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“Share the Road” More Important Than Ever

I’ve seen a lot of articles recently suggesting that people are using alternative transportation to avoid the high gas prices we’ve seen this year. It’s hard to pin down statistics on that, but officials in both Florida and Washington have speculated recently that we may see more two-wheeled vehicles on the road if gas prices stay high. After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent release of new accident statistics, federal Transportation Secretary Mary Peters suggested that more drivers may turn to motorcycles and scooters that get 50 mpg or more. And closer to home, the East Orlando Sun reported that more people here in Florida might turn to bicycles to avoid buying gas altogether. Judging by what I’ve personally seen on the road, they’re both right.

If this is true, it’s mostly great news. Motorcycling and bicycling both offer a lot of advantages over driving, including fun, easy parking and less effect on the environment as well as fuel savings. If you’re bicycling, you’re also getting some healthy exercise. But as an experienced motorcyclist, I can’t emphasize enough to new riders that traveling on two wheels requires a little extra caution. When you’re on a bike of either type, you’re less visible to other motorists. And without a steel cage, seat belts or airbags around you, you’re a lot more vulnerable in the event of a crash. That’s one reason U.S. motorcyclists were 35 times more likely to die in a crash than drivers in 2006, even though they only accounted for 0.4% of all vehicle miles traveled. The NHTSA doesn’t keep the same statistics for bicycles, but it does note that Florida had the highest bicycle fatality rate in the nation in 2006, at 7.3 deaths for every million Floridians.

To prevent these horrific and unnecessary tragedies, federal and local authorities have asked motorists for years to “share the road.” While enforcement generally — and in my opinion, correctly — focuses on drivers who aggressively crowd or resent bikes and motorbikes, sharing the road is a two-way street. You can’t control the folks around you, unfortunately, but you can and should do what you can to minimize your risk. Here are some tips on sharing the road for everyone — drivers, motorcyclists and bicyclists — from the Florida Bicycle Association and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation:

Know your responsibilities. Under the law, bicycles and motorbikes are vehicles, with all of the same rights and responsibilities that drivers have. That means you have to stop for traffic signals, signal your turns and yield to pedestrians and other vehicles when appropriate. In addition to preventing an accident, following these rules also protects you from false accusations of reckless biking if you do get hit.

Stay aware. Drivers are much more likely to see a two-wheeled vehicle if they’re looking for one. For drivers, that means they need to keep the possibility of a bike in mind at all times, yield when they see one and be extra careful when gauging its speed. For riders, that means doing their best to stay visible to drivers, and taking extra precautions with the knowledge that drivers may not see them.

Know your rights. Motorcycles are entitled to a full lane at all times; bicyclists are entitled to one when cars can’t pass safely. You are not “blocking the road” if you’re making a move for safety’s sake.

Don’t drink and ride (or drive). Even if a DUI doesn’t scare you, consider the possibility of dying or sustaining permanent brain damage or another disability — or accidentally inflicting those injuries on someone else. Even if you’re on a bicycle, if you can’t walk straight, it’s best to call a cab.

If you’ve been hurt despite your best efforts by a driver who just “didn’t see” your bicycle or motorcycle, contact us today for a free consultation.

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