Which Side of the Road?

Question

Rachel asked:  I was riding north on the southbound side of the bridge.  I feel safer because I can see the cars coming towards me.  I got stopped and was told I had to ride on the northbound.  What is the law on which side of the road to ride?

Answer

Cyclists are operating vehicles and are required to travel in the same direction as other drivers when in the roadway.

s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations

(1) Every person propelling a vehicle by human power has all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle….

s. 316.081 Driving on Right Side of Roadway; Exceptions

(1) Upon all roadways of sufficient width, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway….

There are many reasons for the laws as they are written.  It has been well documented that it is much safer to be traveling in the same direction as other traffic.  Drivers do not expect to see vehicles coming toward them on the right and do not have as much time to react.  Riding against traffic is particularly dangerous at intersections and driveways.  Signs and signals may not be visible.  Drivers preparing to enter the roadway frequently do not look to the right.

The relative closure rate for a bicyclist traveling at 15 mph and a motor vehicle at 35 mph in the same direction is 20 mph.  If traveling in opposite directions, the closure rate is 50 mph.

Even though cyclists on sidewalks are not required to ride in the same direction as roadway traffic , the same hazards (And many others) are present.

Posted in Ask Geo, Lane Width & Sharing Tagged with:
20 comments on “Which Side of the Road?
  1. Frank says:

    Look at it this way too…

    What if I’m riding my bike southbound, while you’re riding north on the southbound side….
    How do we pass each other? Especially if there is no bike lane.
    Think about how dangerous that is..
    FYI… This happens to me CONSTANTLY.
    It’s so incredibly dangerous. I can not tell you enough..
    Especially since I ride an electric bicycle and I’m constantly going 20mph..
    If I’m coming over a bridge and your also coming over on the same side of the road, it’s going to create disasterous results.
    Please, please, please, everyone ride on the correct side of the road.

    • Rocky Ridwe says:

      when that happens to me I roll onto the grass and wait for the rider to pass.

      • Don Mahoney says:

        Obey the law, ride WITH traffic, NOT against… riders coming toward you are totally distracted by your law breaking, exposing them to distraction and therefore an accident.

  2. Patrick says:

    I frequently bike up and down Morris Bridge Road from Cross Creek Road to get to the entrance of Flat Woods Park in New Tampa, which is about a 3 mile stretch. The road is one lane each way, and has a narrow dedicated bike lane strip on each side.

    Earlier this week I was nearly run over by a mini-van that had drifted halfway into the bike lane and continued to ride toward me either without noticing that they were approaching a cyclist in a lane they should not be driving in, or not caring. End result was that I was forced off the bike lane and crash into a ditch, causing injury to myself and to my road bike. The offending vehicle never slowed down or stopped to see if I was alright.

    Due to the frequency of vehicles drifting into the bike lanes on that road, I’ve taken to riding in the opposite direction of traffic (in the dedicated bike lanes), which in this case I am positive saved my life. Had I been biking with the flow of traffic on that side, the vehicle would surely have run me down.

    I would like some legal clarification as to Florida laws with regard to my situation and if there is ever any scenario where riding within a dedicated bike lane and not in the direction of traffic on that side is legal, or at least defensible from a legal stand point. Also, there are no directional markers in the bike lanes on Morris Bridge Road. The conditions on Morris Bridge road are so hazardous that being forced to ride with traffic and getting clipped from behind with no warning makes using those bike lanes effectively unusable.

    It makes no rational sense that people are forced to choose between possibly violating a law in order to be able to more effectively avert disaster, or risk being hit by a vehicle without warning in order to comply with a law or statue. And yes, I do understand the math regarding collision speed difference when riding with or against traffic, but would argue that more cyclists would be alive today had they been aware that a vehicle was trespassing into their lane, than not.

    Unfortunately I did not get the license plate of the driver that nearly killed me, but is there some legal recourse I should pursue?

    Sincerely,
    Patrick

  3. Geo says:

    There is no legal justification for riding against traffic in the roadway, whether there is bike lane or not.

