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Bicycling fatalities have risen almost 25 percent nationwide since 2003, according to 2005 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Florida figures mirror the national findings with a 23 percent increase in bicycling fatalities from 2003 to 2005. Last year’s 124 bicycling deaths in the state were the fourth-highest over a 30-year period, the NHTSA reported.

Starting Oct. 1, a new Florida law will require vehicles to pass bicycles and other non motorized vehicles with at least a 3-foot clearance.

The Gainesville Sun provides these facts and more concerning the increase in vehicle-bicycle collisionss.

The national numbers prompted Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C., to send a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, calling for more to be done to ensure safer travel for cyclists on the country’s roadways.

“At some point we need to take responsibility for our actions as drivers and not tolerate people simply for not paying attention when they are in charge of a powerful machine,” said Clarke.

A national study has shown that eight out of 10 of all crashes could be the result of a motorist looking away from the road.

The study, called the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, released this year, was conducted by the NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

The study tracked driver behavior for more than a year in 100 vehicles that were set up with recording equipment.

With more technology, from cell phones to televisions inside vehicles, officers believe drivers have become even more distracted in recent years.

And the attitude among drivers is that it’s OK to do other things while driving instead of focusing only on the road, troopers say.

Florida law does not specifically define distracted driving, making it difficult for officers to cite motorists when distraction is the suspected cause of a crash, Burroughs said.

As a bicyclist who rides on roads in Florida and other states I have observed that Florida drivers seem to pass at a higher speed and much closer. Of course, finding any road in the Tampa Bay area where there is little vehicle traffic is getting harder and harder to do.

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