Two Citations-Identical Circumstances-Opposite Verdicts
Recently, a cyclist was cited for violation of the “keep right” provisions of s. 316.2065-Bicycle Regulations. It was upheld in traffic court.
It was similar to another citation about a year ago in another jurisdiction. Both cases were nearly identical in the circumstances and the evidence presented by the bicyclists to the court.
The cases are notable because one cyclist was found guilty and the other the case was dismissed. There were some differences in the situations.
Both cyclists were advised to write to the department, retain counsel, and file a motion to dismiss before the court date. The cyclist who was found guilty chose to proceed without counsel.
The other retained counsel and filed a motion to dismiss, which was decided in his favor before the court date.
I believe that the time and proper setting of a pre-trial motion will enable full exploration of the circumstances, facilitating a better decision. The environment in traffic court is not conducive to thorough examination of the laws and circumstances of a case.
In the upheld case, there was an allegation of rude and disrespectful conduct on the part of the cyclist. Although the cyclist denies such behavior, my uninformed opinion is that those allegations affected both the decision to award the citation and the court case. We should know that is not a positive way to impress an officer or the court, and should never be a part of our roadway interactions.
There were some minor differences in the circumstances. One was a multi-lane roadway and the other was a roadway with one lane in each direction, which should have no bearing. Both lanes were less than 12 feet wide. Both met the substandard-width lane, unsafe condition exception to the “keep right” provisions of FS 316.2065 (5)(a)3.
Some of the statements allegedly made by officers in both cases stress the need for education about the laws. The statements were reported by the cyclists and I have no way of verifying some of them. My guess is that they were accurate since I have heard other such reports that I know to be true.
In both cases, the officer indicated that the cyclist could not impede traffic. The statute that generally addresses impeding traffic applies only to motor vehicles. (In each of these cases, the cyclist was riding alone. There is another statute that discusses impeding traffic while riding two abreast. Please see the July 13, 2009 post in the archives.)
s. 316.183 – Unlawful Speed
(5) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic
In the case in which the cyclist was found guilty, the officer indicated in court that there was a sidewalk that the cyclist could have been using, indicating ignorance of the rights of cyclists as operators of vehicles and the additional hazards of cyclists riding on sidewalks.
The cyclist read the substandard-width provision in the statutes, and a quote from the Department of Transportation about a wide curb lane being a minimum of 14 feet wide with narrower lanes being not wide enough for a motor vehicle to safely pass a bicycle within the same lane.
The officer stated that virtually all lanes in that city are less than 14 feet wide and cyclists would be able to ride in the center of the lane everywhere, which seems to imply that since that community has narrow roadways, Florida law does not apply.
About 90% (My estimate) of Florida roadways have lanes that are less than 14 feet wide. I believe that was the intent of the “unsafe conditions” language in the Bicycle Regulations that allows a cyclist to leave the right side of the roadway and become more visible, thereby encouraging safe and legal overtaking and passing by motorists.
The statutes reflect and should encourage safe cycling practices. In both cases, there is a lack of understanding of the principles of safe cycling, and that riding far right in a narrow lane encourages motorists to illegally and dangerously attempt to pass within the lane with oncoming traffic or conflicting traffic in the adjacent lane.
It is troubling that such similar cases could be decided so differently. That does not bode well for education and enforcement of the laws about bicycling.
This is the second such case in that community that has resulted in a guilty verdict. In neither case did the judge state how narrow a lane must be to be substandard-width, and therefore entitled to treatment as an unsafe condition under that provision of FS 316.2065, nor recognize cyclists’ discretion to do as the statutes say, avoid unsafe conditions.
Florida is among those states with the very highest casualties and some communities, including that with the upheld citations, have been repeatedly identified as those with “Mean Streets” in 2004 and more recently, “Dangerous By Design”. We know from studying crash reports that a significant numbers of crashes result from cyclists riding too far right when they are not required to do so by law. Cyclists need law enforcement and the courts to support their legal right to protect themselves from common crashes.
If the image of Florida as having the most dangerous communities in the U.S. is to change, we must begin by concern for safety over traffic flow.
The uniform understanding and application of the laws about bicycling in Florida will come from implementation of FBA’s Bicycle Law Enforcement Program.