Cycling package a step in the right direction

South Coast cyclists have welcomed new cycling laws designed to improve safety for all road users in NSW.

Under the cycling package, announced by Roads Minister Duncan Gay this week, adult cyclists will be required to carry photo identification and will face far heftier fines.

The fine for not wearing a helmet, running a red light, riding dangerously, holding onto a moving vehicle, or not stopping at a pedestrian crossing is now $71. However from March fines will jump to between $319 and $425.

Despite the massive increases, members of Illawarra’s cycling community are positive about the changes.

Wollongong cafe owner Mark Pearson supports new cycling laws which he says will help ensure cyclists know the rules and share the road safely. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Wollongong cafe owner Mark Pearson supports new cycling laws which he says will help ensure cyclists know the rules and share the road safely. Picture: Sylvia Liber

‘’Overall myself – and other club members I have spoken to – support the changes,’’ Illawarra Cycle Club president Phil Jones said.

‘’If you’re in control of a bicycle and on the road then the consequences of your actions should be equal to that of a car driver.

‘’The $71 maximum fine for a cyclist for going through a red light or other offence is a bit of a joke – it’s not much of a deterrent.’’

Mr Jones said he also welcomed the new rule which required drivers to leave a minimum distance when passing bicycle riders.

From March drivers will have to leave at least one metre when travelling up to 60km/h and at least 1.5 metres when travelling faster than 60km/h, or attract a penalty of $319 and two demerit points. 

‘’That rule has been a long time coming and will really make a difference to cyclist – and driver – safety,’’ Mr Jones said.

Meantime the requirement for adult riders to carry photo ID – so that they can be identified in an emergency or if they break the road rules – was a fair call.

‘’Most cyclists carry photo ID anyway in the form of a photo vehicle licence,’’ Mr Jones said.

Diggies Cycle Cafe owner Mark Pearson also supported the changes.

‘’If it does make cyclists who aren’t aware of the rules more compliant then that’s a good thing,’’ he said.

‘’Most cyclists do the right thing but you do see some cyclists doing silly things and hopefully these measures will pull them into line.’’

Mr Gay said the cycling package was developed in consultation with key stakeholders and government bodies.

‘’Earlier this year I committed to and held a roundtable to discuss cycling issues,’’ he said.

‘’I received recommendations on these issues – and the changes we’re making are about striking a balance for everyone on the roads and footpaths.

‘’Even with all of these changes in place which reflect recent changes in other states, I maintain that all road users need to exercise respect when using the road – cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.’’

COMMENT: New laws are good, bad - and bewildering

New laws about passing cyclists will be in force in NSW from March. Photo: Darren Pateman

New laws about passing cyclists will be in force in NSW from March. Photo: Darren Pateman

The cycling laws and penalties announced on Monday are a mixed bag - from positive to negative to downright bewildering.

Certainly, the plan to implement "metre matters" passing laws in NSW from next March is good news. 

The measures - which will require motorists to leave a metre when overtaking a cyclist at 60km/h or less, and 1.5 metres at higher speeds - can be controversial. Queensland was a hotbed of outrage when it became the first Australian state to trial the laws in 2014.

Media reports were clogged with people claiming that many roads were far too narrow to leave a decent space when overtaking a cyclist. Presumably, skimming past with centimetres to spare was seen as an acceptable alternative.

There was also angst about the provision that motorists could cross solid lines to overtake bike riders if it was safe to do so.

These concerns have proved unfounded. Queensland authorities have been positive about the trial, and surveys have shown that the public widely accepts the measures. 

Meanwhile, laws encouraging safer passing are catching on. South Australia and the ACT have enacted similar measures, while Tasmania has passed the "solid line" law and is promoting but not (yet?) enforcing minimum passing distances.

But Monday's announcement also carried law changes that are harder to fathom.

Firstly, adult riders will be required to carry ID. 

Licensing and visible registration of bike riders is a favourite topic for a vocal section of the community, even though there are a slew of reasons why it would be impractical.

I've had a go at the ID issue before, but a few things are worth repeating.

If cyclists need to be identified if they break the law or are injured, surely the same holds for pedestrians? 

Meanwhile, the measure won't trouble the enthusiasts, such as sports and commuter riders. But consider casual riders who use a bike to nip to the beach or a friend's house. Should they really have to take ID? 

There have also been significant fine increases for several cycling offences.

The fine for disobeying a red light will rise from $71 to $425 - matching the fine for cars, even though a red-light-running motorist can do significantly more damage than a cyclist treating a light as a give-way sign. 

Of course, a lot of people believe that "cyclists are lawbreakers, so it's no wonder they get injured and killed".

Nevertheless, surveys have shown that, in collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles, drivers were predominantly at fault - in one study, it was 79 per cent of the time.

Furthermore, a recent NSW survey showed that in many instances, cyclists break laws as a means of protecting themselves on infrastructure that is largely designed for cars.

But the most astonishing measure is the raising of the fine for riding without a helmet from $71 to $319 - an increase of 350 per cent.

Helmet laws are a peculiarly Australian obsession - 25 years after being the first nation to force adults to wear helmets whenever they ride, we're one of only three nations in the world doing so.

The laws probably haven't travelled because the impacts are, at best, ambivalent - increased protection balanced against lowered participation, especially when it comes to initiatives such as "bike share" schemes that have flourished around the world but failed in Australia.

I spent Sunday on Sydney's northern beaches, delighting at the sight of so many people rolling along on shared paths in beach wear, mostly unhelmeted. It's an activity unremarkable almost anywhere in the world. Is it really necessary to slap such riders with a $319 fine?

But back to the matter of a metre. In Queensland and other states, a lot of people questioned whether it was possible to judge that distance when passing. I can help you with that.

All cyclists on our roads are human beings with loved ones.

Simply imagine the rider you're trying to overtake is your loved one - your child, your sibling, your parent. I'm sure you'll find yourself leaving a safe distance.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly writes the On Your Bike blog.