Mobile phones and riding: What does 'parked' mean for cyclists?

What is the legal definition of "parked" when it comes to a bicycle?

And what fines might you face for illegally using a mobile phone while cycling?

These questions came up last week with the announcement of a change to road rules in Victoria.

Starting this month, Victorians face an on-the-spot fine of $476 for using a mobile phone while riding a bike.

The authorities stressed that the offence isn't new – the change is that police will no longer have to charge a rider and take them to court for an alleged infringement.

 "We expect the cycling community to continue its generally good behaviour," said Robyn Seymour of VicRoads. "This change will simply enable police to issue spot fines to a small number of cyclists doing the wrong thing."

Victoria is late to the party on this. In Queensland, there's a $365 on-the-spot fine for cyclists, while in NSW the on-the-spot fine is $325 – going up to $433 if the offence is committed in a school zone.

A 'parked' bicycle

Transport authorities in Queensland, Victoria and NSW have advised me that rules for cyclists follow the rules for drivers: you can't use a hand-held phone while riding. 

Meanwhile, regulations regarding phones mounted on a vehicle vary between jurisdictions, so it's best to do some research if necessary. 

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News reports in Victoria last week said it's illegal to use a hand-held phone when your bike is "stationary, but not parked" – a definition that was causing a lot of debate among cyclists.

Of course, you'd have to be in a place where parking is allowed – but what is a "parked" bicycle? If you want to legally check a text or directions using a handheld phone, must you dismount? Put both feet on the road? Lean the bike up against something? Or get off the road entirely?

Victoria Police noted that while each incident is treated on its own merits, "stationary is when you are stopped while still in the flow of traffic, while parked is when you are off to the side of the roadway, not impeding traffic". 

A Queensland Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said: "A bicycle is considered parked if it is stopped where it can legally do so, for example, at the side of the road. A bicycle is not considered parked if it is stationary in traffic, for example, at a red traffic light." 

There was no requirement for a cyclist to dismount, leave the road or remove their feet from the pedals or hands from the handlebars, they said.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said: "The definition for 'park' under the NSW Road Rules includes stop and allow the driver's vehicle to stay (whether or not the driver leaves the vehicle). This definition of 'park' applies to bicycle riders."

Enforcement is up to the police, who have the discretion to consider all circumstances, the spokesperson said.

"However, from a road safety perspective the Centre for Road Safety would recommend that bicycle riders stop outside the line of traffic where parking is permitted and preferably dismount and stand in a safe location (eg footpath) when using their mobile phone."

Cycling in bus lanes is legal in NSW

Cycling in bus lanes is legal in NSW. Photo: Ben Rushton

Riding in bus lanes

Also from July, cyclists in Victoria will be able to ride in all bus lanes unless otherwise signed, bringing the state into line with jurisdictions such as NSW and Queensland. 

As a rider, I find bus lanes are often a blessing. They can keep you out of a busy roadway with cars trying to squeeze past on your right – or allow you to pass long lines of gridlocked vehicles.

Research from Monash University has shown cyclists are safer riding in bus lanes than in general traffic, VicRoads said.

A common complaint is that riders can hold up buses – which no doubt happens, although the stop-start nature of many bus routes means the effect can go both ways.

So it was encouraging that VicRoads noted cyclists have been using bus lanes on Hoddle and Johnston streets, two busy Melbourne arterials, for more than five years without any recorded crashes between bikes and buses – or impact on bus travel times.

Passing laws

There is one cycling measure where Victoria is at odds with most of Australia, however – minimum distance passing laws, which require motorists to leave at least a metre of space when passing a cyclist in speed zones of 60km/h or less, and 1.5 metres in higher speed zones.

In March, a Victorian parliamentary inquiry recommended the rule change. The government has opted for an education campaign on safe passing, to be rolled out later this year, followed by an evaluation of the program's effectiveness and an examination of the outcomes in other states before any further action is taken.

A separate bill on the matter tabled by the Greens was passed in the state's legislative council in May, but was voted down by the Labor government in the legislative assembly.

Laws or trials of the measure are either in place or have been promised in almost every other state or territory.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011.

Follow Michael on Twitter or Facebook, email him or read more of his blogs.

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