George C. Palaidis
Changes Effecting Florida Bicyclists Become Law
There are some big changes effecting Florida bicyclists starting July 1, 2021. On June 29, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 950, addressing bicycle and pedestrian safety, into law. I wrote about the initial version of this bill back in March when it was introduced in the Senate, along with its companion bill in the House. The bill was modified as it travelled through committees for its final votes, passing both the Senate and House. Here is what the final version will now mean for Floridians.
For the first time, there is now a definition for both bicycle lane and separated bicycle lane in Florida law. While neither discuss any specifics as to size, the definitions do state that a bicycle lane would be one “which is designated by pavement markings and signs for preferential or exclusive use by bicycles.” No more can police and others tell bicyclists to ride in the narrow shoulder and claim it is a bicycle lane.
The new law also revamps the prior statute on motorists overtaking and passing a vehicle. The law now requires a motorist to remain a safe distance behind the bicyclist if they cannot pass with at least 3 feet distance, until such time that they can. In my opinion this was already implicit in the law, but it is much better that this directive is spelled out. The new law also requires drivers to give 3 feet distance when passing a bicyclist traveling in an adjacent bicycle lane (but not a separated bicycle lane). The new law would also allow drivers to overtake and pass a bicyclist while both are in a no-passing zone, provided it is done safely.
“Right hooking” is now also addressed. A right hook is when a motorist turns right at an intersection and cuts off the bicyclist traveling forward through the intersection. These turns surprise bicyclists and often lead to crashes and injuries, and even death. The new law says that when a driver passes a bicyclist and the driver wishes to make a right turn, that the driver signals the turn and make the right turn only if the bicyclist is at least 20 feet from the intersection and thus safe for the driver to turn. This is a good addition to the law, which provides protections to bicyclists now.
One issue I have, though, is regarding the distance of 20 feet. A bicyclist riding 15 mph will travel 22 feet per second, and one going 18 mph will travel 26.4 feet per second. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) estimate that 2.5 seconds are needed for perception/reaction time. I think you see the problem here. Considering through traffic typically has the right of way, the turning vehicle (the motorist) should wait for that bicyclist to proceed through the intersection, and perhaps extend the distance to 50 feet. Yes, this is a step in the right direction to finally address right hooking, but it clearly isn’t finished.
SB 950 also addresses situations when big group rides come to a stop sign. Drivers would be required to allow groups of 10 or less to proceed at the same time after the cyclists fully stopped, before the driver could proceed. Previously, only one bicyclist at a time could go through after stopping, thus allowing for all other vehicles to go one at a time. Realistically this does not happen, and the group rides will proceed through all at once, but this would give them the legal support in doing so, up to ten at a time.
Unfortunately, it reiterates that bicyclists “must” ride in a bicycle lane if one is provided, but the inexhaustive list of reasons to exit a bicycle lane still exist. Oddly it also now states that bicyclists can ride two abreast in a bicycle lane if there is room, otherwise “must ride single-file within the bicycle lane.” I’m not sure why including that was necessary, since now a police officer could cite a bicyclist for violating that provision.
Another addition to the law is a provision that states in a substandard-width lane (a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane) bicyclists can “temporarily ride two abreast only to avoid hazards in the roadway or to overtake another” bicyclist. This provision does not make sense to me. If a bicyclist can “take the lane” in a substandard-width lane, that means a motorist would be required to change lanes to pass the bicyclist. A group of bicyclists should be able to travel in the lane because under no circumstance could a motorist pass them within that lane. So why prevent bicyclists from riding two abreast in a substandard width lane for reasons beyond avoiding hazards or passing a cyclist? This doesn’t provide any enhanced safety for cyclists and I can see this provision being a problem going forward between law enforcement and riders.
I was disappointed with the final version of the law regarding driver's exams. When initially filed, the bill would have required 20% of the driver’s exam test questions address bicycle and pedestrian safety. Unfortunately, during the course of the session the bill was amended and when passed it only required that 25 questions in the test bank address bicycle and pedestrian safety. Now there’s no way to determine how many questions will actually be on the driver’s exam. Sure, this is something, but it could have been better.
While good in many ways, there are some downsides to the changes in the law. Many can, and should, be addressed next year during the legislative session and bicyclists need to reach out to their legislators now supporting those changes. As it stands now, though, the changes are now the law in the land.