Australia – the land of cycling hatred
22 December 2015
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for cycling in Australia, the state of New South Wales has made a mockery of everything deemed good cycling policy with a suite of draconian and punitive measures to ensure cyclists follow laws that they were rarely breaking anyway. In exchange, and backed by the Amy Gillett Foundation (AGF), a lobby group primarily representing pack-riding sports cyclists, NSW introduced a “1 metre law” that required motorists to provide 1 metre clearance, 1.5 metres in 80kph zones or higher, when overtaking.
For this token indulgence of the 1 metre law, cyclists’ fines were “equalised” with those of motorists, increasing the helmet fine by 350% from $71 to a whopping $319 and others by even more. More sinister than that, is the introduction of a compulsory photo identification law, to mirror that of, yes again, motorists, with an identical penalty attached if such an ID cannot be produced. Those under 18 years of age are exempt, highlighting the absurdity of the notion anyway. This law proved a compromise, because the desired outcome by Transport Minister Duncan Gay was a fully fledged registration and licensing system, complete with registration plates, for cyclists.
The 1 metre law is a dream for the likes of the AGF, helping to legitimise pack riders hogging lanes and preventing cars from overtaking too closely. They’ll feel far more entitled than ever before and the animosity between motorists and cyclists will only increase. For everyday cyclists, the 1 metre law is a sell out, achieving little for real safety, because everyday cyclists are not interested in fighting with cars and trucks, preferring separate lanes, and lower speed limits in local residential streets. Like the helmet law, the 1 metre law will also be another reason for governments to do nothing about real cycling improvements of better infrastructure.
As usual with cycling “reforms” in Australia, nothing is solved, nor achieved. The main frustration for motorists right now is hordes of weekend pack riders holding up traffic. That frustration will only increase because the 1 metre law will make overtaking more difficult. Gone are the days of a close pass, especially when many pack-riders carry helmet cameras to film errant motorists. In contrast, the lady on an upright bike, who cruises slowly around her local shopping area without a helmet and does not inconvenience anyone, will be the one slugged with obscene fines as the pay-off for the increased legitimisation of pack riding that the AGF sought.
Why were the fines raised? Again, there’s no problem to solve. With a helmet law for 25 years, there’s almost 100% use of helmets, particularly on roads. There’s no spate of cycling crashes caused by running red lights either. In fact, the rampant epidemic in this area – of pedestrians running red lights – goes unchecked. Pedestrians are also not required to carry ID in case police do stop them.
When cyclists are pulled over by police, have there been problems identifying them? Since no statistics were produced, the answer must be no. Why the sudden need to identify people in an emergency? If it’s a legitimate problem, then surely everyone must carry ID. Pedestrians die at more than 5 times the rate of cyclists on the roads. Riding dangerously – whatever that means, it’s probably riding a few metres on a footpath – again, the casual and utility cyclist is assaulted with outrageously high fines for minding their own business.
Fines have been on the ascent throughout Australia for many years now as part of a mystical policy about gaining “respect” from motorists. If cyclists want to have more rights on the roads, then they must be treated as any other vehicle on the road and behave like one. That means, equal fines, regardless of the fact a cyclist does far less damage than a motorist in a crash. In fact, a cyclist has their own safety as the biggest deterrent against doing anything illegal or stupid, and research consistently shows that about 80% of all bicycle/vehicle collisions are the motorist’s fault. When 95% of serious cycling injuries involve a vehicle, it further highlights the folly of targeting the innocent and vulnerable sector as the problem of poor road cycling safety.
The state of Victoria started this insane policy of “respect” at the behest of its leading lobby group, Bicycle Network Victoria, 10 years ago. Helmet fines were tripled, then later came the equalisation with motorists of other fines. Queensland followed 18 months ago, South Australia is contemplating it, and now NSW has gone nuclear on it. The AGF’s main “safety” campaign of “it’s a two way street” and primary motto of “safe together” laughably explains it all. The AGF is fully committed to get more cyclists onto roads, risking their lives, just so its pack riding and sports minded constituents get their “fair go” on weekends. The AGF don’t represent everyday cyclists, were never elected by anyone and are pushing cycling policies that are more likely to kill people than save them. It’s an outrage they can cosy up to a government and gain this much power. Naturally, the NSW government has followed AGF’s misguided approach, and will promote its new laws with “Go Together”. Sigh.
