There is a lot to love about living in Florida. Our state has abundant natural resources, with more than 650 miles of beaches and 1,800 miles of coastline. We are a growing state, and we are one of the world's top travel destinations. While we are proud Floridians here at The Pittman Firm, there are some areas in which we'd like to see improvement. One such area is the frequency of bicycle accidents and bicyclist deaths. In 2011, per a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, Florida had more cyclist deaths than any other state in the nation. This cannot be dismissed as merely a result of being one of the most populated states. Florida also had the most cyclist deaths per million population at 6.56, a figure that led the nation by a heavy margin with the "runner-up" coming in at 3.87 cyclist deaths per million residents (Oregon). We are proud to serve the region as a law firm for Panama City bicyclists, but we are not proud to report any of those figures.
There is much that can be done to make the roads safer for bicycle riders. Giving riders a designated bike lane keeps riders safe and shows that a community is pro-biking. Businesses can ensure riders have a place to keep their bike during the day and a place to clean-up – for larger employers or office complexes, this might include a shower facility. Educating drivers through targeted share-the-road campaigns is also a vital safety tool. This should be part of all drivers' education programs and can be reiterated with targeted media campaigns. Change begets change, meaning that taking one step towards a bike-friendly community is likely to lead to other changes.
Bicyclists should also ride responsibly. This means obeying all traffic rules, including using bike lanes where available and staying towards the right otherwise. One of the most important steps, if not the most important step, a rider can take is to always wear a bicycle helmet. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute ("BHSI") is a small but respected non-profit that has been cited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for their accurate findings. While noting that specific numbers vary by source, BHSI finds that 91% of bicyclists killed in 2009 were not wearing helmets. In Florida, the law only mandates helmet use for bicycle riders under 16 years of age (Florida Statutes 316.2065(3)(d) (note: parents/guardians may also be cited for violating the juvenile helmet rule)). BHSI questions the wisdom of limiting the requirement in this manner, given that 89% of bicyclist fatalities involve riders aged 16 years or older.
Another section of Florida's bicycle regulations is particularly relevant to our work as a law firm for injured bicycle riders in Panama City and throughout the Florida Panhandle. Subsection 19 of the statute linked above provides: "The failure of a person to wear a bicycle helmet or the failure of a parent or guardian to prevent a child from riding a bicycle without a bicycle helmet may not be considered evidence of negligence or contributory negligence." What does this mean? It means that the fact that an injured rider was not wearing a helmet does not mean the rider was negligent; the rider is not legally to blame for his or her injuries simply because s/he did not wear a helmet. This is an extra bit of legal protection for riders who are hurt (or killed) by careless drivers and means cyclists should not be afraid that the failure to wear a helmet will interfere with their civil claim. Of course, we still highly recommend that riders of all ages wear a helmet at all times when bicycling.
Safety is a group effort. We support efforts to make Florida safer for bicycle riders. Together, we can put the dubious distinction of being "first in the nation" in bicycle fatalities behind us. We are also committed to working on behalf of injured riders and the families who have lost a loved one in a bicycle crash. Call of Panama City bicycle rider's law firm for more information.