In Florida the bicycle is legally defined as a vehicle and the bicyclist is a driver. Bicyclists have the same rights to the roadways, and must obey the same traffic laws as the drivers of other vehicles. These laws include stopping for stop signs and red lights, riding with the flow of traffic, using lights at night, yielding the right-of-way when entering a roadway and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.
It’s Not Drivers vs Cyclists
There’s no point in drivers assuming that all cyclists are an unlawful menace to themselves and others, just as much as there’s no point in cyclists perceiving all drivers are out to kill anyone on two wheels. There are bad and inattentive road users piloting every kind of vehicle.
The most dangerous thing about this car vs bike attitude is that it dehumanizes people. Whether we’re in a car, on a bike or using another mode of transport entirely, we’re all just human beings trying to get to our destination safely. That’s why we should be looking out for one another, and showing more consideration on all sides.
Roadway Position Explained
5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use or, if no lane is marked for bicycle use, as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition or potential conflict, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, turn lane, or substandard-width lane, which makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge or within a bicycle lane. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
State Law says you must ride as far to the right as practicable. It does NOT say as far to the right as possible. Practicable means capable of being done within the means and circumstances present. This is extremely important! It takes into account static and dynamic, current and downstream conditions which influence the choice of lane and position within that lane. The bicycle driver is as much a moving component in the system as any other driver. The law may not curtail the safe movement of any road user for the convenience of another.
The edge of the road harbors the majority of hazards bicyclists face. Defensive driving (avoiding crashes and conflicts) requires the bicyclist to operate significantly away from the edge of the road. To learn more about defensive bicycling, see our Info for Bicyclists page.
In a wide lane, a cyclist should maintain no less than 2 feet of clearance from the edge of usable pavement to have room to maneuver around obstructions and to be more visible to crossing traffic. (NOTE: useable pavement does not include the gutter pan or any area frequently obstructed by debris or other hazards.)
In an extra-wide lane (18-20ft) a cyclist should ride farther left—about 4 feet from the flow of traffic—to operate in the focus area of crossing traffic and reduce vulnerability to common collisions
When a lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to share safely, the cyclist is entitled to the use of the entire lane. Within this lane, the cyclist usually rides on the right half to facilitate visibility for overtaking motorists, but should ride far enough left to discourage mototists from trying to squeeze past within the lane.
Although the law uses the term “substandard” to describe a lane that is not wide enough to share, these narrow lane-widths make up most of our roads. The shareable-width lane, or wide curb lane, has become less common as multi-lane roads have become more prevalent. Unfortunately, the reference to substandard width not only represents an unusual situation, it conflicts with other highway design guidance. This creates a great deal of confusion for law enforcement and increases the burden of proof for the defensive-driving bicyclist.
Wide Curb Lanes (WCLs) Defined
A WCL is a lane wide enough for side-by-side operation. These are typically 14-16 ft wide. The Florida Department of Transportation’s Manual of Uniform Minimum Standards recommends an outside lane width of 14 feet as the “minimum width that will allow passenger cars to safely pass bicyclists within a single lane,” i.e., without the need for passing motorists to use part of the next lane.
Here’s how they get the minimum:
- A cyclist is defined as being 2.5 ft wide with a minimum operating space of 4 ft. This includes the minimum safe distance from the edge of useable pavement (2 ft).
- The legal minimum passing clearance for an overtaking vehicle is 3 ft.
- A typical passenger vehicle is 5.5 ft (car) – 7 ft (SUV) wide.
NOTE: The minimum does not account for commercial trucks and utility trailers which are 8.5 ft wide and can have mirrors extending to ~10 ft. Those vehicles MUST use part of another lane to pass safely.
For more about lane widths and how things fit, CommuteOrlando offers a visual primer on widths and buffers.
On-steet parking — A cyclist riding past parallel-parked cars should maintain a clearance of at least 5 feet to avoid risk of collision with an opening car door. The cyclist must take into account door width, handlebar width and the “startle” clearance — a distance at which a suddenly-opened door will not cause a reactive swerve into adjacent overtaking traffic.
Intersection positioning — A cyclist going straight through an intersection in a lane that serves thru traffic and right turns, should ride in the center or left half of the lane to avoid common collisions. Cyclists should never ride straight in a lane marked exclusively for right turns, i.e., one marked or signed with the word “ONLY.”
One-way streets — A bicyclist operating on a one-way street with two or more traffic lanes may operate in the left lane.
Paved shoulders — Where a curb is not present, the right-hand edge of a roadway is the line between the roadway and the shoulder (an exception is when that space to the right of the line is designated as a bike lane). Since the definition of “roadway” excludes the shoulder [§316.003], cyclists are not required to ride on paved shoulders, although they may prefer to do so. A cyclist may ride only along a right-side paved shoulder, i.e., must ride in the direction of traffic, since this is the only practical way to comply with the requirement to obey all applicable traffic signals and signs [§316.074]. A cyclist operating in the shoulder is vulnerable to common crossing collisions where many streets and driveways are present.
Bike Lane Law Explained
A bicycle lane is a lane marked with a stripe and symbols for the preferential use of bicycles on a roadway (motorists may enter or cross a bicycle lane to turn into or off a roadway at intersections and driveways). The official symbol marking used in Florida to designate a bicycle lane is shown in the figure [right] (FDOT Design Standards Index 17347 and Florida Greenbook).