  4. Frank S. says:

    My question for you is what would happen if I wanted to ride in the opposite (with traffic) direction as you on that same road?
    The other part is that if you were riding in the same direction as the minivan, the minivan would have more time to avoid you.
    The reason for uniform rules is for safety first. All studies done, have shown it is safer to ride with traffic then against it.
    If you are that worried about a rear collision, I would suggest you buy one or two rear view mirrors, like I have.

    • Rocky Rider says:

      Mirrors, lights and flags are still no deterrent for drivers with limited or no situational awareness. When any of us bikers take to the roadway we put ourselves in a combat situation.

      I have never heard of a combat unit BACKING into a fire fight. With our backs turned to traffic that is bearing down on us – generally above the speed limit – while they are: TEXTING, DIALING, ANSWERING or TALKING on the phone or to others in their vehicle we lose that one thousandth of a second reaction time which often could be the difference between life and death.

      It’s not the closure speed that kills the bike rider. It’s the loss of reaction time due to limited sight of traffic. Because of division of attention between what lies ahead and what is closing behind us the peddler loses the advantage of reaction time.

    • Rocky Rider says:

      Please site the study, author and years and where the statistical data may be found.

  5. RICHARD BROWN says:

    TOTALY DISAGREE WITH THE LAW. YOU SHOULD RIDE YOUR BIKE ‘AGAINST’ THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC THEN YOU CAN AT LEAST SEE WHOS GOING TO KILL YOU!

  6. joshua says:

    well im one that leans more to riding against traffic and heres why, i have been hit twice from behind one mini van clipped me nd i landed in a ditch and a month later it was a pick up truck…. i always went against traffic unless it was dark otherwise the beams would blind me untill i got stoped by a cop…. but the way i feel and as i explained to her… if yuh ever get into an accident riding north bound on a south bound it your personal fault cuz it is true people getting into the street will not look or see yuh at times cuz there not expecting it and it lets yuh judge if the driver coming at you is SOBER!! if your driving with the flow yuh dnt knoe how close or far the car is to yuh or even if the driver is drunk. i personly feel it shouldnt be AGAINST the law to drive against traffic it should just be on your own responsibitys cuz yuh have the chance to avoid all accident unlike going with traffic.

  7. Charlie says:

    If you choose to ride on Morris Bridge Rd., either direction then make sure you have your will and affairs in good order. In other words expect to die or suffer major injuries. I’m a confident, competent and experienced cyclist who rode once from Flatwoods to Chancey Rd. ….never again. It’s hardly safe to drive on that road let alone ride a bike. It’s a sad state of affairs but that’s the way it is. I carry my bikes on a rack to the park and I’m glad to pay the park $2 for the privelidge. Until the time comes when there is a dedicated and guarded bike lane(another lifetime) then stay safe and drive your bike to your destination. Accidents happen but there are still far too many motorists who will not share the road or just plain don’t like cyclists.

  8. Geo says:

    It is recommended that you and other cyclists get involved and go to organizations that can effect change. Are you a regular participant in the Bike/Ped Advisory Committee and do you and your cycling friends attend County and City Commission meetings and express your concerns? Do you report all violations to the police? Are you in contact with the agency having jurisdiction over the construction and repair of the roadway?

    You can have an impact. For example, a group of cyclists observed that the a state roadway in Palm Beach County was being resurfaced without bike lanes in contradiction to state law and the agency’s own directives. The group took action and eventually got a favorable ruling at the Florida Court of Appeal that is now a state-wide precedent. It took along time and was very difficult, but it got done. That precedent has been used (By me) in another location in the state to insure proper facilities are installed when there is any change to a state roadway. There are many other examples of empowered cyclists taking effective action to improve the cycling environment.

    Too often, cyclists expect someone else to do it for them. For example, are all the readers of this article members and active participants in the Florida Bicycle Association or another advocacy organization. If not, why not? They can get action. See the recent post about blinkies at

    http://flbikelaw.org/2013/02/bicycle-lights-2/#more-1299

  9. Teev says:

    Driving tests should make drivers more aware of push bikes like uk tests cars should slow down indicate to go around them then there would be less accidents in Florida the test is ridiculas any idiot can pass it and it causes deaths

  10. Geo says:

    Rocky,

    There were numerous studies and much experience before the law was changed in about 1980. Prior to that, the law was as you suggest, which proved to be a dangerous practice.

