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Study: Florida deadliest state for cyclists

State leaders working to stiffen penalties for drivers who hurt cyclists

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new report says cyclists are in more danger riding around Florida than in any other state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Florida is the deadliest state in the country for cyclists.

In Duval County, there were 281 crashes involving bicyclists in 2014. Only one of those was deadly, giving the county a 0.36 percent fatality rate. But in Flagler, St. Johns and Clay counties, the rate was much higher.

In Clay County, two of 55 (3.64 percent) bicycle-related crashes last year were deadly. In St. Johns it was two of 50 (4 percent) and in Flagler it was one of 24 (4.17 percent).

Alachua had 102 bicycle-related crashes in 2014, but none were deadly. There were also no bicycle crash fatalities in Nassau, Putnam, Columbia, Bradford or Baker counties last year. And Union County made it through 2014 with no bicycle-related crashes at all.

Randy Wells with the Florida League of Cities said the statistics should be a wake-up call.

"I think it's a call to action, and other communities, other states, have made very significant impacts," Wells said. "We've got a targeted goal of reducing pedestrian bicycle accidents, fatalities. Ultimately it comes down to 'speed kills.'"

Chris Hill, a bike mechanic in Tallahassee who also uses his bicycle to commute to work, said the problem is a two-way street.

"People in cars who aren't paying attention or don't ride a bike so they don't know what it's like, but there are also people on their bikes who aren't necessarily the most comfortable," Hill said. "They can be a little squirrelly."

With ridership growing, the state is coming up with plans to try to combat the deadly bicycle crash problem.

The Florida Department of Transportation met Wednesday to discuss future safety options but said there's no quick fix to the fatality problem.

"It's everything from enforcement to education of drivers to make sure that they understand the laws that protect bicyclists and pedestrians," FDOT spokesman Jim Wood said.

Legislation stiffening penalties on drivers that hurt bicyclists failed in 2015. A similar bill has already been filed for 2016, designed to protect Florida's "vulnerable road users," including bicyclists and motorcycle users.

Under the new law, a motorist who hurts a cyclist could be hit with higher fines. If they do it twice in five years, they could face prison time.