Bicycling — be it for fun, fitness or transportation — is a year-round mainstay of life in South Florida.

Unfortunately, it can also be a deadly one.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a Cycling Family Broward group ride in western Broward County turned tragic when a distracted driver plowed into a pack of some two dozen cyclists on State Road 84.

One rider — Denise Marsh, a 53-year-old mother of two from Weston who helped organize the ride — died an hour after the crash. A second rider, 62-year-old Carlos Rodriguez, would perish two days later. Four others sustained non-life-threatening injuries — with three of them requiring hospitalization.

The sad fact is that accidents like these happen all too often on Florida's roadways.

According to Florida International University's 2017 Statewide Analysis of Bicycle Crashes, "In 2014, Florida led the nation with 139 bicyclist fatalities, representing approximately 20 percent of the nation’s total."

What's more, while Florida averages fewer total bicycle fatalities than the more-populous California, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that on a per capita basis, Florida is the nation's deadliest state for bicycle riders. Florida's per capita rate of cycling fatalities is 59 percent higher than the next highest state.

Among other notable findings from the FIU study:


While bicycle crashes account for only 1.9 percent of all traffic crashes, they account for 5.6 percent of traffic fatalities.
Nighttime bicycle crashes resulted in more fatalities than daytime crashes.
Crashes involving bicyclists using helmets or protective pads were less severe compared to those involving bicyclists using reflective clothing or lighting.
Drivers were found to be at fault 46 percent of the time; cyclists, 30 percent of the time.
Crashes involving cyclist error were more likely to be deadly than those attributed to driver error.
The most common fatal error made by cyclist: failure to yield the right of way; the most common fatal errors made by drivers in cyclist deaths were straying from lanes, changing lanes and making turns.

If there's anything Palm Beach County riders can take solace in, it's knowing that the county isn't the most deadly for per capita in the state.

No, that dubious distinction belongs to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area (the nation's most deadly region for cyclists), followed by Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami.

Take into account the Palm Beach Post's reporting last month about the county's increase in pedestrian fatalities and it's a wonder any of us ever stray far from our cars.

So, why are cyclists in Florida at so much higher statistical risk than in other regions around the nation?

Experts have a few suppositions.

First, they point to the state's demographics — specifically, the sizeable elderly population. Many of these folks still drive, but perhaps shouldn't be on the roads anymore.

Then there's the year-round influx of tourists and other transient residents who are unfamiliar with local roadways.

And finally, the fact that the state's biggest cities are so densely populated means that automobiles and bicycles are sharing roads too crowded to safely accommodate them all.

As Pam Fischer, who wrote a Governors Highway Safety Association report that examined cycling fatalities, explained to the Wall Street Journal in September, “You kind of mush it all together, and it helps us explain as best we can what’s going on out there."

For bicyclists, traffic experts recommend taking the following safety measures while riding:


Wear reflective apparel.
Wear a helmet and other protective gear.
Don't text, talk on a cellphone or wear earbuds while riding.
Obey all traffic signals and follow all traffic laws.
Assume that every driver on the road can't or doesn't see you.

For drivers they recommend:


Be on the lookout for cyclists in your blind spots.
Never text while driving.
Never speed.
Signal for lane changes and turns
Slow down and take extra caution when approaching intersections and/or making turns.