Today, March 1, 2016 marks the introduction of new bike laws which see infringements for cyclists skyrocket 500% as well as regulating the minimum safe passing distance for motor vehicles passing bike riders. The requirement that bike riders carry ID has been pushed backed one year. These news laws are the brainchild of MP Duncan Gay who is the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight with the New South Wales Government, but he has also been vocal in the media against bike riders, calling for a ban on cyclists on certain roads and acting against the recommendations of his own department.
At face value, the new laws appear to be logical. Fines for bike riders not wearing helmets increase from $71 to $319 and riding through a red light raises from $71 to $425. Duncan Gay says, “With cycling injuries remaining high in NSW, I had no choice but to look at tougher deterrents and increased enforcement to improve safety for cyclists and other road users like pedestrians. Being a responsible road user is not negotiable.”
The minimum safe passing distance, 1 metre distance with speeds up to 60kmh and 1.5m in areas faster than 60kmh has been welcomed by cyclists and advocacy groups.
But there are significant problems which the NSW Government has not addressed and global press called out Sydney (as the capital of NSW) for its draconian anti-cycling laws. Local cycling advocacy groups, BicycleNSW and Bike Sydney have been joined by Bicycle Network Victoria in condemning and protesting the new laws because ‘evidence’ has not been provided to back-up the laws, cyclists and advocacy groups fear a long-term decline in cycling.
MP Duncan Gay and his department have been pressed for evidence as justification that the changes will have the intended effect of improving cycling safety, however they have failed to deliver. Bernard Carlon, the Executive Director of the Centre for Road Safety says, “55% of serious injury cycling crashes happen at intersections, so it’s really important that bike riders and motorists don’t run red lights. Bike riders who don’t wear helmets are suffering severe head injuries at twice the rate of those that do.”
Mr Carlon and the department however are not providing any details on these stats, for example the percentage of these intersections which had traffic lights, the percentage of bike riders who were not wearing helmets and the percentage of bike riders who were at fault. Statistics from developed nations show that in collisions of cars with bikes, drivers are at fault in 80 per cent of the cases. This is confirmed by a study by the Adelaide University’s Centre for Automotive Safety Research which showed that drivers were at fault in 79 per cent of crashes and cyclists 21 per cent. (source)
Researcher from the University, Tori Lindsay noted, “more than 85 per cent of the cyclists in the study were identified as travelling straight on a single carriageway with the intention of continuing straight at the time of the crash. Drivers of vehicles, however, were more likely to be turning, with more than 64 per cent of all drivers undertaking a turn manoeuvre into or out of another roadway at the time of the crash.”
One component of new bike laws is the minimum safe passing distance when drivers overtake bike riders. This law has been introduced in Queensland as a trial and while it attracted criticism because of the difficulty to enforce it, cycling fatalities have dropped and it is widely acknowledged among advocates that the positive impact is the result of road user education and awareness.
The NSW bike laws allows motorists to cross double-lines to overtake a bike rider when it is safe, this exception for motorists provides certainty and confidence for motorists. To inform the community, the department of transport launched their Go Together campaign about the new bike laws which start today. However the campaign has been weighted mainly towards informing bike riders of the penalties, while the public information within the campaign about that minimum passing distances have been under-represented.
New Bike Laws Distract from Genuine Cycling Safety
In the 2015/16 budget shared between pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, the NSW committed $57 million dollars which is less that 1% of the entire $7.5 billion budget. This is a reduction of $12 million over the 2014/15 budget of $69 million shared between pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
As NSW Government reduce their investment in cycling infrastructure, but claim a growing commitment to improving cycling safety, it simply doesn’t add up; the Government they won’t provide facts to support the increase in fines and ID requirement, they are failing to inform drivers of the new minimum passing distance, and simultaneously they reduce investment in cycling infrastructure. Scepticism in the sincerity and motivation of the NSW Government in introducing the new bike laws is heightened following a police operation against cyclists five days ago.
The Australian Cycling Forum discussion thread on the new bike laws have generated over 1000 comments and participants have asked, if the new laws are good for cycling safety, why haven’t progressive cities and towns overseas who boast balanced and safer transport mix already adopted these.