New cycling regulations are a pedal backwards and won't improve the safety of cyclists, argues Professor Stephen Greaves.
The new cycling regulations to be introduced on March 1 are a pedal backwards and will do little to improve the safety of cyclists.
The NSW government campaign says the regulations are designed to "help drivers, bicycle riders and pedestrians Go Together safely". But the regulations, which were announced in late December, have been described by critics as '"draconian". Some say they will make NSW the "laughing stock of the world".
Under the new rules, motorists will need to give cyclists a one metre gap when overtaking at 60 km/h or less, and 1.5 metres at higher speeds or face a $319 fine. Cyclists will be required to carry photo ID, which can be requested by police on suspicion of breaking the road rules. Cyclists will also see fines for "high-risk behaviours" including running a red light, riding dangerously, and not stopping at children's pedestrian crossings rise to the same levels as car drivers ($71 to $425), while holding on to a moving vehicle and not wearing a helmet will see fines rise from $71 to $319.
Cycling has enjoyed a mini-renaissance in some Australian cities in the past decade. This has been underpinned by significant investment in cycling infrastructure, which seems imperative to the uptake of mainstream cycling. However, risks of incidents for cyclists in NSW remain unacceptably high –1500 are seriously injured and 11 killed on average each year.
The new regulations confront this problem by imposing heavy financial penalties on "reckless" motorists near cyclists and "reckless" cyclists, particularly those who don't have an ID on them. Stipulating a safe passing distance seems sensible enough. It is unlikely the police will be there with their tape measure, it is the message of the law that is important and as has been shown in Queensland where first trialled, it has found general acceptance.
What about the ID requirement? On the face of it, while many adult Australian's carry some form of ID anyway, it seems relevant to ask why cyclists have been singled out over other road users. True, many countries require the carrying of compulsory identification cards by all persons over a certain age, including the "cycling-friendly" Dutch. However, these may only be requested under specific circumstances; they have nothing to do with road safety and the fines are nowhere near the levels proposed under the NSW legislation.
Arguably, the most contentious component of the legislation is the hefty rises in fines for violations of road rules designed to bring cyclists "into line" with motorists. This follows Victoria and Queensland, where there is little evidence that increasing the fines has had significant safety benefits.
While most of the offences listed are not condonable, it seems unreasonable to view the level of risk posed by a cyclist running a red light as similar to a car. Perhaps we should consider legalised red light progression for cyclists under certain circumstances as is now the case in several European cities, which have reported flow improvements and no increased danger.
It is also frankly baffling that the $425 fine for "riding dangerously" exceeds that of the $319 for the new passing regulations and for those riders who choose to do so without a helmet, this represents a real blow to the head, sorry wallet.
Australia and New Zealand are the only nations with mandatory helmet laws and while I personally would not ride on Sydney's busy roads without one, I believe this to be a personal choice as is the case in most of the world.
Will the huge increase in the fine leads to more helmet-wearing or a further deterrent to cycling? My fear is along with these other fines, it will largely be the latter.
Making motorists more aware and courteous towards cyclists can only be a positive. Mandatory helmet laws aside, the road rules by which cyclists must abide are reasonable in themselves, but the hefty rise in fines and the ID requirement, seem to have little tangible link with safety outcomes.
If the intent is indeed to make cycling safer, efforts should be geared towards expansion of the separated cycling infrastructure program initiated by the City of Sydney, further education of both motorists and cyclists, and laws that provide greater protection for all vulnerable road users including cyclists as per nations like the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, the current state government seems to be taking a somewhat regressive view towards cycling, evidenced by the recent removal of the College Street cycleway, and a set of regulations and fines that seem set to only marginalise cycling and polarise opinion further.