December 10, 2010
Long ago I can remember Gary Sutton getting pinged for speeding on his bike – in an 80-zone from memory – but that doesn’t tell us that bike riders are speeding all over NSW right now, or that they did it more frequently in the late ’70s. Few bike riders can break the speed limits – even the lowest - but all of us can take the bell off or forget our helmet (well I wouldn’t but some obviously do) and get included in the stats.
Anecdotes can help us understand that bikes and riders are different from cars and drivers in so many ways – and that they have to be understood in their own contexts. Granted, where it gets messy – and dangerously so – is when each mode of transport mixes with the others. But fining to ‘enforce’ compliance may not actually work, if it doesn’t address root cause.
It’s not as simple as a pedestrian advocate decrying the falling rate of cyclist infringements – and drawing conclusions way beyond the scope of the stats presented. We can’t flick an “infringement switch” and expect to see the problem – if there is one – go away.
Agreed, we don’t want infringing cyclists to be ignored by the police but we should also recognise that groups like the NRMA or the Pedestrian Council have an axe to grind. They don’t need – or deserve – more media attention than the so-called “powerful cycling lobby”, especially when that publicity is at the expense of cyclists of all ages and abilities and taps into a festering resentment of two-wheeled human-propelled traffic.
We should be careful when we “somewhat agree” with groups that offer instant “analysis” tied to their attempt to leverage media attention for their “cause”. We don’t really know from what has been released why cyclists in NSW are seemingly less infringing, only that the absolute number has fallen. It could simply be that police are prioritising some laws over others – perhaps chasing fewer non-helmeted riders and looking out instead for more red-runners. If 74% of infringements are helmet-related it doesn’t take much de-emphasis on a personal-safety law like helmet-wearing to see a swift overall decline in absolute numbers. It may be that the higher numbers were an outlier, an aberration and we are settling back into more realistic yearly statistics. We just don’t know.
And anecdotal evidence of red-running by cyclists is no more or less compelling than anecdotal evidence of jaywalking by pedestrians or speeding by motorists. We know it happens – sure – but what is the actual non-compliance rate by each discrete sub-group, by trip and by mileage covered? What is the actual safety impact by accident rate? And what is the root cause? Sheer bloody-mindedness? Frustration at the delay when agile bikes are stopped by over-sized cars? Despair when once again forced to sprint like crazy from a standstill to maintain momentum – and a safer gap – in a car-dominated world?
We shouldn’t neglect the need for the police to target what really matters first and prioritise the remainder in a sensible, sustainable and managed way. Declining absolute infringement numbers tell us nothing more and simply raises scope for further, deeper analysis. We shouldn’t draw any more conclusion than that.
It may also be worth noting that perhaps non-ferrous bikes are still not being detected at traffic lights, raising the “apparent” incidence of red-running by bikers over “normal” non-compliance. Pedestrians and motor-vehicle drivers have no such excuse – yet they still do it, anecdotally and in raw infringement numbers. Why, and what is Mr Scruby doing about that?
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on December 9 with the attached headline “Cyclists getting an easy ride” had me thinking.
At first glance, I assumed it was another token opinionated attack on bike riders who choose to use two wheels as a form of transport or recreation, rather than get behind the wheel of their car.
It suggested cyclists are a law onto themselves when it comes to obeying general rules of the road.
The report claims an overwhelming majority of of riders have been issued for offences such as not wearing a helmet, riding on footpaths and running red lights.
The documents obtained by the Pedestrian Council under freedom of information laws also show that in the past five years there have been no fines issued for most bicycle-related offences.
These include not stopping at a school crossing, approaching crossings too quickly to stop, not using the cycleway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and riding more than two abreast on the road.
The chairman of the council, Harold Scruby, said it appeared the government was going soft on cyclists.
”The government is turning a blind eye because they are scared of the powerful bike lobby,” Mr Scruby said.