What happened to ID laws for cyclists in NSW?

Here's a quick public service announcement. At time of publication there is no legal requirement for an adult bicycle rider to carry ID in NSW.

It's been six months since the state government was supposed to introduce the measure, which would certainly be unique in Australia, and possibly the world.

The law was to be passed along with a dramatic hike in fines for cycling infringements and a minimum passing distance law – although no fine would be attached to the ID requirement until 2017.

But it never happened – and confusion on the issue remains rife, with many people believing the law is already upon us.

It hasn't helped that the online resource designed to educate the public on the changes has been providing incorrect information on the issue since March.

According to the "Go Together" website: "From 1 March 2016, all bicycle riders aged 18 and over must carry the required photo identification. "

There is no law. There is no "must".

I asked Transport for NSW about their website in March and again last month, and received two near-identical responses, the latest being: "We are continuing to encourage cyclists aged 18 and over to get into the habit of ensuring they carry photo identification in light of legislative changes to be introduced from March 1, 2017."

The confusion is evident in the comments on this story, while there are reports of people being "cautioned" for not carrying ID when there is no law in place.


Helmets, ID and tourism

Meanwhile, the NSW government's approach to cycling continues to attract broad criticism, especially in the media, such as the recent report in the Guardian's Cities series on "Sydney's war on cyclists."

Last week, Margy Osmond, the CEO of Tourism and Transport Forum Australia, told me the industry was "concerned about any regulations that potentially make it harder for visitors to enjoy their experience of NSW".

Cycling is an increasingly popular way to explore a destination, and Australia was missing out, she said.

"There has been a long debate about helmet laws and the impact they have on discouraging the temporary bike hiring in Australian cities," Osmond said. "Now the NSW government plans to add to the visitor burden by requiring ID to be carried at all times when riding a bike as well."

The ID measure also faces strong political opposition.

NSW Labor's transport spokeswoman Jodi McKay told me: "I've made numerous requests to [NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay] for information to support the compulsory carrying of ID, but he has not been able to provide a scrap of evidence in defence of this law."

The Greens' Dr Mehreen Faruqi says: "The government has been unable to justify the need for this rule or articulate who has provided them with the advice for this change."

Asked about evidence, a spokesperson for the minister told me: "If we're serious about improving safety we need to change negligent cycling and motorist behaviour, which means tougher penalties and an ability to easily identify the law-breakers. Police will only ask adult cyclists to identify themselves if they've done the wrong thing."

'Sensible dialogue'

On Tuesday, the Roads Minister was questioned on the ID issue during NSW budget estimates by Faruqi.

Gay said carrying ID is recommended "for a very good reason", saying that if you were in an accident you'd like your family to know where you are, and for easier access to medical records.

"Like wearing a helmet to protect your head from damage when you hit a car or the tarmac, carrying ID is just as good," he said.

The government had "indicated" that it would be compulsory from next year, Gay said. Asked if it would still do so, Gay said: "Yes, but we need to make sure that as we go through we do it appropriately."

They were "currently working with the cycling organisations to look at less confrontational ways - people feel confronted by ID and we are having a good dialogue with them at the moment - to be able to find out who someone is to be able to protect them going forward".

There was also this exchange:

Faruqi: "So there is a chance, I am thinking, that the ID rule may not come in, which would be the sensible decision to make."

Gay: "It all depends on sensible dialogue and discussions on addressing the issues that are there."

Two cycling advocacy groups I spoke to confirmed that talks are ongoing.

A Bicycle NSW spokesperson told me their organisation "doesn't necessarily feel that compulsory ID is necessary or required and we are working very closely with the government to advocate this position to achieve a positive outcome".

Meanwhile, the Amy Gillett Foundation said they supported carrying ID as a safety measure but "we do not support compulsory carriage ... we are working constructively with the NSW government on addressing the matter of ID and on the implementation of the minimum passing distance law trial".

It's time to drop the idea

From the outset, the NSW government's ID plan for cyclists has been a shemozzle. Publicity surrounding the ID proposal and the increased fines served to obscure the more significant safety initiative - the minimum distance passing law.

It was supposed to be about helping to identify riders in an emergency – but then we were told a photo of your ID on your phone would also be acceptable. How do emergency services unlock your phone if you're unconscious?

If it's such a crucial measure, why not impose the law on pedestrians, too? Since January 1 this year, 27 times as many pedestrians as cyclists have died on NSW roads.

Meanwhile, almost one in 10 adults in NSW - some 468,000 people - don't have a driver's licence or photo card. Many of them would be people who can least afford to buy one - and who may rely on a bike as the cheapest way to get around. 

While progressive cities are encouraging cycling for its health, cost and congestion-busting benefits, does NSW really want to put in a participation barrier for 10 per cent of its populace?

And who wants to have to carry ID when rolling a few blocks to the beach in a wetsuit for a quick surf?

The $106 fine would likely become an add-on item during regular police blitzes on cyclists.

Meanwhile, the government's stance that ID is a law enforcement issue was countered by ACT authorities ruling out a similar measure, saying they had "existing powers for police to request [a] cyclist's name and address".

And let's not forget there is a significant difference between a driver's licence – which identifies you as qualified to control a large and dangerous machine – and asking people to carry ID when in charge of a vehicle that is also ridden by children.

We may never know why the law wasn't passed in March, but the delay gives the authorities more time to consider the wide range of voices opposed to its ill-conceived proposal.

And if the government is at all vulnerable to "sensible dialogue and discussions", the ID measure must surely be abandoned.

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

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