March is Florida Bike Month, and National Bike Month is celebrated every May, which is just around the corner. In our state, the mass expanse of the land and highways running through it make it a region where the car reigns supreme. The state’s car culture is alive and well, and this is evidence by the fact that there can be great deal of traffic congestion, and air pollution from vehicle exhaust, especially in older cars.
In a part of the country where sunshine is endless, it is a wonder that, while the number of cyclists on the road is growing, this growth is not as exponential as one would be led to believe. Here is one example. Some of the roads post speed limits of up to 50 mph, which can be an invitation for speeders may deter cyclists from wanting to bike alongside, knowing fast-travelling cars zipping past them can be terribly risky.
A Call to Improve the Laws
Legislators are trying to propose ways to not only promote the benefits of cycling, but also make it safer for all citizens. As an example, some states already have or are proposing mandatory helmet laws for cyclists of all ages. As it stands, Florida only requires cyclists 16 and under to wear one.
In response to this, Florida State Legislature began issuing new bicycle laws in 2012.
These include the following:
- Flashing lights are permitted on bicycles when riding at night
- Headsets and earphones are not permitted while riding
- “May Use Full Lane” may be used for narrow roads or where fast-traveling drivers may be
- Riders are no longer required to maintain one hand on the handlebars
- Drivers must maintain a distance of at least 3 feet when passing a cyclist
Designing bicycle safety programs as well as encouraging safer driving habits for motorists is key to bettering the guidelines for safety and reduce the number of deaths. Yet, in a state where the car is king, where many still rely on its usage and benefit to the economy, this can prove to be difficult for legislators to come to a compromise.
The Benefits of Cycling
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of cycling is the improvement to one’s health. Indeed, those who live within cycling distance of their destination may find a reduction in stress, more calories burned, and an enhanced mood, from the production of endorphins, a “feel-good” chemical.
Once the state decides to encourage cycling to the masses, it must then also address the apprehension some may feel over the safety. In a study conducted between the years 2010-2012, the Governors Highway Safety Association found that the number of deaths resulting from cycling accidents increased 16%, and Florida was placed second in the entire U.S. for cycling deaths.
This points to possible problems with road construction. Are the roads too wide and the posted speed limits too lenient, thus encouraging people to drive faster than they normally should? Are the roads geared more toward the driver rather than the pedestrian or the cyclist? Many of these questions and more beg to be explored further as we head into National Bike Month.
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