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Sharing the road is not easy for cars and bikes

New rules in NSW force cyclists from March 2016 to carry a drivers licence or photo ID while riding. Certain offences, such as not wearing a helmet or not stopping at red lights, carry huge fines, some nearly six times higher than they were. This is part of the NSW government’s Go Together campaign.

Motorists must meet required passing distances when they see cyclists on the road. These are 1 metre if travelling under 60kmh and 1.5 metres if going over 60 kmh.

Cyclists not equal

Many bike riders do not support these changes. They do not see themselves as equal to motorists in their use of roads or their vulnerability to injury. Minimum passing distances are essential for safety. But the fines are out of proportion to cyclists’ use of roads, compared to motorists. Moreover, motorists carry a drivers licence to show they have passed a driving test. Cyclists have to carry ID just to show who they are (there is a 12-month grace period).

Cycling groups in late February 2016 delivered a printed online petition with more than 10,000 signatures to State Parliament. They vigorously protested rocketing fines and the need for ID.

Governments in Australia want to promote cycling because it improves the health of their citizens and the environment. But failure to provide good cycling infrastructure suggests otherwise. Adding hefty fines is likely to put people off further.

In the last 5 years, the number of bike riders in the City of Sydney is claimed to have doubled. The number of riders passing the corner of College/Liverpool streets has risen 82% since 2009 and 15% since 2015. Meanwhile, cycling throughout Australia has gone up 25% since 2009.

Tricky balance

It is a tricky balance between pleasing motorists and cyclists. Governments tread a fine line between giving them the extra protection they need and privileging bicycles over motorised vehicles. But there is little doubt that cyclists on the road are more vulnerable to an accident and more prone to serious injury than drivers .

Yet, cycling groups claim accidents between cars and bikes are seen by police as an administrative problem for insurance companies, rather than their serious responsibility to investigate.

According to NSW law, when a bicycle lane is marked on the road and has bicycle lane signs, cyclists must use it unless impracticable to do so. Unless motorists can drive with more attention to the rights and vulnerability of cyclists, dedicated cycling paths are a safer solution.

Cyclists who are hit and injured by a vehicle – and have tried to find the driver at fault – can receive compensation under the CTP green slip scheme in NSW, even if they could not identify the driver.

State Insurance Regulatory Authority nominates an insurance company, the Nominal Defendant, to manage and compensate the injured cyclist.

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