Recumbent bicycles – should the law mandate their visibility?

Submission to the Australian Bicycle Council / Australian Road Rules Maintenance Group regarding perceived visibility of recumbent bicycles and tricycles and other Human Powered Vehicles.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance of Western Australia has been asked to provide comment on a proposal to increase regulation and legal compliance of human powered vehicles.  This proposal appears to be based based on spurious and anecdotal experiential demand, rather than a clear scientific, needs analysis based objective response to an over-representation of recumbent HPV’s in vehicle collisions, near collisions, lost time injury, hospitalisations and fatalities.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance of WA (BTAWA) is Western Australian’s largest bicycle advocacy group, with members and affiliate cycling organisations representing over 1000 cyclists.  Established in 1993 from many long existing cycling groups, the BTAWA is dedicated to ecological sustainability, achieving public health improvement, advocating for increased and improved cycling transport infrastructure, and promoting everyday cycling.

An amendment is proposed to the Australian Road Rules that would mandate the display of an orange flag on recumbent cycles to increase the visibility and safety of the rider and other road users.
The proposal is to define a recumbent cycle and to require the display of one orange flag at a height not less than 1.5 metres above the ground.
The purpose of this proposal is to enhance the visibility of recumbent cycle riders and to increase their safety.
I would appreciate your comments with regard to this proposal.  Any suggestions to improve this proposal would also be appreciated.

The view of the BTAWA is that any amendment to the Australian Road Rules should be based on sound empirical evidence, responding to an identified need, with clear safety outcomes a defined goal.  So we would ask the following questions and make comment:

  1. The proposal to define recumbents does appear to largely redundant. “Recumbent” can be defined as ‘lying down, either prone or supine’, any such HPV would therefore require the passenger/engine to assume that position.
  2. Exactly what percentage of cyclists do recumbents represent in differing jurisdictions?
  3. What needs analysis has been conducted to determine that such changes to legislation, regulation or code of practice are urgently needed, justified or even desirable?  Without a comprhensive needs analysis any such move for greater regulation would be precipitate.
  4. Has there been any empirical evidence that compulsory addition of an orange flag at a height of no-less than 1.5m above the ground will deliver guaranteed and deliverable safety and health outcomes?  Why 1.5m and not 1.3 or 1.8m?
  5. Within the totality of vehicle collisions, near-collisions, lost time injury, hospitalisations and fatalities are recumbent riders disproportionately over-represented?
  6. Have recumbent riders and recumbent manufacturers’ been consulted on this matter?
  7. Has any social or cultural analysis been conducted to determine any reduction in cyclist participation rates through compulsory addition of an orange flag?  What are the public health outcomes from any possible reduction in participation rates?
  8. What benefits are anticipated to result from any such change for ‘other road users’?
  9. To what extent has overseas experience been sought to avoid us ‘reinventing the wheel’?
  10. It is very important that any proposed changes to “increase visibility” avoid the massive legal challenges that occurred via the change to Australian Design Rule ADR 19/01 subsequently modified into ADR 19/02 regarding compulsory motorcycle ‘lights on’.

It is the view of the BTAWA that issues of visibility should be applied equally to all road users.  It is easy to enact changes to small select and easily separated and segregated groups that appear to have little political significance, but much harder to make unpopular changes to larger more politically active groups even when there is clear empirical evidence that such a change would be of benefit to the community (for example slower urban speed limits).

The term ‘cyclist’ covers everything from a child with trainer wheels, BMX mounted youth, upright shoppers, tourists, vacationers, through to the carbon framed racers wannabes.

The BTAWA acknowledges that there are significant numbers of cyclists in all of these groups who may appear to place themselves at greater risk by wearing inappropriate and less visible options for clothing for the traffic conditions they are negotiating, and more obviously, riding at night with non existent or inadequate lights.   This is not a phenomenon that can be overcome through regulation without consultation.

The BTAWA is of the view that rather than create yet more dubiously enforceable legislation, a cycling awareness education campaign would be far more effective coupled with increased expenditure for cycling infrastructure whilst making other  less sustainable transport options more expensive – acknowledging the triple bottom-line impact of fossil-fueled transport options on public health and neighbourhood connectivity.

The BTAWA is of the view that such an awareness campaign would emphasis ‘rider responsibility’ of which being visible to other road users would be a part coupled with strong awareness campaigns for all road users.

The most effective safety feature for cyclists is to have more cyclists cycling everyday, to make cycling ordinary.

The more cyclists there are, the more other road users have an expectation of seeing and negotiating with cyclists.  Any statutory change should be viewed from the aspect ‘Will this encourage or discourage cycling’?  Will this make cycling safer?  Is there any basis for this proposed change?’

Any change that discourages cycling must be regarded as undermining their safety.  On those grounds and with the complete lack of empirical evidence being presented to justify this proposal, the BTAWA would oppose the amendment.

The BTAWA appreciate being kept appraised of any proposed changes to cycling infrastructure, legislation, regulation or code of practice.

The BTAWA appreciate the opportunity to comment on any such a proposal and look forward to doing so into the future.

Steven McKiernan
Convenor BTAWA

Greig, Russell wrote:

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Fiona’s summation below


From: fiona maccoll
Sent: Friday, 19 March 2010 1:58 PM
Importance: High

FYI – the main points that have come out of my questioning are:

  • upright two wheeled recumbents are at the same height as other bicycles and suffer from the same visibility problems that are not aided by inappropriate clothing;
  • three wheeled recumbents are more visible that bicycles or two wheeled recumbents;
  • the main problem arises with low racers that are built very low to the ground but are used mainly off-road and for racing (as the name implies);
  • very rarely would these low racers be used on the road;
  • the number of recumbents on the road is very low.  Greenspeed could not provide any accurate statistics but felt that it would be in the very low 1000’s across the whole country and the vast majority would be tricycles (which have the higher visibility);
  • and the number of low racers or lower two -wheeled recumbents would be minimal and would not justify any legislative change.

Could you please thank your respondents for me?

I will keep you informed of progress.





Fiona MacColl

Executive Officer

Australian Bicycle Council

About Heinrich

Promoting everyday cycling