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Whilst ignoring dangerous drivers

Bicycle NSW previously wrote about the problem of perceived (or actual) police bias against bike riders. Despite meetings with senior leadership at NSW Police and some nice words, the problem has got worse. 

In How to Make a Metre Matter Again we discussed aggressive driving, a wicked problem that is keeping our riders on edge. Not only does lack of safety discourage 70% of potential bike riders from taking to two wheels. Poor policing of dangerous drivers puts people off bothering to report dangerous, aggressive and illegal behaviour to the NSW Police. Because in most instances establishing driver fault is a costly uphill battle, and the police do nothing. Or worse, blame bicycle riders for existing.

Police take a rider’s details and dispense advice about safety and responsible riding during crackdown on e-bike riders on the Manly Corso in May 2023 (Credit: Nikki Short/Manly Daily)

Ignoring bad driver behaviour and targeting bike riders undermines community policing

Community policing is a 2-way street built on trust. So Bicycle NSW celebrates whenever the NSW Police enforce Minimum Passing Distance (MPD) legislation, partly to encourage faith in the system. And partly because examples of police supporting bicycle safety are thin on the ground. Now there’s a yawning chasm between NSW Police statements upholding the rights of all road users to co-exist safely. And the demoralising reality of police officers repeatedly ignoring or minimising dangerous and aggressive driving. Meanwhile, bicycle riders are habitually pinged for minor infringements.

The Victorian Transport Accident Commission campaign highlights the minimum safety zone drivers should allow when passing a bike rider - at least a one-metre safety zone when passing cyclists in speed zones up to 60km/h, and at least 1.5 metres at higher speeds. Give a metre. (Credit: Transport Action Commission)

Since 2018, only 171 violations were issued to motorists for driving too close to riders. Yet from 2016 onward, cyclists have received approximately 55,000 fines!

31,402 penalties were issued for not wearing or improperly fastening helmets; 5,645 fines for riding on footpaths; 5,678 riding without a light at night; 2,476 for lacking a functional bell and 207 fines for ‘failure to ride on the far-left side of the road’.

Most of these fines could have been warnings

After all, how many people have been killed by bike riders? Perhaps 3 in the last three years. Just last year however, 1194 Australians were killed by motor vehicles, mostly because of bad driving. If that was a war, there’d be a national outcry to pull our troops out. What’s more, that’s almost double the death count for service personnel for all the wars since Vietnam.

The College Street non-offence

A Sydney rider on College Street was recently fined for ‘Not riding in bicycle lane’. This is unfortunate. Firstly, because the College Street bike path is a bike path, not a bike lane meaning you can choose not to use it and ride in the general traffic lanes. Secondly, he left the bike path briefly to avoid some pedestrians.

The constable who stopped him said, “You cyclists think you can do what you want. And then sue pedestrians when you hit them”. The rider was subsequently slapped with a second ticket for using his phone while riding.

“But I was stopped on the footpath in the park, with a hand on the brake and foot on the ground. In fact, I was checking my phone before moving off after he issued the first fine.”

“That’s absolutely ridiculous and up there with one of the worst cases I have seen,” says Peter McLean, Bicycle NSW CEO. “For the record, not one of our Members has ever sued a pedestrian!”

Peter McLean has spoken to the Assistant Commissioner and the charge relating to riding on the road was subsequently dropped.  We thank the police for this sensible resolution. We are working with the bicycle rider to ensure a similar outcome for the mobile phone charge.

Going after young bike riders is bad for the NSW Police brand

Bicycle NSW was contacted by the father of a young African-Australian e-bike rider targeted twice by the same constable. In the first instance Daniel was fined for not having his helmet strap sufficiently tight. Then for riding on the footpath. But the alternative was to ride on the Illawarra’s Princes Highway in fast moving traffic.  That would be incredibly unsafe.

This is no place for bikes or kids: The Princes Highway south of Sydney (Credit: Illawarra Mercury)

In the second instance, Daniel was riding with a group of white friends and singled out by the same constable.

This time he was fined for ‘Riding an unlicensed ‘motorbike’ on the path: not wearing an approved helmet and not having a motorbike licence’.

“We have a road toll heading in the wrong direction,” said Peter McLean. “Our roads are extremely dangerous by design and police need to focus on things that really impact safety - like aggressive drivers.”

“In this case, Daniel should not have been fined for choosing not to ride on a deadly highway. The constable could have issued a warning for using an illegal fat-tyred bike. Then, if he cared enough, the constable could advocate for NSW Police to investigate the loophole that allows for such sales.”

According to Daniel’s dad, Patrick: “The police actions had a profoundly negative impact. Daniel feels that he is being targeted for being young, black and riding a bike. He now fears going out, he fears riding and is especially fearful of the police.”

“We need more than fine words from NSW Police leadership. We need them to work with us to make the roads safe and fair for all road users,” says Peter McLean. Bicycle NSW has offered to support the lawyer in Daniel’s defence.

We need your help!

If you are unhappy with police actions, you can file a complaint. Your reports and follow-up are vital for our advocacy for better policing of all road users. Please keep Bicycle NSW informed on your progress through the system.

And please join Bicycle NSW now to support our campaigns for safer streets

Participants in the Better Streets Walk + Ride in March 2023, many on e-bikes, demonstrating the call for more bike lanes and safe, low-speed streets across NSW. Pitt Street, Sydney. (Photo: Better Streets NSW)

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