Helmets, rego and the metre law

Busy times for cycling in Australia.

Who would have thought that the simple bicycle – a vehicle that’s been around for more than a century, that almost all of us have ridden at some stage, that outsells the car in Australia every year – could be the focus of such ongoing national controversy?

As a fortnightly blogger, it’s hard to keep up with all the issues, especially when so many of them are based in regions. So here, for your perusal and comment – a grab-bag of hot topics.

Bicycle? Check. Police escort? Check.

Most of us enjoy Australia’s global reputation as a dangerous place to visit, packed as it is with bitey and poisonous creatures such as snakes, spiders, crocs and sharks.

So it must have seemed a bit incongruous to the international delegates at the Velo-City Global conference in Adelaide two weeks ago when they needed a police escort to do something that people freely do in almost every nation in the world – ride a bike without a helmet.

At first, the planned “protest ride” looked headed for controversy, with police saying that riders would be liable for a $153 fine.

But common sense prevailed in the end, and the 15-kilometre ride – which was on a path entirely separated from motor vehicles – was allowed to proceed after a “safety briefing”, with the riders bookended by helmeted police in hi-viz.

Australia has had compulsory helmet laws for more than two decades. The only other nation enforcing such laws is New Zealand. Scientists have built careers out of arguing whether or not the laws are effective or even desirable. They’re still at it.


But seriously – how many of those international experts will go home and say, “we’ve got to adopt helmet laws – they’ve done such wonders for cycling participation and safety in Australia”?

Cycling safety law opposed by cycling advocates

A few months ago, Queensland began its two-year trial of laws that stipulate a minimum distance for cars overtaking bicycles.

On Wednesday, a similar law was tabled in the Victorian Parliament by the Greens, in the hope that it would lead to greater safety awareness – and a legal recourse for cyclists who are all too often skimmed and even hit by careless, clueless or deliberately dangerous drivers.

The law is not supported by Bicycle Network, the peak cycling body in Victoria, with a spokesman saying that the laws have not been shown to be beneficial elsewhere.

In the Sunshine State, the measure was similarly opposed by Bicycle Queensland. But it had a different genesis; the law flowed from a parliamentary inquiry into cycling.

It was a multi-party affair - a welcome change, because cycling issues often seem to be less about lives and more about politics.

Will the Victorian Parliament see the merits of a bill tabled by a minor party?

Meanwhile, a 30,000-signature petition for a national minimum distance passing law, organised by the Amy Gillett Foundation, was presented to the federal Parliament on May 29.

Any vote in Victoria is months of lobbying away, and it'll be interesting to see how the Queensland experience is evaluated in the interim. So far, I’ve heard and read some good things from bike riders (and will be popping up to Brisbane soon myself).

Licensing and registration department

Tucked away in a sheaf of minutes: a recommendation by Melbourne’s Bayside Council that cyclists should be registered.

Quite how this measure was going to be implemented wasn’t properly explained, and the suggestion was promptly ridiculed in the media.

So what happened since? I’m happy to report the idea was massively voted down two weeks ago.

In Queensland, Transport Minister Scott Emerson announced that there were no plans to bring in cycling registration as it would inhibit cycling numbers.

He also said there would be no relaxation of helmet laws for bike share schemes or on separated paths (let’s hope Brisbane doesn’t host any international cycling conferences in the near future!).

Sadly, many news outlets led with the helmets and didn't highlight the registration ruling, so the clueless bleating about rego continues.

In New South Wales, Roads Minister Duncan Gay recently had everyone intrigued by his idea that cyclists should have licence numbers on their helmets.

I’ve not heard anything more about this, but his department has announced the start of work on a $1.6 million cycle way near Centennial Park, and the long-stalled CBD cycle ways are swinging back into action.

The cars that ate bike lanes

Always something new out of Western Australia, as Pliny the Elder nearly said, with reports of cars co-opting footpaths and separated bicycle ways.

Photos of the invasion were sent to police, with vehicle registration numbers visible, but no fines were issued. So much for the theory that police will take action against breakers of road rules if you can identify them.

Where is it all going?

As frustrating as much of the kerfuffle around cycling can be at times, I strive to embrace an optimistic outlook.

Noise means change. Things are happening. The right of people to ride bicycles freely and safely is firmly on the agenda. It'd be nice if it were easier ...  but I guess we just have to roll with it.

As a cyclist, what are the current issues that affect or interest you the most? Do you think things are improving for bike riders?

To encourage constructive debate, this blog will be carefully moderated; please stay on topic.

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