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Cyclists, Motorists, and Traffic Laws

Cycle Shack serves one of the most bicycled communities in the United States: Naples Florida and the surrounding areas in Collier County. This is one of the few areas in the country where there are more bicycles owned than there are automobiles, and where bikes on public roadways comprise a meaningful percentage of overall commuter traffic.

So naturally, there are more accidents involving bicyclists, and many are fatal. While there are numerous reasons for this troubling reality, including poor intersection design, bike lanes that are too narrow or filled with debris, lack of protected bike infrastructure, or even a cyclist violating traffic laws, the vast majority of accidents occur because drivers are distracted while driving, or because they do not understand their responsibilities  relative to bicyclists.

Most importantly: yield to bikes at all times. That’s right. Cyclists have the right to impede automotive traffic for safety’s sake. But there’s plenty of confusion about this very simple rule.

For instance, most drivers (and many law enforcement officials) don’t realize that cyclists are permitted to occupy the center of the lane, rather than hugging the right side, if in the cyclist’s estimation, impeding automotive traffic increases their own safety. Yes, cyclists are legally allowed to impede traffic in order to reduce the likelihood of getting buzzed by a passing car, or to maintain increased visibility in order to reduce the chance of a collision. Of course, occupying the center of the lane is only allowed if the lane is less than 14 ft. wide (almost all lanes in Florida are 12) and if there is no marked bike lane present.

Pay attention to that last point–marked bike lane. Any road cyclist in Collier County will tell you that those 24-inch roadside rain gutters that are¬†not marked as bike lanes are not only hazardous to navigate and filled with bike-damaging debris, but are also not, in fact, bike lanes. This would be a situation where occupying the center of the lane, and impeding traffic, is not only acceptable, but compulsory, since an accident in the “bike lane” could lead to injury or death for the cyclist and a whole lot of trouble for the driver he gets tangled up with.

Understanding the law is just one way to make your cycling life more safer and more enjoyable, and of course, always use the right safety gear. A good-fitting helmet is crucial and gloves are helpful in case you do have to bail off your bike. High-visibility headlights and taillights are also a great way to make sure drivers see you, too. Enjoy the road, and happy cycling!