Author: Michael Short, Special Counsel and Accredited Specialists in Personal Injury Law
A very interesting article published in the Guardian last week reported on the continuation of City of Sydney’s ‘war on cyclists’, with the latest development being a recent dramatic increase in fines for a number of cycling offences in New South Wales. As an example, the fine for not wearing a helmet (which is compulsory across Australia) rose from $71 to $319; fines for cycling through a red light, riding negligently or not stopping at a pedestrian crossing were all raised from $71 to $425. The full article published by the Guardian can be viewed here.
There is history behind this article.
Since 2009, the peak cycling bodies, including Bicycle NSW, have been seeking legislative recognition of a minimum safe passing distance for vehicles when overtaking cyclists. The minimum safe passing distance evolved from the “metre matters” campaign.
The metre matters campaign was started by the Amy Gillet Foundation, a not-for-profit entity set up following the tragic death of Amy Gillet in Germany in 2005. Amy was a very promising cyclist and part of the Australian womens cycling team. Amy was on a training ride with the team when the teenage driver crossed the centreline and collided head on with the riders. 5 other riders sustained serious injuries.
Since that incident, the Foundation has focused its efforts on improving the safety of cyclists in Australia. They have lead numerous high profile road safety campaigns including their innovative “metre matters” campaign.
Earlier this year, the NSW Government belatedly acquiesced and introduced a minimum safe passing distance to the NSW road rules (rule 144-1). The new rule requires drivers to leave a minimum safe distance between the vehicle and the cyclist. The minimum distance is 1 metre for roads where the speed limit is 60 km/h or under and 1.5 metres for roads where the speed limit is greater than 60km/h.
As with every law, it is only valuable if the Government wishes to enforce it. There is no private right of enforcement.
In an apparent quid pro quo, the NSW Government exacted a heavy price for enacting Rule 144-1. At the same time Rule 144-1 was passed, the Government substantially raised the penalties for numerous cycling related infringements.
What then followed was a series of blitzes targeting cyclists; done under the banner of “education and awareness”. In the weeks that followed, the NSW Police stopped hundreds of cyclists, issuing infringement notices for a myriad of minor offences such as:-
- not having a functioning bell (Rule 258),
- riding across a pedestrian crossing (rule 248),
- riding on a road adjacent to a bike path (rule 247),
- riding at night without a reflector (even though they had appropriate bike lights (rule 259), and
- it was even reported that 2 riders were fined for negligent or furious riding because they were doing a “track stand” at a set of traffic lights.
At the same time as these blitzes were going on, cyclists were reporting to the NSW Police incidents of near misses with vehicles breaching rule 144-1. These reports were being done with the assistance of video evidence from high resolution cameras mounted on the bikes and the riders themselves. To our knowledge none of these incidents have been acted upon.
Given the quid pro quo that accompanied the enactment of the minimum safe passing distance, NSW cyclists were entitled to expect the Police would enforce Rule 144-1 with the same vigour that they have enforced the new regime of penalties.
We at Veritas Law Firm believe strongly in supporting the rights of all road users. We believe special attention and recognition should be given to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and, especially, cyclists. If you’ve been involved in any cycling related incident, we would love to hear your story. You can contact us on 131 LAW.
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Veritas Law Firm produced this article. It is intended to provide general information in summary form on legal topics, current at the time of first publication. The contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular matters.