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The Nanny State is at it again, turning more cyclists into criminals

July 19, 2015

19 July 2015

The more laws, the more criminals. It’s a simple axiom that should be a key part of the equation before considering a new law. Is there an actual problem to solve that justifies a new law and, second, does it justify the creation of a new class of criminals? Many countries already wrestle with this dilemma, particularly on issues like adult-orientated media, marijuana and assisted suicide, that arcane laws against individual freedom are repealed. Not in the ultra nanny state of a Australia, which already loves to suppress freedom, even if that freedom does not directly affect anyone else. Australia loves to use laws as part of advocacy and to change an individual’s behaviour, and so it is at it again with its favourite target: bicycle riders.

Already cyclists are made criminals if they choose to ride without a helmet or ride on a footpath. Robert Doyle, the mayor of Melbourne, the state of Victoria’s capital, now wants even more cyclists turned into criminals, this time by banning them on specific roads in the Central Business District. Citing “safety” – the default justification for Australian politicians to impose new nanny laws – he suggests cyclists be made criminals if they ride on the streets of Flinders, Lonsdale and King. Apparently they are too dangerous for cycling, with Flinders too narrow, Lonsdale full of buses and King too busy.

Meanwhile, in the state of New South Wales, Roads Minister Duncan Gay wants to turn cyclists into criminals if they don’t carry identification. Gay has been notorious for espousing the idea of full on licensing and bicycle registration, and is now left latching at this petty consolation prize after a strenuous rebuke from bicycle groups about the futility of such a scheme, not to mention the sheer logistical difficulty, both financially and practically, to introduce and run one. Without the ravenous anti-cycling mainstream Australian population on his side, he wouldn’t even have compulsory ID to wave. Nor would Doyle get much attention with his insane road bans in Melbourne.

The immediate question to be asked: what problem are these laws trying to solve? Doyle’s press release was conspicuously absent of statistics relating to injuries or fatalities on these roads. You’d think if “safety” is a concern, top of the list would be to show figures indicating a massive difference in percentage of injuries on these roads compared to elsewhere. No, nothing. Likewise in NSW, you’d think Gay would provide the number of cyclists escaping fines because they don’t carry identification. Again, no, nothing. All that these laws would effectively do is create more criminals.

If you were to cite safety as a concern for cyclists in Melbourne, you’d actually ban them from almost the entire city, if not the entire country, such are the dangerous cycling conditions and lack of separate infrastructure throughout. As for ID, how would that prevent a cyclist being rolled over by a truck, or prevent a car door opened in front of them? It wouldn’t. Nor would registering bicycles. Nearly all serious injuries among cyclists involve vehicles, and over 85% of those are the fault of the motorist. Considering all the millions of dollars government rakes in from traffic offences, clearly licensing and registration are not stopping motorists breaking laws. Since police already have no trouble booking cyclists, all that compulsory ID law would be is a self-serving solution to a crime it has created for itself.

Interestingly, many reader comments on online newspaper sites suggest cyclists don’t follow laws, so what’s the point in new ones? That’s the crux of the issue: society often works out itself the good laws from the bad. Motorcycle helmets are an obvious example. You don’t even hear or see of anyone riding a motorbike without one, much less see a movement to allow it. The problem in Australia is that we love to lead the world in good intentions and don’t correlate that using the law turns harmless people, minding their own business, into criminals and suffering insidious persecution. In fact, we encourage it, and will even partake in the persecution by hurling abuse and feeling all self-righteous about it. While choosing not to wear a helmet or riding on a footpath are the most common activities that turn cyclists into criminals, others like not fully stopping at stop signs, nipping through a red light if clear and even not having a bell are apparently also problematic.

Like the proposed road bans and compulsory ID, helmet and footpath laws were born out of a problem that never existed. There were never masses of dead cyclists on our roads or pedestrians bowled over by cyclists on footpaths. Without such laws, there still wouldn’t be. Those that don’t wear helmets typically cruise around slowly on paths or to local shops, and those on footpaths are typically very slow riders like older people or women too scared of the roads. They should not be considered equal to the lycra warriors doing 40kph on busy roads and are responsible for nearly all serious cycling head injuries and deaths and, for which, a helmet is a sensible idea. The lycra warriors would still wear helmets, as would most other riders, particularly commuters. It’s only those that choose not to wear them won’t need to worry about watching for police or being abused from motorists and even sanctimonious fellow riders, while those that currently refuse to ride at all because of compulsory helmets and footpath bans, may now begin or resume.

The reason that so many other minor traffic violations happen is because of the ridiculous categorisation that cyclists are, and should behave like, “vehicles”. Supposedly to earn “respect” from motorists, all it has done is make both sides feel more entitled and created more frustration and animosity. Outside of Australia, which is almost totally free of compulsory helmets, cyclists are treated as a distinct mode of transport. They have their own space or use shared roads with low speed limits, they can turn into the left lane on a red light (right lane in right-lane traffic countries), and can do a rolling stop at a stop sign. Fines are at a minor level because the damage a cyclist can do compared to a car is minimal. The reason cyclists have these liberties is simple: they have their own safety as the biggest deterrent. You don’t need laws to tell a cyclist when they are unsafe and the sort of precautions to take.

