The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates more than 9,100 motorcycle crashes occurred on Florida roads one recent year, including 502 fatalities. Getting in a traffic accident can devastate victims and families, but motorcycle accidents almost guarantee havoc. Bikers have less protection than individuals in passenger vehicles, so accidents typically involve more severe injuries and come with a higher likelihood of fatalities. Most motorcyclists know and understand these risks, so they wear proper gear and drive defensively to avoid accidents.
However, even the safest bikers can’t avoid accidents when careless drivers violate traffic regulations and cause deadly accidents. Traffic regulations exist to keep everyone on the road safer. An understanding of how careless driving can lead to a motorcycle accident might help you avoid causing an accident or falling victim to one. This guide provides a broad overview of some of the most common traffic laws that, when violated, can lead to dangerous or fatal motorcycle accidents.
Florida law divides driving distractions into three categories: (1) visual, (2) manual, and (3) cognitive distractions. These categories include anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off driving. Additionally, these distractions are not mutually exclusive. For example, texting while driving falls under the umbrella of all three categories, making it one of the most dangerous of all distracted driving behaviors. Recently, Florida has made texting and driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can pull over a driver who is texting and issue a citation. All handheld device use for any reason is outlawed in school zones and work zones.
Although cell phone use is the first distraction that comes to mind, other distractions can lead drivers to cause a dangerous motorcycle accident. Some examples include:
- Adjusting a radio
- Programming a GPS or phone
- Eating and drinking
- Assisting passengers in the back seat
- Adjusting climate controls or other features
- Personal grooming, such as putting on makeup, fixing hair, etc.
- Concentrating on an event, such as a traffic accident outside of the vehicle
Operating a motor vehicle in a safe manner that allows a driver to see motorcycles and react appropriately requires concentration on the task at hand. When drivers are distracted, they cannot respond, putting bikers and others who share the road at risk for accident and injury.
Driving Under the Influence of Controlled Substances
In recent years, Florida traffic crashes involving alcohol have been on a slow decline. However, more than 5,000 crashes still occur each year. Fatal alcohol-related crashes have also been making a decline, but hundreds of individuals still die each year. Conversely, drug-related crashes and fatalities have been seeing an increase, most likely related to the legalization of cannabis. Undoubtedly, these numbers include motorcyclists who have been injured or died because of motorists who were driving under the influence.
When drivers are impaired by drugs or alcohol, they cannot process information quickly, causing slow reaction times to signage, hazards, and other vehicles on the road, including motorcycles. Like every other state, the legal limit for alcohol when driving is 0.08 breath or blood alcohol concentration, or 0.04 for those who hold commercial drivers’ licenses.
Local police and the Florida Highway Patrol have more discretion with drug use because it is difficult to measure and quantify. When motorists drive under the influence, they can easily swerve into motorcycles, collide with them from behind, or cut them off in traffic. Bikers must especially watch out for drunk drivers and drugged drivers at night, when it’s already hard for drivers to see motorcycles.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding factors into more than 25 percent of all traffic crash fatalities across the country each year. When drivers speed, it increases the force of impact during an accident, causing greater property damage and a higher likelihood of severe or fatal injuries than other causes of traffic collisions. Motorcycles must take special care to avoid speeding motorists because they have less protection than if they were in a passenger vehicle.
Speed limits exist to protect those who share the state’s roads, streets, and highways from accidents and injuries. Speeding laws vary from state to state, and some states leave room for interpretation. Florida’s speeding laws are comparatively straightforward and include the following limits and stipulations, which can lead to serious motorcycle accidents when broken:
- Under Florida law, “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.”
- Drivers must control their speed to avoid collision with any person, vehicle, or object and have a legal obligation to use due care.
- Maximum speed limits on Florida roads include 30 miles per hour in business and residential areas and 55 miles per hour in all other locations.
- School bus drivers and those who drive in road work zones are strictly prohibited from exceeding posted maximum limits at any time.
Speeding laws don’t only refer to driving over the posted speed limit, but also to traveling too fast under certain conditions. Florida law requires drivers to reduce their speed in the following situations:
- When approaching and crossing intersections and railroad crossings
- When approaching and going around curves
- When approaching the top of a hill
- When driving on narrow or winding roads
- When pedestrians are present
- When a road hazard or traffic hazard exists
- When weather conditions or road conditions aren’t good
Driving Too Slowly
Driving slowly doesn’t typically cause fatal or severe accidents for most traveling in passenger vehicles, but it can lead to severe accidents for motorcyclists. Florida’s speeding law also prohibits drivers from traveling too slowly. It states: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.” Additionally, the law states that drivers must travel at 40 miles per hour on interstates and 50 miles per hour on interstates when the maximum speed limit is 70 miles per hour.
