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Ask a Lawyer: Do I have to share the road with a bicyclist?

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 H.W. of Cedar Key writes: “You’ve been writing about golf carts lately, but I have a beef about another kind of nuisance on the roadways: bicycles. There’s this guy who rides his bicycle about in the middle of the road all the time and I’m tired of it. Isn’t he supposed to get out of MY way, not the other way around? Who has the right-of-way on State Road 24 coming into town…my car or his bike?”

Dear H. W.: 

You ask an interesting question, and one that many readers would likely want to know the answer to, but it is a trick question and it requires a careful response. My answer is this: It depends. That’s a good lawyer-like answer, isn’t it? But it’s true. It depends upon the width of the road, and here’s why.

 Florida Statute 316.0823 reads as follows:

“…The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other non-motorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or other non-motorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other non-motorized vehicle.”

So, we begin our analysis with that basic rule: A vehicle must allow at least 3 feet when passing a bicycle. Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that a bicycle and its rider take up approximately 3 feet, which is a reasonable assumption and fairly accurate, in my opinion. Let’s also assume that a vehicle takes up approximately 8 feet (my truck is about 7 feet wide). Although there are many vehicles narrower than that there are trucks and trailers, especially the big commercial vehicles, that take up at least 8 feet, so you’ve got to allow for the widest vehicles permitted on the roadway, and that means at least 8 feet. Right there, you’ve got 14 feet to account for.

Now the question becomes, how wide is the road? And that varies. In Cedar Key, once you cross over Number Four bridge coming into town, the lane is barely 9 feet wide, with no designated lane for a bicycle. On the other side of Number Four bridge the lanes widen and are in excess of 10 feet and there is a 4 foot wide bicycle lane. On State Road 24, the lanes widen even more and are about 11 feet in width. There is also a bicycle lane that is almost 5 feet wide. Now, on State Road 347, the lanes are back to less than 9 feet with absolutely no room on the other side of the white line for a bicycle.

You must also be aware of Florida Statute 316.2065 (5)(a)(3), which reads as follows:

“Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use or, if no lane is marked for bicycle use, as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway except …(3) when a substandard width lane makes it unsafe…A SUBSTANDARD WIDTH LANE IS A LANE THAT IS TOO NARROW FOR A BICYCLE AND ANOTHER VEHICLE  TO TRAVEL SAFELY SIDE BY SIDE WITHIN THE LANE.”

Doing the math, if the lane is 9 feet wide, as it is in Cedar Key, and you’ve got to allow for 14 feet (the bicycle and its rider (3), the vehicle (8) and the 3 feet required to pass), per the statute, the bicyclist may ride in the center of the lane for safety. You, the driver of the vehicle, must pass the bicycle as if you were passing another vehicle by going into the opposite lane of traffic to get around, making sure to be at least three feet away from the cyclist. 

So if there is no designated bicycle lane, and the lane of traffic is less than 14 feet wide, you must share the road. Most roads are now being built to that 14 foot specification, with a designated bicycle path included in that 14-foot span, since more and more people are riding bicycles these days.

Now, even though the above statute says the cyclist can, legally, ride in the center of a lane of traffic that is less than 14 feet wide with no designated bicycle lane, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. A cyclist must stay in a designated bicycle lane if one is provided and should always stay as far right as possible, in my opinion. Regardless of what road you are on or where the cyclist is on that road, you must allow at least 3 feet when passing a bicyclist.

As Sancho Panza said to Don Quixote, “it doesn’t matter if the rock hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the rock, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.” Cyclists are killed on roadways across America every day. Cyclists have to watch out for themselves and take precautions so as not to get hurt, even if it means running off the road into a ditch. By the same token, the crime of Vehicular Homicide means the killing of another person through the negligent use of a vehicle. The crime of Manslaughter involves culpable negligence, or reckless disregard for the life and safety of another. Drivers must take caution as well.

So H. W., where the roads are much narrower than 14 feet wide and there are no bicycle lanes, as is the case in the  entire community of Cedar Key, you absolutely must share the road with your bicycling neighbors. Some good advice is to slow down when you see a cyclist, and pass with extreme caution. Don’t allow a situation to occur where two vehicles and a bicycle try to occupy a roadway that is too narrow for all three. Something bad is sure to happen if you do, and nobody wants that.

Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the editor of this newspaper who will pass it along to the attorney. If you need assistance with a mortgage foreclosure matter, a landlord-tenant matter, a consumer matter such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, garnishment of wages, or other such thing and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system no matter what your income and asset level might be. 

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.