There is good news for Florida bicyclists, pedestrians, and others who share the road with motor vehicles. A bill to protect “vulnerable users” on our roads is under consideration in the Florida legislature. If it passes, motorists who commit traffic infractions and injure others will face enhanced fines and penalties, including license suspension in some cases.
The bill accomplishes several goals at once. It protects not only bicyclists and pedestrians, but other vulnerable users such as emergency medical crews, roadside construction workers, horse riders, and people in wheelchairs. All will have greater protection when they use roads, or road shoulders, throughout our state.
Motor vehicles turning right are also subject to new rules under the proposed bill. It will be clear under the new law that one should not make a right turn unless they can do it without blocking the travel of a vulnerable user. This is intended to prevent the common scenario where a car passes a bicyclist on the left, then cuts the bicyclist off by turning right directly into his or her path. A driver will now have to make sure they have gotten far enough ahead of the bicyclist to make their right turn safely.
The proposed law also clarifies the rule requiring motorists to give three feet of room when passing a vulnerable user. It will be clear that the rule also applies to anything attached to the vehicle, such as rearview mirrors and towed trailers.
Cyclists will be happy to hear the new law addresses an ugly problem they’ve faced: harassment by people in cars and trucks. It would make it illegal to “harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of a person riding a bicycle.” Doing this would become a crime punishable by fines of $250 or more and up to 30 days in jail.
This is a real problem. In my years riding a bike on local roads, I’ve had people in cars throw fast food bags, bottles, and other objects at me; swerve toward me, then correct their course at the last second; scream obscenities or variations on “get out of the road;” and creep up behind me and blast their horns just to see if they could make me jump off my seat. I’m not alone in receiving this treatment, and I know people who’ve actually been run off the road and have crashed. It’s hard to believe this isn’t a crime already, but it’s better-late-than-never to make it one.
Finally, the law will also require new drivers and people applying for commercial licenses to be tested on these new provisions of the traffic code. That should result in a new generation of drivers who know and internalize the concept of vulnerable users and respect their rights.
State Representative Kathleen Passidomo of Naples and co-sponsor Heather Fitzhagen deserve great credit for introducing this bill. Please contact your Florida congressman and let them know you support better protection in our traffic laws for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users.
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