Most of the time, slow drivers are just an annoying factor on the road. However, they pose real danger to others, especially motorcyclists, when driving too slowly in the fast lane of an interstate or a highway. Florida, like many other states, makes it illegal to obstruct traffic in the left lane of a multi-lane road. The law requires drivers to stay to the left unless they are merging, exiting to the left, making a left turn, or going faster than all other traffic.
A driver who travels too slowly in the left lane can easily start a chain reaction leading to a multi-vehicle collision, putting bikers at great risk. If one vehicle rear-ends the slow driver, the pileup begins as drivers begin to slam on their brakes, especially dangerous on wet roads. Bikers involved in a multi-car collision are lucky to live through it. With multiple vehicles involved, a biker can easily get pinned between or under other cars and trucks involved in the accident.
Following Too Closely
According to Florida law, “the driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent” and must also consider traffic flow and road conditions. When drivers follow other vehicles too closely, it’s often a result of inexperience or impatience.
New drivers might not understand the importance of leaving adequate space when following a vehicle, and impatient drivers who might understand the risks are driving recklessly. Drivers education instructors suggest leaving a two-second gap when following other vehicles, and defensive driving instructors suggest doubling the distance, especially in heavy traffic or poor weather or road conditions. Florida law only provides a set distance for truck drivers—300 feet. In other cases, you can safely assume that a vehicle following close enough to cause an accident is breaking the law.
Tailgating a motorcycle can lead to severe rear-end collision or completely running over a motorcycle and/or a biker. If the motorcyclist brakes or needs to turn, those following too closely don’t have the space or time to react appropriately. If drivers are under the influence, it adds to the danger. For example, consider the following scenario. An animal runs out in the middle of a road causing an inexperienced biker to quickly apply his brakes. The bike skids, and the motorcyclist lays down his bike. The driver in the vehicle behind the motorcycle was following too closely, so he ran over the motorcyclist. Road hazards, like animals and debris, can start a chain reaction in traffic. When drivers follow too closely, they are violating a traffic regulation and risk causing a rear-end collision as in the previous example.
Disobeying Traffic Signs and Signals
Unless they are driving recklessly, most drivers don’t intentionally disobey stop signs, stoplights, yield signs, or other traffic control devices. Ignoring traffic signs and signals is often a result of distracted or impaired driving or drivers who aren’t properly scanning for signs and signals. Even though disobeying a traffic device might be truly accidental, it’s still against the law and can lead to treacherous accidents at intersections and other conflict points. When drivers ignore stop signs or traffic signals, they might end up in the middle of traffic where other vehicles and motorcycles cannot avoid a crash. Similarly, missing yield signs or other right-of-way devices can also lead to a severe accident.
The exception to traffic signs which people don’t ignore is the U-turn sign. Even when no U-turn signs are posted, drivers who miss their exit or take a wrong turn sometimes choose to make an illegal U-turn. Often, these illegal turns are quick maneuvers, making them more dangerous and likely to cause a traffic accident. Erratic U-turns pose a special risk to bikers because it’s likely the motor vehicle driver hasn’t checked mirrors or blind spots and does not see a nearby motorcycle. Motorcycles can be difficult to see, and this scenario makes it even more likely that a driver will cut off a biker when making an illegal U-turn.
Failure to Use Turn Signals
Sometimes even the most experienced and safe drivers become complacent and don’t use their turn signals while driving. They assume that other drivers can predict their actions. A recent national study surveyed thousands of drivers and found that only 75 percent of drivers use their signals to indicate a turn, and almost 50 percent of drivers don’t indicate a lane change with their turn signals. The study also revealed that about two million traffic crashes per year across the country stem from drivers not using their turn signals, more than double the number of accidents caused by distracted driving according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Florida law states that drivers cannot change lanes or turn their vehicles, unless they can do so safely, and they signal their intentions to other drivers. Specifically, drivers must signal a turn at least 100 feet before the turn. Drivers who use their turn signals as intended send information to others on the road about their intentions, so others can adequately respond to the maneuver. Motorcycle riders are particularly at risk when drivers change lanes on an interstate or highway without using their turn signals. It’s easy for the driver of a passenger vehicle to run into a biker, who is difficult to see. If a motorcyclist sees a turn signal, he or she can slow down or move over to avoid a potentially dangerous and deadly crash.
Even if you drive defensively, other motorists could cause you harm when you are riding a motorcycle. If you have suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident because of a careless motorist, speak to an experienced Florida motorcycle accident attorney to find out how retaining a lawyer can help you.