otherwise, they say, the low prosecution rate has to do with the fact that defense lawyers have been fairly successful in arguing against the assertion that the distance was less than three foot – as opposed to, say, 3 feet, 3 inches.
That’s why law enforcement agencies typically go with a “careless driving” citation when there is no definitive, obvious proof.
This has given birth to the idea of an additional protection. What if the state’s “Move Over Law” was extended to bicyclists, as well? Right now, the law requires motorists to either slow down significantly or, if possible, move over to the next lane, if an emergency vehicle with flashing lights is at the side of the street.
In 2013, there were 121 bicyclists killed in Florida, and Palm Beach County had one of the highest bicycle-versus-car crash rates in the state.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Few Florida Drivers Cited for 3-Foot Rule, April 2, 2015, By Janine Zeitlin, The News-Press
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