Legal Responsibilities of Motor Vehicle Drivers

Driver Responsibility to Exercise Care
(Section 316.130, F.S.)

Notwithstanding other provisions of this chapter, every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or any person propelling a human-powered vehicle and give warning when necessary and exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any obviously confused or incapacitated person.

Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle
(Sections 316.083, 316.085, F.S.)

The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. A driver overtaking a bicycle must maintain a horizontal clearance of at least 3 feet [§316.083]. Three feet is a minimum “safe distance” for passing a cyclist under typical urban conditions; when the passing vehicle is large, towing a trailer, or traveling at much higher speed, greater lateral clearance is needed.

To pass a cyclist with safe clearance, it may be necessary for a motorist to enter (at least partially) the next lane, when and where it is safe to do so.

No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit passing to be made without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. In every event an overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of travel as soon as practicable and, in the event the passing movement involves the use of a lane authorized for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, before coming within 200 feet of any approaching vehicle [§316.085].

The Double Yellow Line: The prohibition of passing in a no-passing zone does not apply when an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway [§316.0875(3)]. Thus, when a cyclist is traveling so slowly as to constitute an “obstruction,” a motorist may cross the center line in a no-passing zone to pass the cyclist if the way is clear to do so, i.e., when it can be seen that any oncoming traffic is far enough ahead that the motorist could finish passing before coming within 200 feet of an oncoming vehicle.

About 1 percent of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes involve motorists who misjudge the width or length necessary to pass a cyclist. Close passing causes some cyclists to “hug the curb,” or ride on the sidewalk, where crash risk actually increases.

Driving Speeds
(Sections 316.183, 316.185, F.S.)

No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event, speed shall be controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, or vehicle on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.

The driver of every vehicle shall drive at an appropriately reduced speed when approaching and going around a curve; approaching a hill crest; traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway; and when any special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.

The fact that a driver is traveling at less than the speed limit does not relieve him of the duty to reduce speed in such conditions. A driver must reduce speed as necessary to avoid colliding with any person legally present on the street.

Opening and Closing Vehicle Doors
(Section 316.2005, F.S.)

No person shall open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

Motorists: Tips for Safe Passing

by Lyndy Moore

Many bicyclists have experience riding in traffic and know how to watch out for cars and trucks. Motorists are not generally accustomed to bicyclists and often need tips. These tips include:

  • Cyclists skills vary. When possible, assess the rider’s capabilities. A safe (experienced?) rider holds a steady line.
  • Even though a bicyclist’s pace may pose a momentary delay in your schedule, it is important to respect the bicyclist’s safety and legal right to the roadways.
  • Yield the right of way to the bicyclist as you would a car.
  • Use extra caution during peak morning and afternoon riding hours.
  • Keep cool and lay off the horn and flashing headlights, either of which may startle a cyclist.
  • A moving vehicle creates wind turbulence that can seriously affect a cyclist’s control. When meeting or passing cyclists, slow down and give the widest berth possible. Crosswinds compound the problem for cyclists, as do large vehicles.
  • Cyclists worry about road defects you’d never feel in your car. Allow them plenty of room in case they swerve to miss
  • Cyclists require extra courtesy while negotiating railroad tracks and narrow bridges.
  • On a two-lane road, don’t pass a cyclist if oncoming traffic is near.
  • For safe passing, allow three to five feet of space; add one foot for every 10 mph over 50 mph. Florida law requires a minimum of 3 feet when passing a bicyclist. Even if the cyclist is in a bike lane, make sure you allow the 3 feet when passing.

What does it mean?

The roads are a cooperative system. They are a common space in our communities where we all interact daily. Our conduct on the roads influences the quality and livability of our communities.

Share the Road signs indicate the likelihood of cyclists on the roadway. They are used where the road is not wide enough for bicycles and cars to be operated safely within one lane. Therefore, “share the road” means “one after the other.” The bicycle driver, or group of cyclists, has the right of “first come, first served” and the full use of lane. Motorists wishing to pass, must yield and wait until is is safe to do so.

Bicycle drivers usually ride in the right half  of the lane, to offer visibility and easier passing for motorists. But they are not required to stay out of the way or to share their lane if it is not wide enough for side-by-side operation. The best position for cyclists in a narrow lane is one that makes clear to a following motorist that he or she must change lanes (typically, this is between the right tire track and the center of the lane, but varies based on many dynamic conditions). There are times when cyclists need to ride on the left side of the lane: to avoid a hazard or bad pavement; when traveling the speed of traffic; preparing for a left turn; or even to strongly discourage a motorist from passing when it is not safe.

Bike Lawyer, Steve Magas has an excellent article about why the concept of “sharing” fails cyclists.

Bicycles are vehicles, they belong on the road.

