Disturbing Trends in Law Enforcement
Republished from the Fall 2013 FBA Messenger
As more and more people take to cycling in Florida, and as more and more learn how to drive their bicycles in a safe and law-abiding manner, a disheartening trend is starting to emerge. We are hearing of more and more cases in which law-abiding cyclists are stopped by law enforcement, sometimes given citations, and some of those citations are being upheld.
Florida law is clear — well, clear enough if one reads it without bias. Bicyclists are not required to stay “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge” if the lane is too narrow to share, if the cyclist is preparing for a left turn, or if there is any condition or potential conflict that makes it unsafe to stay near the right edge. In its “Green Book” standards the Florida Department of Transportation states that 14 feet is the minimum sharable width between cyclists and passenger cars; even more width is needed when buses and large trucks are present. Most roadways without bike lanes have lanes between 10 and 12 feet wide, and of the few roads with 14-foot lanes, many tend to have significant truck traffic.
Bicyclists are the only vehicle drivers who routinely have to defend themselves to an officer or judge for simply driving in a safe and defensive manner. In the past four years I’ve been stopped three times by local officers here in Central Florida, and told a few other times by passing officers to get to the right edge (or even to the sidewalk). In all cases I was legally controlling a narrow lane. I began using lane control in 1995 after reading John Forester’s Effective Cycling, and had not been stopped once from ‘94 to 2009. Similar stories from other cyclists are becoming routine.
The source of this problem is a poorly-written statute; F.S. 316.2065, section 5. This language is not unique to Florida; it originated in the national Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) in the early 1970s, when bicycling was starting to catch on again among American adults. The few experienced cycling enthusiasts at that time understood the problems with the “far to the right” law; that it forces cyclists to ride where they are most likely to get squeezed and to suffer right hooks and other conflicting movements. Those cyclists managed to have exceptions added to the UVC so that cyclists can legally avoid such conflicts, but too often officers and judges only read “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge” and go no further. Or when they read “a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane” they assume they understand how wide is safe and wide enough. Unfortunately it’s the cyclist who suffers if they are wrong.
“Self-defense” has been a big topic in the news in recent months. The Florida legislature tells us it’s okay to “meet force with force … if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.” Bicyclists could (and should) demand merely to be able to control the space around us in order to protect ourselves from the carelessness of otherwise innocent motorists. Rescinding the “far to the right” law is not an immediate goal for FBA — there is much ground work that needs to be done first — but we will eventually be bringing that fight to Tallahassee.
Your membership and support of FBA will help us continue to fight for the rights and safety of all Florida’s bicyclists. If a society punishes competence and peaceful self-defense, where is it headed? Nowhere I wish to be.
For more on this topic:
Bicycle Law Enforcement: Enforce Laws with Mutual Respect by Kirby Beck, Law & Order Magazine, July 2013