Florida’s Road Bike Laws

Anyone who lives in South Florida knows that the population of road bikers has exploded in recent years. With Lance Armstrong’s exploits and the availability of relatively inexpensive high performance bicycles, it is not uncommon, especially on weekend mornings, to see a countless number of road bikers of all shapes and sizes challenging themselves in their spandex shorts and colorful helmets on the streets and highways.

Even without having to contend with cars and trucks, road biking is a dangerous activity. Potholes, debris, and other bicycles can send a rider to the unforgiving cement in the blink of an eye. Eyes on the road and hands on the handlebars is Rule #1.

South Florida has experienced a rash of highly publicized serious and sometimes fatal motor vehicle vs. bicycle accidents in recent years. With the volume of traffic, motor vehicles and bicycles, on the roadways, one can safely assume that the frequency of such accidents far exceeds the publicized accounts.

This blog will address the points of Florida law dealing with the rights and obligations of road bikers on our roads.

The primary Florida Statute dealing with these issues is 316.2065. Section 316.2065 addresses everything from helmet requirements to carrying children, much of which is beyond the scope of this blog, making it important reading for all bike enthusiasts.

Section (1) of 316.2065 contains the sweeping pronouncement that bicyclists and motor vehicle operators have the same rights and duties. One might conclude this means that bicycle riders can take up entire lanes of traffic without regard to the conditions. This conclusion would be far from correct.

Further in Section (1) is language that qualifies the broad pronouncement, while Section (5)(a) provides the simple details of the limitations. (5)(a) instructs that bicycle riders who are unable to to travel at the normal speed under the conditions at the time “shall” ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. As the typical lone rider travels at an average of 14-18 mph, and a pack (or pelaton) of strong riders around 5 mph faster than that, most road bikers will always be traveling slower than the speed limit. This means that most of the time, most riders should be riding at the edge of the roadway.

There are exceptions to this rule, also contained within Section (5)(a). Under the following circumstances, riders may leave the right-hand curb of the roadway:

  • When overtaking another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction
  • when preparing to make a left turn (see, also, 316.151(c))
  • To avoid any condition, such as parked cars, debris in the roadway, and a pedestrian.

Also included as an exception within section (5)(a) is one relating to roads of “substandard-width,” meaning roads not wide enough to safely accomodate a bicycle and a vehicle traveling side by side. For bikers, motorists, law enforcement officers, and the courts, this provision may be the most controversial within Florida Statute 316.2065.

What is a road of “substandard-width?” Arguably, the answer is any road that is less than 14 feet wide.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s Manual of Uniform Minimum Standards recommends an outside lane width of 14 feet as the “minimum width that will allow passenger cars to safely pass bicyclists within a single lane,” i.e., without the need for passing motorists to use part of the next lane. A typical passenger vehicle is from 5.5 feet (car) to 7 feet (SUV) wide. This means that you need at least 8 feet of lane width for a car. (That’s the narrowest parking lane width allowed).

Florida Statute 316.083 states that motorists must pass bicycles at least 3 feet away. Add another 3 feet for the width of a bicycle and its rider, and 14 feet (8 + 3 + 3) is the narrowist width a road should be for bicyclists and automobiles to safely travel side by side. (This minimum does not account for commercial vehicles and utility trailers which are 8.5 ft wide and can have mirrors extending to 10 feet. Those vehicles MUST use part of another lane to pass safely.)

Does this mean that bicyclists riding on roads less than 14 feet wide may travel within the regular lane, even if it impedes traffic? Arguably so.

Sadly, South Florida has not been a user-friendly environment for road bikers. The roads – most are less than 14 feet wide – were not designed with bikers in mind and motorists sometimes have little regard for their safety. The hope is that local government agencies will begin to recognize the importance of safe roadways for vehicles and bikers and take the steps necessary to get there. Recent actions by The City of Miami are encouraging.

Many bicycle accidents are caused by motorist negligence.
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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.