Bicycles do not belong on the sidewalk. Riding on the sidewalk is unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists are not required to ride on the shoulder. They may choose to do so, but shoulders can present hazards to cyclists. Cyclists should never ride in the gutter or hug the curb. Many inexperienced riders do this because they don’t know it greatly increases their risk of crashing.

Competent cyclists “Ride Big.” They ride several feet from the edge of the road to increase their visibility to other drivers, give themselves operating room and discourage motorists from trying to squeeze past them in narrow lanes.

Here’s how to avoid the
common mistakes that cause crashes.

Right-hook: Motorist turning right hits cyclist going straight.

Don’t pass a cyclist before making a right turn! Bicycles move faster than you think. Slow down and wait for the cyclist to clear the intersection.

When driving on a road with a bike lane – look, signal and merge into the bike lane before turning right. Properly marked bike lane lines should be broken before an intersection to encourage motorists to merge right and cyclists to merge left. Be aware that if you have been sitting in slow traffic, a cyclist could be passing you on the right. ALWAYS look over your right shoulder before merging or turning right!

Drive-out: Motorist pulls out from side street into cyclist’s path.

Yield to bicycles with the right-of-way just as any other vehicle. Don’t underestimate a cyclist’s speed, they are faster than you think. Always stop behind the stop bar and be alert for bicycle riders on the sidewalk, or hugging the edge of the road.

Remember, many quiet streets are bike routes. Always make a full stop and scan carefully before proceeding.

Left-cross: motorist turns left into, or in front of, cyclist.

Scan the whole roadway area, including the sidewalk, before turning left. Don’t underestimate a cyclist’s speed! You must yield to bicycles just as any other vehicle.

Side-swipe: Motorist misjudges passing clearance while trying to squeeze between cyclist and centerline, median or oncoming traffic.

You are required by law to pass a cyclist with no less than 3 feet of clearance. Many cyclist ride too close to the edge of narrow lanes. It is very tempting to try to squeeze past them. But it is illegal! You must wait until it is safe to use part of another lane pass. If passing safely requires you to use part of an oncoming lane, you must have ample clearance to pass before coming within 200 feet of oncoming traffic.

Trailers and rental trucks, whose drivers don’t account for the width of their vehicles, are especially problematic for cyclists. If you are towing a trailer or driving a vehicle with extended mirrors, make sure you allow extra clearance.

Door prize: Motorist opens the door of a parked car into the cyclist.

This can be a deadly collision. Typically, the bike’s handle-bar hits the door, turning the front wheel to the right and sending the cyclist flying to the left – where the cyclist is then run over by overtaking traffic.

NEVER open your car door without looking for passing traffic. Many inexperienced cyclists ride too close to parked cars. Some bike lanes are striped within the reach of car doors. It is your responsibility to make sure the lane is clear before opening your door, whether that lane is a narrow traffic lane or a bike lane.

Pause and think it through.

When you encounter a bicycle driver, take a moment to observe the roadway. In many cases it is not necessary to pass a cyclist right away, or at all:

  • Is there a red light, stop sign or stopped traffic ahead?
  • Is there an opportunity to pass with greater clearance in a short distance?
  • Are there vehicles at cross streets that might turn into the oncoming lane as you are passing?
  • Is the cyclist riding within a few mph of the speed limit?
  • Are you on a residential street with speed bumps?
  • Are you planning to turn off that road in 500 feet?

Once you have assessed the situation and determine it is safe and necessary to pass, give the cyclist plenty of space (the law requires at least 3 feet). On high-speed roads, reduce your speed as you pass. Even with plenty of clearance, it is not safe or considerate to pass a vulnerable road user at 70mph.

Take a deep breath, you have nothing to lose but stress.

Everyone is in a hurry. And lots of things get in the way: freight trains, red lights, other motorists, buses, etc. will all seem to be in your way throughout your journey.

Again, think before you pass. If there is stopped traffic, a stop sign, red light or speed bump ahead, you’ll gain nothing by passing. Save your gas.

A cyclist or group of cyclists in the road represents the most minor and momentary delay. Waiting a few seconds to pass a cyclist safely will not affect your total trip time at all. Injuring another road user because you are impatient and frustrated will cost you a lot more than a few seconds.

Purposely passing a cyclist too close with the intent to intimidate is ASSAULT. Passing too close at high speed because you are in a hurry is RECKLESS ENDANGERMENT.

If you see another motorist assault or endanger a cyclist, please call the police. We’re somebody’s daughter, son, mother, father, sister, brother, wife or husband. We might be your friend, neighbor, co-worker or doctor. Help us ensure the safety of Florida cyclists and the quality of our communities by driving cooperatively and reporting reckless driving and hostility.