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.

12ft lane_shorterFlorida 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.

join-FBAYour 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

The Marginalization of Bicyclists (a history of discriminatory laws) by Bob Shanteau on iamtraffic.org

5 replies
  1. Kirsten Martin
    Kirsten Martin says:

    Thank you for writing this Mighk!
    As you know, this article hits very close to home for me!
    I would love to see this topic brought to a larger audience in Orlando. Have you thought of submitting a similar article to the Orlando Sentinal, or another Orlando based news paper?

  2. Angelo Dolce
    Angelo Dolce says:

    This fits my experience as well. In 1991, Philadelphia had only 1 bike lanes (one to right of RTOL onto I-76) and one bike/bus lane (often blocked/used by motorists), and bicycling in the middle of the lane was normal.

    Since then, bicyclist “advocates” have managed to get hundreds of bike lanes installed in Philadelphia and Delaware, with a strong emphasis on supporting any facility regardless of quality to encourage more bike lanes.

    I’ve since been pulled over twice (2009 for trying to turn left from narrow left lane, 2010 for riding on arterial road with no shoulder). The hostility from regular motorists explaining that I’m not allowed to leave the bike lane (i.e. when blocked by parked cars, to use streets without bike lanes, etc) has become routine. (Didn’t bicycle much in 2012 due to injury.)

    The advocates say the bike lanes are supported by novice bicyclists and potential bicyclists afraid of traffic. This may be true, but I think they are far outnumbered by motorists who believe the bike lanes make it illegal for bicyclists to use other lanes, or roads without bike lane.

    The change I see are widespread new facilities designed by motorist planners. The planners I’ve spoken/written to don’t bicycle in traffic, so designs that permit this make no sense to them (when suggested by “aggressive” transportation bicyclists). Motorists and LEO are understandably confused when bicyclists refuse to use the new bike lanes. (And not so excusably enraged).

    The bike lanes are installed to get bicyclists out of the way of motorists; if the designers had to ride in the facilities I see, they would never approve them.

  3. Dwight Kingsbury
    Dwight Kingsbury says:

    Section 316.2065(5)(a) is reasonably clear, but runs to such length (183 words) to list its various conditions and exceptions that even someone who has read the provision is apt not to be able to recall all the details without a copy of the full text before them.

    Officers working in traffic enforcement commonly use terse, tabular summaries of (key points of) traffic laws published in brochures or laminated cue cards for reference. In the case of s. 316.2065(5)(a), even a terse bullet list of the key points needs to be pretty wordy, unless some key points are omitted or grossly simplified.

    The result is a law that, while reasonably clear, is not well known and understood, even by many cyclists.

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