Every year, millions of people take advantage of Florida’s incredible weather and amazing vistas by riding bicycles. Some do it for exercise. Others for pleasure. And still others ride their bikes because they want to reduce their carbon footprint.

One thing that no bicyclist ever wants to do, though, is get into an accident with a car. Unfortunately, as any local bicycle accident lawyer will tell you, Florida sees its fair share of serious bicycle accidents. Currently, California leads the nation with 338 cyclists killed in collisions between 2010 and 2012, but our state is a close second.

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Because of this, cyclists need to know how to ride as safely as possible and what they need to be doing to protect themselves. That’s why we’ve created this list of safety tips that all cyclists should follow every single time they get on – or even near – the road.

Ride with traffic. If you’re going to be biking in the street, riding against the flow of traffic is extremely dangerous. You drastically increase your chances of getting into a devastating head-on collision with a car, and because you’re both accelerating toward each other, the force of the impact will be much greater. But riding against traffic isn’t only dangerous, it’s illegal. Under Florida law, bicycles are treated like vehicles when you ride them in the street. If you’re going against the flow of traffic, you’re breaking the law.

Use the middle of the lane. The laws of our state say that cyclists need to ride as far to the right as they can when using their bikes in the road. However, there are all kinds of caveats to this, including:

  • When you’re trying to avoid an unsafe condition.
  • When you’re getting ready to make a left turn.
  • When you’re passing another vehicle on the road.
  • When the lane is so narrow that you can’t safely share it with another vehicle.
  • When you’re traveling at the same speed as other vehicles (or at least close to it).

Taken together, those caveats account for a lot of riding time, and you should take advantage of them. Why? Because the best way to keep yourself safe while riding is to be visible, and you’re a lot more visible if you’re right in front of a car as opposed to off to the side.

Stay alert. The most common accidents between bicycles and motor vehicles occur during drive-outs, left crosses, right hooks, sudden doors opening, and sideswipes – basically, any time a car doesn’t see you and suddenly comes into your path. Because of this, it is vital that you always pay attention to everything that’s going on around you. Watch for brake lights, turning signals, drivers in parked cars, and other potential dangers that can suddenly appear.

Avoid distractions. When you’re driving a car, it’s common to listen to the radio or talk to passengers. These distractions aren’t always good for drivers, so it’s good that cyclists don’t even have these options to break their concentration. Unfortunately, some cyclists make putting in headphones part of their riding routine. It’s understandable that you might want to have something to entertain you on your ride, but if you can’t hear potential dangers around you, they’re far more likely to cause harm. You should also try not to eat or drink while riding so that both hands are always ready for evasive action. Drivers shouldn’t drive distracted and it follows that bicycle riders shouldn’t ride distracted either.

Beware intersections. If there’s a single part of the road that acts as a death-trap for cyclists, it’s the intersection. Cars are coming from four different potential directions, everyone’s trying their hardest to get through the light before it changes, and vehicles frequently attempt to change lanes and turn left or right – sometimes even when they don’t have the right to do so. Because of this, you should always approach intersections with extreme caution. Slow down early, and if you need to turn, make your intentions known and start the process as soon as possible.

Know your signals. What’s the best way to make your intentions known? By learning the correct hand signals. To indicate that you’re slowing or stopping, you should put your left hand down to your side. For a left turn, stick your left hand all the way out to the left. When attempting a right turn, hold your left arm out at a 90 degree angle (with the elbow out and the hand pointing upward).

Make eye contact. One of the biggest reasons why Florida motorists get into accidents with cyclists is that they don’t see them. There are many reasons for this, and you can only do so much to make sure that you are visible, but one thing that far too few cyclists do is attempt to make eye contact. It’s a lot harder to miss (or ignore) someone when they are staring right at you. Plus, actually getting a driver to acknowledge your existence is a nice bit of extra assurance if you’re trying to change lanes, pass, or engage in some other kind of action.

Have the right gear. You probably know that you should wear a bike helmet because it increases your chances of surviving a crash by leaps and bounds. But having the right gear doesn’t stop there. If riders truly want to be as safe as possible, they should wear bright or light clothing, use mirrors, put reflectors on the pedals and rear of the bike, and use a front lamp – especially if they’re going to be biking after dark.

Of course, sometimes no matter how safe you try to be, a crash just happens. If you are hit by a driver and suffer injuries, you don’t have to keep paying for a mistake that they made – ensure that you’re getting fair and just compensation by working with an experienced South Florida bicycle accident lawyer.