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Motorists and cyclists – it's not us vs them

in Compensation Law by Slater and Gordon on

I will readily admit that I’ve had my moments where, as a motorist, I’m incredulous and frustrated when a cyclist does something that appears horribly dangerous to both themselves and to other road users.

Having recently attended the Australasian Road Safety Conference on the Gold Coast, one of the many topics discussed was how do we improve conditions and the relationship between cyclists and motorists on the road.

Chairman of the Amy Gillett Foundation, Mark Textor, spoke of the importance of motorists and cyclists working together. Almost every driver can tell you a story about a cyclist flaunting the road rules – just like every cyclist can name a time their safety was put at jeopardy by an inattentive or aggressive driver. Having spent some time on a bike I’ve come across this myself.

I found it very refreshing to hear that the Foundation was more than happy to recognise that there are dangerous cyclists on the road just as there are dangerous drivers. What they did reiterate though was that this mentality of ‘us v them’ is counter-productive, and both cyclists and motorists need to take a more selfless approach in getting to their destinations.

One thing all of us can do right now is to become familiar with the road rules that apply in our respective state:

  • In NSW, Victoria and WA it is only legal to ride on a footpath if you are under the age of 12 or supervising someone under the age of 12. In Queensland, ACT, SA, Tasmania and the Northern Territory it’s legal to ride on a footpath but at the same time it is up to the cyclist to give way to pedestrians and be safe.
  • It is legal across Australia for cyclists to ride side by side – however, it may be necessary to pull into single file to let other road users past – common sense is key.
  • Cyclists are bound by the same road rules as motorists (i.e. they can be booked for running red lights, performing illegal U-turns and even speeding).
  • In Queensland, the ACT and South Australia motorists must give room to cyclists of 1 metre if travelling 60km/hr or less and 1.5 metres if travelling more than 60km/hr. This particular rule is currently being considered by other states.

The rule that is potentially going to cause the most dispute, in my opinion, is the latter passing rule. The problem here is going to be the ability to enforce a breach of the rule as it could be subjective and ‘one word against another’. Technology will certainly help but there will always be a person who believes they are in the right when perhaps they’re in the wrong.

The real solution, and the whole point of having the passing rule, is to create awareness for both motorists and cyclists. The onus is on both parties to be aware of their surroundings and facilitate rather than frustrate. If a motorist comes across a cyclist on a narrow road then they may have to slow down and concentrate to ensure they are adhering to the passing rule. At the same time, a cyclist may have to stop riding side by side on the same narrow road and move as far to the left as possible to make sure the motorist can pass safely.

The whole point is that cyclists need to cooperate with motorists and motorists need to cooperate with cyclists. Getting caught up in a battle of who has the right to use the road and in what way is a pointless exercise so the solution is to increase awareness and have both ‘sides’ work together to share the road responsibly and safely.

For bike-related laws and road rules by state and territory take a look at this page on the Bicycle Network Australia website.

You can also keep up-to-date with the AGF's 'A Metre Matters' campaign, including any updates to this law around Australia here.

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