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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida's failure to protect cyclists, pedestrians

Walking or riding a bike in Florida can be risky business. One of Florida's best-known bicycle safety advocates, Alan Snel, recently was run over from behind by a distracted driver near Fort Pierce and ended up in intensive care. The 65-year-old driver who hit him was not ticketed, and this was too much even for Snel, whose advocacy for bicycling extends to the White House (he invited President Donald Trump for a ride, though the president didn't take him up on the offer). Snel is moving to Las Vegas. But that's no answer for the rest of us.

At one time or another, we are all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. For safety's sake, everyone should understand and follow the law. Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. It's the law. Give bicyclists 3 feet of clearance. That's also the law. Drivers can be quick to blame the cyclist in dark clothing at night or the one who pedals through red lights. Fair enough. But are those same drivers contrite when they drive 10 or 15 mph over the speed limit or roll through a stop sign?

RELATED: No penalty for driver who hit bicycle advocate Alan Snel, infuriating cyclists

A driver should never forget that your minor annoyance at adding a few seconds of commuting time can become a life or death matter when you pass too close to a cyclist or buzz a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Florida has the highest rate of bicycling deaths in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state has the nation's seven most dangerous metro areas for walkers, as measured by the ominous "pedestrian danger index" compiled by Smart Growth America. (Tampa Bay is No. 7.) Just Thursday night, former Osceola County Commission chairman and state Rep. Frank Attkisson was hit by a car and killed while riding his bike.

There is a lack of seriousness in dealing with the issue. In Snel's case, the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office reported the driver was inhaling "a breathing treatment" when he drove into Snel's bicycle, that he stated he was "blinded by the light" and told a deputy he "suffered from extreme sleep apnea." The report listed the driver as "inattentive" and his condition at the time of crash as "fatigue/asleep." Would there have been no ticket had that driver rear-ended a car and sent the other driver to intensive care? Safety requires a change of attitude, and until Florida quits accepting the injuries and deaths of pedestrians and cyclists as collateral damage in a culture focused on cars, don't expect much to change.

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