News-Press Sunday 3/8/15 Bike Safety Feature:
Cyclist Jacobus "Jack" van Caulil, 80: Killed when a motorist blew through a stop sign on Ben Hill Griffin Parkway. The price for Caulil's life? Driver was fined $1,000.
Cyclist Austin Dukette, 15: Killed when hit by a Lee County sheriff's deputy vehicle. The deputy had veered out of his lane, apparently distracted by his laptop, the law enforcement report concluded. The price for Dukette's life? Still to be determined but probably will not exceed a $1,000 fine to the driver.
Cyclist Emilia Santiago, 47: Killed when a motorist failed to see her while in a crosswalk. The driver was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Price for Santiago's life? Driver was fined $1,603.
Cyclist Scott Johnsen, 60: Killed when hit by a speeding vehicle, reportedly traveling about 100 mph. The price for Johnsen's life? Still to be determined as driver Jason Stewart, arrested on charges of vehicular homicide and reckless driving, awaits trial.
Cyclist Werner Gattinger, 67: Killed when hit by motorist while riding along Gulf Shore Boulevard North in Naples. Driver Jacqueline Ribes smelled of alcohol, police said, arrested on a DUI charge and eventually charged with DUI manslaughter by the state attorney's office. Price for Gattinger's life? Still to be determined.
They were all senseless deaths. They all occurred over the past year. These cyclists were doing most things properly, but not everything. The motorists were not.
But the penalties for such vehicular attacks that claim lives are not nearly tough enough. Our Florida Legislature needs to make them more severe. Fortunately, there is a bill to do just that, and it is sponsored by two local representatives — Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples; and Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers. There also is a companion Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Cape Canaveral.
We urge the House and Senate to react swiftly and convincingly to this legislation and pass it. We also urge Gov. Rick Scott to sign it so come later this summer, cyclists can ride a little more confidently that there are new laws in the books to hold motorists accountable.
The reason this law is important is because we have a serious problem in this state and in Lee and Collier counties with cyclists and pedestrians dying or being seriously injured at the hands of careless drivers — drivers not obeying the laws that apply to cyclists, drivers shouting expletives and throwing objects at these cyclists because they don't think they should co-exist on our roads with them, drivers bullying these riders.
The problem is not getting better, only worse. More cyclists die in Florida each year than in any other state. The state Department of Transportation considers it critical and state officials should. Lee County is a major player in the horrific injury and death counts, ranking third in 2014 with eight deaths. Last year, Collier County ranked seventh among Florida counties in the rate of bike crashes per 100,000 people.
In order to lower the injury and death numbers, not only do penalties for careless driving need to be toughened, but we also need to increase safety awareness. Children and adults need to embrace the importance of riding bicycles with the proper equipment, with the proper riding attire. They need to know the law — that riding against traffic on the road is illegal. that vehicles must give them three feet of clearance. Our law enforcement agencies must become more vigilant with community outreach programs. As cities and counties plan new road projects, bike lanes and sidewalks must be included and money must be found to make sure they are built.
We examined nearly 1,400 records from Lee and Collier counties to identify trends in bicycle-related crashes.
According to cycling safety advocate group, BikeWalkLee had urged the Lee County commissioners to return to 100 percent impact fees to help build new infrastructure. About $58 million in bike/pedestrian stand alone projects — already approved by the county's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee — await funding. Although the commissioners decided on 45 percent, money must be found to continue building safe routes for riders and walkers.
BikeWalkLee's efforts are one example of keeping awareness and safety front and center. There are others:
•The Cape Coral Police Department recently received a $55,000 grant and plans to offer cycling safety and education programs. They have been proactive in the past with such programs, but as funds dried up, so did the programs. Now, with heightened attention to a growing tragedy, money is becoming available. Cape plans to initiate programs where its own cyclists work the roads and as motorists violate their space, police cruisers will stop drivers, educate them on the importance of co-existence. The idea is educate first, issue fines later.
•The state Department of Motor Vehicles and Lee County Tax Collector's Office has a "Share the Road" specialty plate with up to 25 percent of the revenue collected going to marketing and promotion of the plate, as well as education awareness programs, training workshops and educational materials.
The Fitzenhagen-Passidomo bill, which had its first reading in House chambers last week, improves what are currently weak laws – allowing officers to do little more than issue fines when cyclists are injured or killed. The bill does increase fines, can allow for flexibility in issuing criminal charges and also makes it illegal to verbally or physically assault cyclists as they ride.
On the front page of today's The News-Press, there are heart-wrenching stories of cyclists who have been killed, including the ones listed above. There also are stories of dead cyclists who broke the law themselves, or were not dressed appropriately. There is a column on this page about News-Press writer Janine Zeitlin, who stopped riding on busy roads. She grew tired of the abuse and dangerous conditions. She feared for her life. In other words, the insensitive motorists won. She is deprived of something she loves to do. It should never be that way.
We all see the dangers and accidents waiting to happen. Roads that don't have bike paths force cyclists to engage with vehicles traveling much faster and it is a recipe for disaster. We see cyclists increasing the danger by riding against traffic, wearing dark clothing or riding bikes without lights.
Gov. Scott proclaimed March as Florida Bicycle Month. Such a proclamation is only words unless action results in significant change. "More and more people are using bicycles as a transportation option," said Lora Hollingsworth, FDOT chief safety officer. "The people riding bikes are neighbors, friends and co-workers, so remember to give them space and keep them safe."
Cycling crashes skyrocketed 71 percent in Lee and about 40 percent in Collier over the past three years. We urge legislators to enact legislation that increases safety for riders, find the funding for crucial safety and awareness programs and stay involved with their communities in outreach efforts.
Cyclists have the right to the road. They should be able to enjoy the ride. They don't need to die.
House and Senate transportation bills:
HB 231: Revises provisions relating to the rights and safety of vulnerable users of public rights-of-way; prohibits assault of bicycle riders; revises provisions for careless driving; provides penalties for specified infractions contributing to bodily injury of vulnerable users; requires traffic law and substance abuse education courses to include certain instruction; requires driver license examinations to include test of applicant's knowledge of certain traffic laws; requires driver education courses offered by school district to include certain information.
Co-sponsors: Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples; Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers
Effective date (if passed and signed by governor): July 1
Status: Bill had first reading on Tuesday after moving through committees.
SB 908: Revising provisions relating to the passing of a vehicle; prohibiting passing and turning in front of a vulnerable user in an unsafe manner; prohibiting harassing, taunting, or throwing an object at a person riding a bicycle; providing criminal penalties; requiring traffic law and substance abuse education courses to include instruction on traffic laws relating to rights and safety of vulnerable users, etc.
Status: Introduced on Tuesday
Sponsor: Thad Altman, R-Cape Canaveral
Let them know what you think
How to reach local legislators:
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto
R-Fort Myers (District 30)
Sen. Garrett Richter
R-Naples (District 23)
Rep. Matt Caldwell
R-North Fort Myers (District 79)
Rep. Dane Eagle
R-Cape Coral (District 77)
Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen
R-Fort Myers (District 78)
Rep. Matt Hudson
R-Naples (District 80)
Rep. Kathleen Passidomo
R-Naples (District 106)
Rep. Ray Rodrigues
R-village of Estero (District 76)
- Florida bike crashes: 7 things that may shock you
- Share the road: Bicycle crashes facts (By the Numbers--7 graphs)
- GoPro view: SWFL bicyclists share their rides
- SWFL bicyclist deaths in the past year (photo slideshow of 12 cyclists killed)