Metre passing laws and ID for cyclists in NSW

New bike rules for NSW drivers

New overtaking and distance rules for NSW drivers aim to keep cyclists safer on the road.

It's a saga that's been making headlines around the country – and internationally.

As the Bloomberg news site put it: "Cough up, cyclists: Sydney fines soar in world's toughest regime."

On Tuesday, NSW's controversial new cycling measures took hold, after an announcement in December that cyclists would be forced to carry ID - a measure that appears to be a world first.

Drivers must leave at least a metre when passing cyclists in speed zones of 60km/h or less, and 1.5 metres in higher speed zones.

Meanwhile, cycling fines are being increased significantly – with some rising from $71 to $425.

But the ID issue has proven the most contentious and has even led to high-level cross-border sledging, with this message on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' social media sites:

Lockout laws. Compulsory IDs for cyclists. Next they'll be handing out floaties at Bondi Beach.

Posted by Daniel Andrews on  Monday, 29 February 2016

It's a developing situation, but here are a few points of interest.

Do you have to carry ID?

At this time there is no law requiring you to carry an identity document while riding a bicycle in NSW.

The official line since December was that the law would be in place by March 1, 2016, but a fine would only be enforced from next year.

But, to date, no laws have been passed, even though the official "Go Together" website promoting the changes has been saying that riders "must" carry ID.

A Roads and Maritime Service spokesperson told me that "appropriate regulations and/or legislation will be made closer to March 2017. The next 12 months is about getting cyclists used to carrying ID".

This pause in the process has given hope to some that the measure could yet be abandoned or blocked.

Tess Allaway of Bicycle Network told me that "the NSW government should admit they made an ill-advised mistake", while Ray Rice of Bicycle NSW said the best outcome would be for authorities to work with bicycle groups "to provide sensible solutions to real safety issues".

Riders and pedestrians

In 2014, when Roads Minister Duncan Gay said that he was "increasingly persuaded" that cyclists needed to be licensed to reduce fatalities, he spoke of the need to enforce road rules on "the bad [cyclists] that are running lights, crossing over, being aggressive".

With the concept of a specific bicycle licence wisely abandoned (you can read some good reasons here), the talk turned to making sure that cyclists didn't give false information when caught breaking the law.

But lately, the prime motivation given is that ID will "help riders be identified in an emergency".

But what of pedestrians? Last year there was a 48 per cent increase in walker fatalities in NSW compared with 2014, and the pedestrian toll was eight times higher than that of cyclists. Why haven't we jacked up jaywalking fines? Surely we should all be made to carry ID, all the time?

This week, an Ambulance NSW spokesman told me: "As far as paramedics treating people, ID makes no difference to medical outcomes."

The matter of a metre

Meanwhile, with so much coverage focusing on cyclist behaviour, how much attention is being paid to what I see as the real safety measure - the new passing laws?

Motoring group the NRMA said this week that "more should be done to drum up awareness" of the law changes, "particularly the obligations and provisions for motorists under the one-metre rule".

One key aspect – which you can read about here – is that drivers are now allowed to cross centre dividing lines when passing cyclists. It was a controversial topic in Queensland and South Australia (which helped to publicise the measure).

But is it known in NSW? I worry that uninformed people will be infuriated when "stuck behind" cyclists on narrow roads, not realising they have a new way of passing safely.

The measure is described in somewhat laboured terms on the Go Together website, but a recently attached video explains the changes. 

The $319 helmet fine

On Tuesday, the Daily Telegraph reported on one of the first people to be slugged by the 350 per cent increase in the helmet fine.

According to the report, Ben Ackerley was picking up his bike after it was damaged in a collision with a taxi, and he planned to ride some two kilometres to get home.

He said he'd recently moved to Sydney from New York, where "the cops have better things to do than worry about this sort of stuff".

New York is indeed a cycling success story, with an independent mayor-council system that has built more than 640 kilometres of bike lanes in a decade, massively increasing ridership while decreasing the rate of injuries.

The helmet-optional CitiBike scheme has driven that success, while recording no fatalities after 2½ years and more than 20 million rides.

Closer to home, the ACT is considering a trial relaxation of the helmet law in certain areas. There have been 201 helmet fines issued in the ACT in the past four years – a total that was beaten in one day during a blitz on Sydney cyclists last week.

Is NSW really on the right track in its approach to cycling safety?

Roll through the changes

It's been a difficult fortnight for bike riders in Sydney, with blaring news reports about crackdowns and dangerous cyclists and fine increases and ID requirements.

And yet … Bicycle Network reported that this week's annual "Super Tuesday" bike count showed that cycling in Sydney continues to increase, despite the many challenges for riders.

Imagine what could be achieved with an accelerated bike lane program.

Do you support ID laws for cyclists? Are the metre passing laws understood? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011. He has won a Cycling Promotion Fund media award and is a regular voice for cycling on radio and television.

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