Where no bicycle lane is marked, a white edge line is often marked to indicate the edge of the roadway. On a road with curbs, the gutter is not part of the roadway. A cyclist should avoid the gutter area; pavement joints or debris may be hazardous. On a road with flush shoulders, any pavement beyond the edge line is a paved shoulder; it is not a bicycle lane unless it is marked with the bicycle lane marking.
A cyclist may leave a bicycle lane for any of the purposes listed in the law — essentially to avoid any unsafe condition or potential hazard. To better understand how to operate safely in bike lanes, see our Info for Bicyclists page. Bicycle lanes are typically designed for through travel. To make a right turn where a right turn lane is provided to the right of a bicycle lane, a cyclist should leave the bicycle lane, since continuing in the bike lane to the intersection and making a sharp right turn could surprise a motorist in the right turn lane.
This is not a bike lane because it does not have signs or pavement markings. It is only 3ft wide, so it does not meet the minimum width requirement.
Similarly, a cyclist using the roadway to make a left turn should leave the bike lane in advance of the intersection, rather than make a sharp left turn at the intersection that could surprise or cut off a motorist in a through lane.
Where a bicycle lane is continued along the right side of a through/right lane, a cyclist who intends to go straight may need to adjust their position to the left to reduce the hazard of being cut off by a turning motorist (in about 10 percent of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, through cyclists were cut off by motorists who overtook the cyclists and made right turns in front of them, or who approached from the opposite direction and made left turns in front of the cyclists).
Where no bicycle lane is marked, a cyclist who intends to proceed straight through an intersection should not ride in a lane marked or signed exclusively for right turns, since all drivers are required to obey applicable traffic control devices (see “Obedience to traffic control devices” above).
This is not a bike lane because it does not have signs or pavement markings. It is only 29 inches wide. The total width of this space plus the adjacent lane is less than 14ft.
Roads with flush shoulders: where no bicycle lane is marked, a white edge line is typically marked to indicate the edge of the roadway; any pavement to the right of the edge line is shoulder pavement, not a bicycle lane unless it is marked with the bicycle lane symbol.
Since the definition of “roadway” excludes shoulders, a cyclist is not required to ride on a paved shoulder that is not marked as a bicycle lane, although they may prefer to do so. A cyclist who rides on a paved shoulder should still travel on the right because (1) this reduces crash risk at intersections and driveways (drivers don’t expect traffic on shoulders to approach from the “wrong” direction) and (2) whenever the cyclist enters the roadway (e.g., to pass a pedestrian or other cyclist, cross an intersection, keep clear of a vehicle approaching to enter the roadway at a driveway, avoid debris or obstructions, etc.), right-side operation becomes mandatory.
Since the minimum clearance for passing a bicyclist is 3 feet (see “Overtaking and passing a vehicle” above) and the total width of larger motor vehicles (with extending mirrors) is commonly 8 feet or more, an outside traffic lane with less than 14 feet of width for travel is commonly not wide enough to accommodate passing motor traffic within the lane. Where restricted conditions prevent inclusion of bicycle lanes or paved shoulders on urban roadways, Florida Department of Transportation engineering guidance recommends an outside lane width of 14 feet to “allow passenger cars to safely pass bicyclists within a single lane,” i.e., without the need for passing motor vehicles to change lanes (Florida GreenBook, chapter 9).
Impeding Traffic Explained
Though some try to claim solo bicyclists or bicyclists riding single file are unlawfully impeding traffic, they are not. The impeding law only applies to motor vehicles. It does not apply to vehicles driven by human or animal power.
316.183 (5) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.
Nonetheless, cyclists should pull over — at their discretion and only when it is safe to do so — if a significant line of traffic accumulates behind them.
The only place “impeding traffic” appears in the bicycle law, is with regard to riding 2 abreast.
316.2065 (6) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and shall ride within a single lane.
The 2-abreast rule only applies to roads on which a single rider can operate side-by-side with a motor vehicle (i.e. a lane 14 ft or wider, or a road with a bike lane). A single cyclist (or single line of cyclists) is entitled to the full use of a lane less than 14 ft wide, therefore it makes no difference in the flow of traffic for riders to be 2-abreast. In many cases it actually facilitates overtaking by reducing in half the distance needed to pass. For more about this, visit the Group Riding page.
Additionally, 2-abreast riders do not impede traffic if: (the below applies to any width lane with or without the presence of a bike lane)
On this road, there is plenty of width for a motorist to safely pass a cyclist, or group riding single file. If the group rode double, there would not be enough space for the motorist to give adequate clearance. Riding double would impede traffic.
- on a multi-lane road – motorists can pass in the next lane over
- on a road with a center two-way left turn lane in which motorists can pass
- there is sparse oncoming traffic and motorists can safely use the oncoming lane to pass
- the cyclists are travelling at or near the speed limit
- the cyclists are traveling at or near the speed of other traffic
“Impeding traffic” is not defined in the law, but reducing a motorist’s speed for a few seconds until it is safe to pass does not constitute an impediment or an obstruction.
What Should You Do If You Are In A Florida Car vs Bicycle Accident?
1. Call the police and file a report.
2. Swap information (including any insurance information they may have).
3. Gather details.
4. Take pictures/video
5. Gather the contact information of any witnesses.
6. Seek medical care immediately for any injuries, no matter how minor you think they might be.
GET MORE HELPFUL INFORMATION ON WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ACCIDENT HERE AT OUR “BIKE WRECK CHECKLIST” >
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney whose firm has been dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. ZARZAUR LAW’S AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you’ve been injured in a car vs bicycle accident, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board-Certified Trial Lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful, and we want to make the process as easy as possible for you.
Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.