The New South Wales Government is gearing up to introduce a controversial new package of cycling-related laws in March, named Go Together. Among these new rules, drivers will be required to leave a minimum distance of one metre when passing a cyclist if they are travelling up to 60km/h, and at least 1.5 metres when travelling faster than 60km/h. Failure to do so will result in a penalty of $319 and two demerit points. Of course, that’s welcome news for anyone who has narrowly avoided being clipped by a passing car (if they were lucky).
However, also included are a series of rules ranging from drastic increases in fines for not wearing a helmet, to carrying compulsory photo ID. And this is where it gets murky, and actually quite ridiculous. The helmet & ID law in particular illustrate how extreme this all seems.
The previous fine for not wearing a helmet in NSW was $71, and this will now jump to $319 – a 350% increase. Firstly – whaaaaaat!? What is the justification for this increase? Australia is one of only three countries in the world that deems not wearing a helmet while on a bike to be a criminal offence. Furthermore, the introduction of helmet laws in Australia were responsible for a reduction in participation of cycling, with arguably no increase in safety and personal protection see Mikael Colville-Andersen’s TED talk ‘Why we shouldn’t bike with a helmet’, or read this article, ‘Australia’s helmet law disaster’
The issue with carrying ID at all times while riding comes down to a matter of degree, and of course personal freedom. Should pedestrians and joggers also carry ID all the time? Kids riding to school? Where and why do you draw the line? Why does an enjoyable, convenient and healthy activity have to be monitored like this, when there are already measures in place to punish cyclists legitimately doing the wrong thing.
Now imagine a European street scene. Bike cultures flourish in places like the Netherlands where cycling is a popular, normal means of transport. Because of the strong cycling infrastructure, it is more often than not the easiest way to commute, thus making it a no-brainer. Most drivers are also cyclists, so the relationship between different commuters is much more respectful.
Let’s now compare that to bike culture in Australia. Many times here when cyclists break the law, they do so for their own safety – I know this is definitely the case for myself personally, ie riding on a footpath when I am approaching a very busy intersection with no bike lanes. Cycling is beneficial to all members of society; it is environmentally friendly, a good means of exercise and car drivers benefit from a reduction of other cars on the roads. These laws will inhibit the freedom and enjoyment of cyclists and discourage future participation, when the aim should be to support and encourage bike culture.
Check out the NSW Government website for more information on Go Together.