    Now that the law has changed, very few crashes have occurred when bicyclists were obeying the law. Although some bicyclists feel as you do and fear a crash from behind, those comprise only a very small percentage of crashes. Many more occur due to bicyclists riding on the sidewalk, riding against traffic running stop signs and red lights and at night without lights.

    There have been many studies that justify the change in the law. This is one. If you want to do more research, you will find many others in Florida and all over the nation that say the same thing.

    http://www.metroplanorlando.com/files/view/bicyclist-crash-study.pdf

  11. John C says:

    If the operator of a motor vehicle should hit and injure a bicycle rider who is in the bike lane but riding the wrong direction, would the driver be held legally liable for the accident and or injury?

  12. Theophyle Kayle says:

    Geo wrote, “Now that the law has changed, very few crashes have occurred when bicyclists were obeying the law. Although some bicyclists feel as you do and fear a crash from behind, those comprise only a very small percentage of crashes.” Is “very few” less than or more than “very small percentage”?

    I have been a recreational bicycle rider for sixty or more years. Most of the time, I ride in the bike lane, facing on-coming traffic. When I was a child, my mother took me for a ride in our car, and at one point put a cigarette in her mouth, and said, “Son, watch what I do and what the car does”. Then, with her left hand on the steering wheel, she reached her right arm and hand across to the car’s cigarette lighter, pushed it in, and waited until it popped out. As she did so, I noticed that the car drifted to the right towards the curb; I told her that. She replied, “If you were walking or riding your bike in the lane next to the curb with your back to this car or any other car like it, you would be dead now. The driver of the car would feel terrible about it, but you wouldn’t feel anything.” To be sure, very few people smoke these days, but everyone it seems has a smart phone, and is texting. Just so, last summer, Patrick Wanninkhof, an accomplished biker, was riding across country with a companion, another accomplished biker. Both were struck from behind by a woman who, according to a newspaper article, “was distracted and looking at her phone.” Wanninkhof died at the scene, his companion was hospitalized. The driver felt awful about it. A few weeks ago, I heard on TV about a group of experienced bikers who were struck from behind by a pickup truck. Five bikers died, a half dozen or so were injured. They never saw it coming. Over the years, I have learned of numerous similar tragedies, but I have never read or heard of a collision between a bike and a car when the biker was riding facing on-coming traffic.

    I live in a small New England port town. People here are polite and thoughtful. But from what I observe daily on my bike, many of them drive and text, and from what I see, the effect of driving and texting is the same as using a car cigarette lighter: The car drifts. While biking, I am often passed by town cops, county sheriffs, and State police. None has stopped me for being on “the wrong side”. Some have waved as they drove past. But again, this is a small town.

    Although I have never experienced it, I expect being rear-ended on a bicycle by a car at a combined speed of 20 miles per hour is a very serious business, never mind that 50 mph might be more serious. But the compounding problem of Geo’s 20 mph example is that the bicyclist doesn’t see it coming, so there’s no getting out of the way. As I see it, the most likely way a bicyclist can get hit by an on-coming vehicle drifting into the bike lane is if the bicyclist isn’t looking where he or she is going and at what’s coming at him or her (and if the bicyclist isn’t looking, it probably doesn’t matter what lane or direction the bike is moving). The same is true of pedestrians: In 1999, Stephen King, the horror storywriter, was struck from behind by a minivan while walking along the shoulder of a country road in rural Maine. If he had been facing the on-coming traffic, he would have seen it coming, jumped aside; but instead he was taken to a hospital.

    • Rocky Rider says:

      No doubt there is a serious bike riding law problem in Florida.
      Riding a bike with traffic closing on you at a high rate of speed from behind could be construed as suicide or bikecocide. To me it is the same as walking backward into a live firefight with the Enemy.

      The bike rider desperately needs that “Split Second” to make the decision to go in the ditch avoiding a collision with a car.

      Times change.
      Texting and driving have more than doubled our chances of being hit by a car.

      The Florida legislature needs desperately to revisit and rewrite the bike lane laws. Without doing that they are sentencing some of us to certain death.

      Keep your eyes open, your flashing lights on and your situational awareness at its highest Threat Level alert.

      Safe riding my friends.
      Rocky Rider US1.

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