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Three Cycling Deaths in Three Weeks Is Three Too Many

The Fran Haasch Law Group

Three bicyclists have been killed during the past three weeks, all of them while pedaling on roads in our backyard.

Firefighter John Wilson was struck by an SUV in Jupiter on Feb. 7. He was 50 years old.

Two days later, cyclist, Gary Zimmer was hit by a car while riding in a bike lane on the Jensen Beach Causeway. He was 67.

And last Friday morning, Nicholas Rybka, died after he was hit by an 83-year-old tour bus driver in Vero Beach. He was 21.

I wish I could say the deaths were an anomaly — but they are not. More people die on bikes in Florida than any other state in the country.

In 2009, 107 bicyclists died in traffic accidents in Florida, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent data.

That’s eight more deaths than California, which has double the population. Our state led the country in deaths in 2008, too,

“There’s something seriously wrong in Florida,” said John Goings, a Palm City resident and president of the Treasure Coast Cycling Association.

The main problem, he believes, is that motor vehicle drivers aren’t aware of the laws.

They don’t know that state statutes require them to stay 3 feet away from cyclists when passing. They aren’t aware that the law treats bicycles as vehicles that have a right to the road, too.

Goings logs about 150 miles a week on his bike. While he has never been hit by a car, he knows plenty of cyclists who have been.

John Mildenberger is among them. Road rash covered half of his face after a car struck him on the Stuart Causeway in 2004.

“My bike was demolished under the car. Fortunately, I was launched over the hood,” the 55-year-old told me. He was knocked unconscious, but avoided lasting injury.

Three years later, while biking in Port Salerno, he was hit again when a car turned into his path in the bike lane.

“My left hand took off their rearview mirror, and I went over the handlebars,” said Mildenberger, a resident of Sewall’s Point. He broke his collar bone that time.

And yet cyclists are demonized by some drivers.

“I’ve had people scream at me. The common one is, “Get off the road, get on the sidewalk!’ ” Mildenberger said.

A passerby once hurled a grapefruit at Goings’ wife while she was on her bike. He’s been given the “one finger salute” more than a few times himself.

Goings realizes it’s difficult to enforce laws that protect cyclists, including the 3-foot rule. Unless police happen to witness a violation, it’s difficult to prove.

Some cyclists have taken to wearing cameras on their helmets so they can document the most blatant of violations, Goings told me.

Mildenberger would like to see local law enforcement officers get more aggressive about enforcement. He would like more road signs urging drivers to watch for cyclists, too.

“Of course, we want all the bike lanes we can get — but we realize it costs money and takes time,” said Mildenberger, who is a member of Martin County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Not all cycling accidents are the fault of motor vehicle drivers. About half are the result of cyclists violating the basic rules of the road, according to the Florida Bicycle Association.

But the other half? Those of us behind the wheel have a responsibility to prevent them.


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