By Michelle Caceres

It’s happened to many drivers, zipping along a roadway at 45 or 50 miles per hour only to come upon a bicyclist tooling along in the same lane at about half that speed.

How a motorist reacts to this situation can be a life or death decision for the cyclist.

Just Ride Bicycles Owner and cycling enthusiast Joe Kennedy knows what it is like to be passed by a vehicle within inches.

“Most drivers are courteous but it has happened and it can be pretty frightening,” he said.

Like it or not, in Florida the bicycle is legally defined as a vehicle and the bicyclist is a driver. They have the same rights to the roadways, and must obey the same traffic laws as the drivers of other vehicles.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bicycle safety policy that has gained significant interest in state legislatures (including Florida’s) is the 3-ft. law, ensuring that when passing bicycles, motor vehicles allow adequate space to avoid sideswiping bicyclists or causing them to overcorrect to avoid a vehicle.

“If a car hits a cyclist, it not only does damage to the bike, which can cost upwards of $8,000, but the cyclist too,” said Kennedy.

Most cyclists, he said, would be happy to use bike lanes, but many of Florida’s roadways aren’t equipped with them.

That is slowly changing. Most new roads are being constructed with bike lanes. When the Bell Shoals Road widening project is complete, it will include a 4-ft. bike lane.

“Bikers should try to be as visible as possible to motorists as we share the road,” said Kennedy, who wears brightly colored clothing and rides with flashing lights on the back of his bike.

“At the end of the day we just want to get our workout in and make it back home to our families,” said Kennedy. “When you pass a bicyclist, realize that’s somebody’s mom, brother, sister and they have family that expects them to come home.”

There is only one road and it is up to bicyclists and motorists to treat each other with care and respect.

For more information about bicycle traffic laws, visit www.floridabicycle.org.