Father pushing to change a law that forces 12-year-olds to ride on the road

Callum Gordon with his daughter Macy Gordon-Heywood, who rides to school every day. Photo: Fiona Morris
Callum Gordon with his daughter Macy Gordon-Heywood, who rides to school every day. Photo: Fiona Morris

Macy Gordon-Heywood cycles to school every day, navigating the footpaths from her home to school. But when Macy turns 12 in just a few months' time, she will be forced off the footpaths and onto the busy peak hour roads with NSW law prohibiting anyone over the age of 12 from riding on the footpath.

Her father, Callum Gordon, a cyclist himself, knows the dangers of riding a bike on the road and says he wants to see the law changed.

"My children are increasingly cycling and for me that's great for many reasons," he said. "My daughter is going to be 12 fairly soon. I became aware of this law that once kids reach 12, they have to go onto the road. It's crazy."

Macy will have to stop riding on the footpath when she turns 12 under NSW law. Photo: Fiona Morris

Macy will have to stop riding on the footpath when she turns 12 under NSW law. Photo: Fiona Morris

Mr Gordon has started an online petition calling on the government to reconsider the current laws, which will force Macy to cycle on the road as soon as she turns 12.

According to statistics from the Transport for NSW's Centre for Road Safety, four cyclists have been killed on NSW roads this year.

Mr Gordon said the law was putting young children in danger by forcing them to use busy and often dangerous roads.

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"We're quite fortunate we live close to the school, but we're talking about peak time traffic," he said. " A lot of the kids walk, cycle or scooter to school. Some of them are quite small.

"I have talked to other parents about it at the school and no one realised this was the law. I want my kids to follow the law, but I've made it clear I want them on the footpath."

Mr Gordon said he wanted the law changed to allow everyone to use the footpath if they wished.

"Personally I would like everyone to be able to cycle on the footpath," he said. "I'm aware it becomes a difficult debate with adults going fast. I would hope people would be sensible. It doesn't mean you can do 40km/h."

In all states in Australia except NSW and Victoria, bike riders of any age can ride on a footpath unless it is otherwise indicated.

A spokesman for Transport for NSW said there was currently no plans to amend the rules prohibiting 12-year-olds from riding on the footpath and that they were instead looking at different solutions including shared paths and bike lanes.

"Footpaths are predominantly designed for the use and safety of pedestrians," they said. "While there are only a small number of recorded crashes between bicycles and pedestrians each year, nevertheless it is the pedestrian who is generally at a greater risk of serious injury."

Bicycle Network chief executive Craig Richards said the current laws were making it harder for young people to get out and exercise on their bikes.

"Not letting anyone older than 12 ride on a footpath can stop people from riding, especially those who are less experienced on a bike," he said. "If you're a secondary school student who wants to start riding to school it can be very daunting when you have to start on the road."

Amy Gillett Foundation CEO Phoebe Dunn said their organisation was fully supportive of any changes to the law, saying the current age limit seemed arbitrary.

"The current age limit on riding on the footpath appears arbitrary and, in the absence of separated infrastructure and other safety measures, does not support cycling participation," she said. "Fear about safety is the number one barrier to cycling participation – requiring children aged 12 and over to cycle on the road does nothing to alleviate that barrier, and there does not appear to be any sound basis for such limits."

The dangers of teenagers riding on the road became clear earlier this week, when a 13-year-old Victorian girl was left fighting for her life after being hit by a BMW. 

Mr Gordon says the government should be making sure its laws are not putting young people in danger, but instead are encouraging safe physical activity.

"It's about encouraging kids to cycle to places rather than being driven by car. Changing this law has to help that."