Guest Column: Bicycle safety

David B. Shoar
St. Johns County Sheriff

Bicycle safety is always on my mind but even more so in light of two fatal accidents reported by Historic City News in recent months — on the same stretch of county highway.

A St. Augustine University graduate student was killed in a hit and run crash. Our investigators are still actively working the case to find the driver of a 2001 -2003 Ford Ranger pick-up truck that struck the cyclist. A month later, on the same road, an 18 year old boy was killed … struck by a truck as he rode into an intersection.

Bicycling is popular in Florida. Unfortunately our state leads the nation in bicycle fatalities. In 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 630 bike riders killed nationwide and 107 in Florida. This is the latest year for which statistic are available, but Florida was also first in cyclist deaths in 2007 and 2008.

When it comes to bicycles, keeping kids safe is a huge concern. It is estimated that every week nationwide 2700 children suffer serious head injuries and two die in accidents involving bike riding. Most child related bike injuries, however, do not involve motor vehicles. They are from falls or hitting a stationary object. Therefore, the first and most important step in bicycle safety is wearing a helmet and wearing it correctly. This is the law for all children under 16 years of age. Research shows that properly worn bike helmets can reduce the risk of serious brain and head injury by 88 percent.

We recommend all riders wear helmets. Parents could be good role models by wearing them too. When choosing a helmet make sure it meets safety standards issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Helmet size should be determined using a tape measure. Pads and straps should be adjusted so fit is level and snug. The helmet should be worn two finger widths above the head and not pulled forward over the forehead or tilted back on the crown. Next make sure the bike is the right size. When sitting on the seat with hands on the handlebar the rider should be able to place the ball of both feet on the ground.

The rules and laws of the road regarding bicycling apply to cyclists, as well as motorists. That means riders have the same responsibilities as motorists, and each has rules when encountering the other.

Ride single file in a bicycle lane or on the right side of the roadway with traffic. Riding against the traffic on the left side of the road is not only illegal, but a motorist about to make a right turn on to a roadway will only be looking for traffic to the left. Over 70 percent of car-bicycle accidents occur at intersections, including driveways. Before riding into traffic a cyclist should stop, look both ways twice and then over the shoulder.

When riding on a street or highway cyclists have the responsibility to observe all traffic laws including using hand signals. State law requires having at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. It is also against the law to wear headsets while bike riding.

Motorists need to be alert for bicycle riders and understand the law permits the use of bikes on our roadways as vehicles. Slow down and pass safely with at least 3 feet clearance between the rider and the side of your vehicle. Watch carefully for kids on bikes when driving in residential neighborhoods.

There is a page on our website at regarding bicycle laws, rules and safety. Just click on the Community Affairs icon and then scroll down.

I ask all St. Johns county residents to assist our office in promoting bicycle safety by discussing safe bike riding with your children and knowing the rights of cyclists on the roadway. I hope and pray we will have no more bicycle riders killed or seriously injured in St. Johns County for a long time. I always welcome your comments and suggestions. Just e-mail me at

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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