The press release from this egregious mob with a motoring group (NRMA), road transport company (Toll) and car company (Subaru) as supporters shows the sell-out that the AGF is. The only item discussed is the 1 metre law. Nothing about the ridiculous increase in fines, nothing about identification, nothing about the 1 metre law cyclists are required to obey on shared paths when overtaking pedestrians. Their role has been a totally self-serving exercise. Pack riders will always wear helmets while their cohorts in the professional peloton do, believe they belong on the roads and will always carry their wallet and ID for their latte sipping pit-stops. The AGF don’t care about the humble bikeshare person, who is already blocked by the requirement to wear a helmet, and now blocked further if they don’t have ID. Nor do they care about the casual rider sticking to paths and footpaths because they are afraid of the roads.
If the 1 metre law were any good, some of these treacherous compromises might be palatable. It’s a mirage in practice and its success is predicated on the motorist seeing the cyclist in the first place, and obviously would need a massive deterrent to be remotely effective. So for the potentially lethal activity of passing a cyclist too close, you’d expect a penalty of a $3000, or at least $1000, surely? No, it’s $319 – the same as the helmet fine! How the two correlate is mystifying. One causes death and injury while the other is a superficial and a last resort flimsy attempt to prevent or reduce it. It effectively places the victim as equally negligent for their death or injury as the perpetrator that directly caused it. Victim blaming at its worst.
Legally the 1 metre law lets motorists off almost scot-free. It’s virtually unenforceable, that’s until a cyclist is hit. Then the crime won’t be reckless driving or manslaughter, it will be failing to keep 1 metre clear, and be penalised with the farcical $319 fine. This scenario has already been tested with the “dooring” law in Victoria recently, where a cyclist was flung into the path of a truck from an opening car door. What was motorist’s punishment? Yep, the $1000 fine for dooring.
It’s not just the AGF with the wrong mindset, most cycling groups in Australia push this crazy idea that, to gain equal rights, bicycles are vehicles and to “share the road”, and believe cajoling human behaviour via uber regulation is the key to safer cycling. Now you see the manifestation of these policies in action as motorists naturally expect cyclists should obey every single road rule, pay the same level in fines and even be licensed and registered. Cycling advocates were frothing to have the fine for dooring increased to over $1000 in Victoria. Not so much as a real safety measure, it was more as an attack against motorists. Of course, the entire insanity of equalising fines between motorists and cyclists is driven by hate and jealously from motorists than of safety or earning respect. Motorcyclists suffer a similar wrath by “lane splitting” to ease through traffic jams. Motorists want this illegal out of hate and jealously, not for any safety reason.
Australia is at a major crossroads now. Never before has cycling been under such a vicious assault by the public, governments and even cycling groups claiming to represent cycling. It’s time to stop pandering to the hateful majority and their sycophants and look to overseas to learn about best cycling practices. No cycling advocate should be happy to see someone pulled over on a dedicated beach cycling path and hit with a $319 fine for merely enjoying the weather – and doing an activity legal in 99% of the world. Ironically, there’s a federal senate inquiry in process right now into the community impact of the nanny state, and still we have a state that unleashes a torrent of bruising, hateful anti-cycling measures. When Queensland had its inquiry 18 months ago, one recommendation was relaxing helmet laws, specifically for adults on paths and on roads with 60kph speed limits or less. The government ignored all that, preferring to equalise fines and trial the 1 metre law.
The culture and dialogue must change. End this farcical idea that bicycles are vehicles. Kids ride bikes, and on footpaths. Can they do the same with a car? No. Bicycles are closer to skateboards and rollerblades. They are their own unique transport that have been forced onto roads out of desperation, not by will. Other than sports and pack riders, everyday cyclists – the people we want to attract more onto bikes – don’t want to be there. They want separation. A process must start to immediately declassify cyclists as vehicles and institute a culture that cycling is safe, accessible and fun activity. Fines should correspond to damage that can be caused to other people, much like we have higher penalties for carrying a gun compared to a knife. Relax some laws, particularly helmet laws, allow give-way at stop signs and allow slow riding on footpaths. Then motorists can’t whinge about laws being broken, and the likes of the Amy Gillett Foundation can disappear off the face of this planet.