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Report: Drivers Face Few Penalties for Cycling Deaths

Last fall, a 54-year-old cyclist was struck by a pickup truck driver in Melbourne. The impact sent her flying over the handlebars. First responders, fighting to save her life, found her phone and sent her husband a text message: “Been an accident on Post Road.” 

In the end, they couldn’t save her. Her husband of six years says he lost everything that day. The driver, however, walked away unscathed. As Florida Today reported, he did not face any criminal charges.

In fact, very few motorists face criminal charges following bicycle accidents or pedestrian accidents – even when someone dies. As one traffic sergeant explained, so long as you weren’t impaired by alcohol or drugs and didn’t intentionally hit the person, there are typically no penalties. This is true even if you are at-fault for the crash. 

Say you ran a red light and slammed into a bicyclist, killing them. If you weren’t drunk, don’t flee the scene and had no actual intention of hurting them, you will probably only be cited for running a red light.

Criminal charges like reckless driving and vehicular homicide are only filed in situations where prosecutors can prove culpable negligence. Defined in F.S. 784.05, culpable negligence (a first-degree misdemeanor when it results in actual personal injury on another) occurs when one shows reckless disregard for human life or the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects or such an entire want of care as to raise a presumption of conscious indifference.

The fact is, we live in a country where the national highway system was designed for motor vehicles. So perhaps it should not be surprising that our legal system also prioritizes the rights of car drivers. This is true even as the number of cyclists who commute to work spiked by more than 60 percent – to more than 765,000, as of last count – and a growing number of communities are adopting “Complete Streets” that incorporate bike lanes other bike-friendly elements.

It is only a felony in three states to injure or kill a cyclist or pedestrian while driving. Even in those places, advocates say, compelling legal action against the drivers is challenging.

In Florida, especially, it’s been an uphill battle, which is evidence in the sheer number of bicycle accidents and deaths. According to the latest data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of the 743 cycling deaths in 2013, a total of 133 occurred in Florida. Cycling deaths here accounted for 5.5 percent of all traffic fatalities – higher than anywhere else in the country (the national average was 2.3 percent) – and the number of bicyclist deaths per 1 million people was 6.80 (again, higher than anywhere in the country).

Florida law does require drivers to keep at least three feet away from cyclists. However, many cyclists agree enforcement is often lacking.

Because the criminal justice system produces unsatisfactory results, most Florida bicycle accident victims seek redress in the civil justice system. It can still be challenging if the individual has no insurance or very little insurance or assets. Typically in that situation, we will pursue uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage, which is an extension of the victim’s auto insurance policy (which applies even though the victim wasn’t actually driving a motor vehicle).

If you are a bicyclist who has been injured in an accident or a survivor of a loved one who died in a cycling accident, we can help.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Drivers face few consequences for cycling fatalities, June 3, 2016, By Caroline Glenn, Florida Today

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