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By JO-ANN JOHNSTON
Published: Nov 26, 2006
With dusk falling early, it is one of the most hazardous times of the year for bicycle riders and motorists sharing Pasco roads. Workers pedal home from stores and restaurants, construction sites and orange groves; children from after-school activities. The danger of collision increases. And roadways lacking shoulders or streetlights are especially perilous. Recreational cyclists often use reflectors and lights, but people who must ride bikes for basic transportation, such as migrants, usually can't afford such safeguards. Proceed with caution.KNOW THE RULES
• The 3-foot rule applies any time you pass a bike.
• Estimate a safe distance by allowing a cyclist about one-third of a lane - about the size of your vehicle door, when fully open.
• Drivers can be ticketed for ignoring the new passing law, with fines ranging from $115 to $120.
• A ticket also can result in points on your license.
• Law enforcement officers can issue a ticket when there has been an accident or whenever the officer has simply witnessed unsafe passing by the driver.WHAT CAN GO WRONG
• Bicyclists hit by cars can suffer fractured skulls, broken wrists, ankles or legs or ruptured spleens.
• Last year, 115 bicyclists were injured in Pasco County accidents; one person died.
• In 2000, 91 people were injured; no fatalities were reported.NEW LAW IN FORCE
This year, the Legislature passed a law aimed at making Florida roads safer for bicyclists. As of Oct. 1, drivers must allow for a 3-foot buffer when passing bicyclists - a higher standard than the "safe distance" previously required. Safety advocates are eager to spread the word about the new law and related precautions.ROAD SENSE FOR BIKERS
• Wear a helmet. It's legally required for riders 16 and younger anyway.
• Helmet prices at discount stores range from $14 to $40, depending on the safety features and age of the riders.
• Put a red light/reflector on the rear of the bike and a white light/reflector on the front, as required by Florida law. A set of both costs about $14 in discount stores.
• Wear bright colors and reflective garments
• Be especially careful when riding into crosswalks from sidewalks - a common site of collisions between motorists making turns and cyclists.
Sources: Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Larry E. Coggins Jr.; Dr. Venugopal Palani, director of emergency medicine at Pasco Regional Medical Center, Dade City; Chris Hagelin, research associate. Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida, Tampa.
Reporting by JO-ANN JOHNSTON
Tribune staff writer