The lesson here is if you want less criminals, make less laws. Immediately declassify cyclists as vehicles, repeal the myopic and pernicious nanny laws, and provide safer routes or specific infrastructure. Keep motorists, cyclists and pedestrians separate. At most, place advisory signs pointing to safe routes. Humans, like all animals, have their basic survival as a priority. Cyclists will naturally gravitate towards safer routes without the need to ban them from dangerous areas. This would also encourage more people to ride, and present cycling as fun and safe, rather than oppressive and dangerous. It would also encourage governments to provide real safety solutions like separation, rather than sit back believing the strict enforcement of helmets is enough. For all the laws and good intentions, Australia is far more dangerous than helmet-less Europe and Japan, and with the exaggerated protective properties of the flimsy piece of foam, has probably lured more cyclists to their death than have been saved. As for compulsory ID, forget the idea. Even logically it makes no sense. If cyclists can’t be identified for offences they are already committing, why would the offence of no ID be any different? You still can’t identify them, so they still escape a ticket. Leading the world in stupidity, that is Australia’s real forte.

The good news is that the Liberal Democrat leader, David Leyonhjelm, a libertarian, will establish a federal senate inquiry into the over-bearing nanny state – precisely the “measures introduced to restrict personal choice ‘for the individual’s own good'”. He says: “Public health policy is now way beyond its original remit and has become a form of puritanism.” As stated earlier, politicians also love words like “safety” to make almost anything justifiable. Except, they seem to only ever inflict their morals onto minorities. Compulsory helmets for motorists would save far more lives, and save the health system many more millions, than for cyclists. When the health costs per-annum from obesity related problems are $14 billion, it makes even less sense to discourage people from exercising.

Governmental inquiries rarely do much. A report from the state of Queensland in 2013 that examined “best practices” from around the world recommended adults should have the choice about helmets on paths and on roads with lower speed limits. It was totally ignored. The only tangible measure adopted was the almost unenforceable “1 metre law” that stated motorists should provide 1 metre of clearance when overtaking. In return for this piece of tokenism, cyclists had all their fines equalised with motorists to facilitate the “share of roads” and “respect” mantra, and police followed up with their bit by bragging about stings that nailed cyclists for the dastardly deed of not stopping fully at a stop sign or riding without a bell. The net result? Motorists still hate cyclists and ideally want them off all roads, and cyclists feel even more marginalised and oppressed than ever before.




From → Cycling Free

  1. I broadly agree as to the idiotic nastiness of the public health mindset but then you lapse into groupthink yourself. Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are very largely the same people at different times.They don’t need to be thought of as groups or classes opposed to each other (though statists love such social division as it justifies their power). They are just individuals venturing out on different activities. Billions of safe journeys all over the world are a result of healthy concern by individuals for their own safety and the integrity of their equipment as well as a natural human desire not to hurt innocents. Laws reinforce those behaviours at best. They do not generate them. Not that I advocate it but if all road traffic laws were abolished I doubt death or injury rates would rise much if at all.

    • Look at it as modes of transport, which are totally distinct and should have their own focus. In Australia, very few have cycling integrated in their life, so you get the animosity towards cyclists, especially when it’s perceived they get an unfair priority. You don’t see motorists going nuts over the endless amount of law-breaking pedestrians running red lights. That’s because motorists are also integrated as pedestrians so can empathise that some laws are just dumb or fine to be broken. The only solution is dedicated space for all modes, less laws or specific ones, and then the culture might change.

  2. Jonathan Bagley permalink

    Stay off the footpath and you’ve got my pedestrian vote. Won’t be holding my breath.

  3. Lord T permalink

    Well your logic also applies to motorcyclists. I’ll await the slight amendment to your proposal to remove licensing and other obligations from them. 🙂

    In the meantime we need more laws like this to show people how totalitarian our governments are and that they should be totally ignored and Ozzies are the group to do that. Surprised there hasn’t been something done about it already but that kind of fits in with the rest of the world with the ‘Who cares it doesn’t affect me at all’ attitude.

    • Sure, something motorised that does over 100kph is the same as something human powered barely capable of 30kph by the average rider. By your logic, why should car drivers be licensed? Cycling is the transport of the people. It requires minimal training. You just grab a bike and go. It’s more a wheeled pedestrian than a motor vehicle. That it’s been classified as a vehicle is the root of the problem. The test is children. You don’t see them as motorists or motorcyclists, do you? You do as cyclists. Extending your logic further, they should be licensed. Why stop there? Let’s hit scooters and skateboards as well. Flagrant criminals out having fun, affecting nobody else. How dare they!

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