$584.10 fine for not wearing a bicycle helmet!

My Melbourne living son advised me of the relatively steep increases in traffic fines for cyclists in Victoria – for example, 5 penalty units for not wearing a helmet.  I believe a penalty unit is currently worth $116.82, so the helmet fine is now $584.10, up from $146.00.  In WA the same offence incurs 1 penalty unit which is $50.00.

 Poor Victorian cyclists – and it gets worse, for example

Clause 18 dangerous driving – amends section 64 of the Road Safety Act 1986 to provide an offence of dangerous driving for vehicles other than motor vehicles. Such vehicles include bicycles, but certain wheelchairs are expressly excluded. A person guilty of dangerous driving of a vehicle other than a motor vehicle will be liable to a penalty of 120 penalty units ($14,018) or 12 months imprisonment or both, which is half the maximum penalty that can be imposed in the case of a motor vehicle.

Clause 19 careless driving amends section 65 of the Road Safety Act 1986 to provide an offence of careless driving for vehicles other than motor vehicles. Such vehicles include bicycles, but certain wheelchairs are expressly excluded. A person guilty of careless driving of a vehicle other than a motor vehicle will be liable to a penalty of 6 penalty units ($700) for a first offence and 12 penalty units for a subsequent offence.

Or on a more trivial matter

 247A Entering a bicycle storage area

 (1) A rider of a bicycle approaching a bicycle storage area at an intersection that has traffic lights or traffic arrows showing a red traffic light or red arrow must not enter the bicycle storage area other than from a bicycle lane, unless the rider is not required to ride in the bicycle lane under these Rules. Penalty: 3 penalty units. ($350)

Note – Bicycle storage area is defined in the dictionary.

(2) Subrule (1) does not apply if the bicycle storage area cannot be entered from a bicycle lane.

247B Giving way while entering or in a bicycle storage Area

(1) A rider of a bicycle must when entering a bicycle storage area, give way to—

(a) any vehicle that is in the area; and

(b) if the area is before any green or yellow traffic lights, any motor vehicle that is entering or about to enter the area, unless the motor vehicle is turning in a direction that is subject to a red traffic arrow; and r. 247A Part 15—Additional Rules for Bicycle Riders Road Safety Road Rules 2009 S.R. No. 94/2009 302

(c) if the area forms part of a lane to which traffic arrows apply—any motor vehicle that is entering or about to enter the area at a time

when those arrows are green or yellow. Penalty: 3 penalty units. ($350)

Note Bicycle storage area is defined in the dictionary.

(2) A rider of a bicycle that is in a bicycle storage area that extends across more than one lane of a multi-lane road must, if the area is before any green or yellow traffic lights, give way to a motor vehicle that is in any lane other than the lane that the bicycle is directly in front of, unless the motor vehicle is turning in a direction that is subject to a red traffic arrow. Penalty: 3 penalty units.($350)

 Got that?  And that’s only for bicycle storage areas, and there are plenty more like that – just to be clear here, these (ridiculous) rules also apply in WA but the fines are more humane.

I checked Bicycle Victoria’s website and they seem to support the changes.  Spokesman Garry Brennan was reported in the Age as saying that if bicycle riders wanted equal treatment on the road, they had to accept equal responsibility. They should be ”prepared to cop equivalent fines to other road users if it means we are accorded the full rights we are entitled to under the law”.

Is that correct?

How does that accord with BikeVic’s slogan ‘more people riding more often’?  Certainly seems a huge discouragement to me.

Discounting the environmental and health aspects of cycling, there are significant difference between a bicycle and other forms of powered transport including speed, size, vulnerability of user, potential of damage to third parties and relative damage to road.  Fines should be adjusted to reflect these differences.  Running a red light on a bicycle is likely to result in the death of the cyclist; running a red light in a car may result in the drivers death and also the death of those with whom he may collide.

And what about issues of vulnerability and survival?  All cyclists know that personal safety can require you to break the law on occasions.  It is small comfort to be able to say ‘I was obeying the law’ as they load you into an ambulance.

Having read through a sample of traffic laws I realised that their main goal is the orderly movement of traffic, not safety of road users.  Of course traffic engineers would argue that orderly movement of traffic confers safety, and to some extent that is true.  However if orderly movement of traffic is your goal you then have to define in increasingly endless detail exactly what orderly movement of traffic is and how its rules are to be applied in every circumstance.  Thats when you end up with statutes covering ‘Entering a bicycle storage area’.

And do road users (or even the Police) know all the range of regulations?    Given that the only test of your knowledge of traffic regulations will be when you take your driving test, which in my case was over 40 years ago, the answer would have to be ‘no’.  In fact the current driving licence arrangements are so slack that even if your driving licence is suspended for a period, there is no requirement for you to take driving test in order to have your licence reissued.

Another side effect from extensive traffic regulation is the reduction in the perception of personal responsibility by the driver, as the regulator (the state) effectively dictates what to do.  So we have drivers exercising their perceived traffic  ‘rights’ regardless of safety of others.  This lack of personal responsibility is also reinforced  media reporting of ‘dangerous roads’ (the inanimate) rather than ‘roads on which drivers drive dangerously’.(the personal)

I suggest that the goal of traffic laws should be to return responsibility to the driver with the emphasis on road user safety.  That is not to say that all traffic laws are to be repealed, but the overarching aim is safety and responsibility.

To emphasis this there needs to be a clearly understood leading statement to traffic regulations.  I would propose:-

“Any person in charge of a wheeled vehicle which causes the death or injury of another will be charged with murder for the death and attempted murder for any injury, until proven otherwise.”

This would apply from shopping trolleys up to road trains. So that a cyclist who knocks down and kills a pedestrian would face exactly the same penalty as a car driver who knocks down and kills a cyclist.  The emphasis is on the result, that is death or injury, rather than how the death occurred. 

Of course, I would expect a large adverse reaction as murder is a fairly emotive term, and to think that in driving a car you might find yourself on a murder charge seems ‘unfair’.  But if you drive in a manner that causes the death of another person, why is that any less of a crime than if you killed them by some other means. A death is a death

So by being quite clear about the consequences of traffic related accidents, and returning responsibility to the vehicle operator, the need for detailed traffic regulations covering things such as access to bike storage areas, can be hugely reduced.

Riders and drivers alike will have a very clear understanding of the consequences of irresponsible vehicle use.

WA cyclists certainly need a better strategy than that of Bicycle Victoria if we are to avoid similar draconian fines being imposed here, and challenging the basis of traffic regulations is one option.

What do you think?

About Peter Bartlett