Bicycle Network: Behaviour
Bicycle Network Victoria works to change Victoria's traffic rules and other legislation to make conditions better for bike riders. Our calls for new legislation are part of a wider effort to prevent death and injury. This effort is based on actual cases and the best evidence. This page sums up our main recent efforts to change legislation.
Passing distance laws scrutinised
13 June 2012. The adoption of fixed passing distance laws in the US state of Maryland has not worked, according to a recent study.
The researchers suggest that putting bike lanes on streets is a more effective method of ensuring that cars keep their distance from bike riders.
Researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore used video to observe and measure the changes that resulted from the introduction of a three foot passing minimum in Maryland. It is the first time that compliance with such a law has been assessed.
The study found that 17 per cent of vehicles passed closer than three feet on standard roads, and 23 per cent passed closer than three feet on streets with sharrows (a US road marking indicating a street to be shared by bikes and cars)
However in streets with bike lanes no vehicles passed bikes within three feet.
Fixed distance passing laws have been strongly favoured by some bicycle organisations in the United States, where about 20 States now have such laws. Recently some groups in Australia have called for similar laws here.
(Bicycle Network Victoria opposes such laws because they are less effective than existing 'safe passing distance' laws, which can take into consideration other factors such as speed.)
Maryland researchers discovered that since their laws were enacted in 2010, there have been just two instances where the measure was enforced, and both times came after vehicle-bicycle collisions.
They concluded that interventions and strategic education campaigns were needed to influence motorists’ driving behaviour to cultivate norms for passing cyclists, and to enhance enforcement and compliance around the three-foot law.
"The construction of bicycle lanes is a transportation infrastructure solution that would engineer out deficiencies in motorist behavior toward cyclists," they said.
Dooring submissions sought
3 April 2012. The Victorian Parliament's Standing Committee on Economy and Infrastructure Legislation Committee is seeking submissions on proposed changes to car dooring penalties.
The Committee is seeking submissions from a range of groups and individuals that address whether:
- the increased penalties for the offence of ‘car dooring’ proposed in the Bill are appropriate; and
- the legislative and regulatory changes contained in the Bill are the most effective mechanism to implement the increased penalties.
The closing date for receiving submissions is Friday 27 April 2012.
A copy of the Road Safety Amendment (Car Doors) Bill 2012 can be found at the Committee’s website.
The Road Safety Amendment (Car Doors) Bill 2012 was introduced by Mr Greg Barber, MLC into the Legislative Council on 8 February 2012. The Bill was further debated on the 29 February 2012. On 13 March 2012, the Legislative Council referred the Road Safety Amendment (Car Doors) Bill 2012 to the Economy and Infrastructure Legislation Committee for inquiry, consideration and report.
Car dooring in Victoria
Car dooring is currently an offence under the Road Safety Road Rules 2009. Subsection 269(3) states:
A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle.
Penalty: 3 penalty units.
Penalties and demerit points
Although 3 penalty units is the current maximum under the Road Rules, the Road Safety Regulations 2009 set an infringement penalty of 1 penalty unit. 1 penalty unit is equal to $122.14 in 2011-12. Most offences are dealt with through an infringement notice, that is an on the spot fine of $122.14.
The Bill proposes to increase this penalty to 10 penalty units and a loss of three demerit points.
The Committee seeks input on whether it is appropriate to:
- increase the penalty from 3 penalty units to 10 penalty units; and
- attach demerit points to the offence of ‘car dooring’.
Legislation versus Regulation and Enforcement
The offence of ‘car dooring’ is currently contained in the Road Safety Road Rules 2009, which are regulations made under the Road Safety Act 1994. The Bill proposes to create an offence of ‘car dooring’ within the Road Safety Act 1994 itself. This would mean that the offence and penalty would now be set by legislation.
Under the regulations, the offence of ‘car dooring’ is currently a lodgeable infringement offence. The infringements process allows an authorised person to issue an infringement notice (fine) to the offender. Under the current regulations, the specified infringement penalty for ‘car dooring’ is 1 penalty unit ($122.14). Unless further changes are made to the regulations, the new offence proposed by the Bill will not be an infringement offence and therefore not be able to be dealt with by way of an infringement notice. The offence will be a summary offence and an authorised person will be required to take the matter to the Magistrates’ Court for determination.
The Committee also seeks input on whether it is appropriate to:
- make ‘car dooring’ and offence under legislation rather than regulations; and
- change the process for enforcing ‘car dooring’ offences and have the matter dealt with by the Magistrates Court.
One metre backward step
11 August 2011. Australia's safe distance passing law is under pressure from a group who want to replace it with a fixed distance law.
Such a move would be a backward step and leave riders more vulnerable than before.
The safe distance passing law is actually more powerful and more protective than the proposed arbitrary 1M or 1.5M fixed distance regulation.
The proposal, modelled on that used in some international jurisdictions, is opposed by Australia's major bike organisations, including Bicycle Network Victoria, Bicycle NSW and Bicycle Queensland.
Where the fixed distance law has been introduced there is no evidence of any change in driver behaviour or in the incidence of related crashes.
An arbitrary rule of 1M or 1.5M is inferior because is restricts police discretion to charge people for passing dangerously at a greater distance than 1M. And legal experts say it would be difficult to prove exact measurements in court.
With the safe distance law police may take a range of matters into considerationâ€”speed, size of the passing vehicle, width of the road and so on.
Especially concerning is that an arbitrary passing distance would bring under legal pressure the existing lane splitting regulations.
The right of cyclists to filter through traffic to the stop line at intersections is a well-proven safety measure.
But it is likely that a one metre passing law would precipitate a challenge to these regulations, with a chance that they would have to be ditched, thus resulting in a negative safety outcome.
Similarly, Queensland could lose its bike advisory zones, which in effect is a non-mandatory one metre bike lane that bikes use it to overtake cars positioned to their right, often queued in stationary traffic.
Riders would be required to wait at the tail of the stopped traffic, taking away the huge benefit of bikes to move forward and cross the lights in one phase in full visibility of other traffic.
The idea of a fixed distance law has appeal at first glance, but after detailed analysis the drawbacks are evident. It has been favoured by the Amy Gillett Foundation in the past.
But with Australia's various bike organisations looking to work more closely on important issues, it is expected that bike safety policies will become more focused and evidence-based in the future.
Cars now safe from peds, bikes & bulls
23 March 2011. The Federal Government has acted decisively to save cars from strikes by pedestrians, bikes and bulls, after it quashed moves to make bull bars comply with safety standards.
Steel and aluminium bull bars were to be phased out as Australia moved to adopt international design rules to bring the nation into line with the latest safety engineering developments.
The new standards were expected to save 65 lives and 3000 serious injuries over the next 15 years.
Bull bars have been shown to contribute to a higher number and severity of injuries among bike riders and pedestrians.
The dangerous projections have been banned in Europe since 2005.
Showing zero concern for riders, the Government has announced that cars and their drivers are now safe from human obstacles.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport, Catherine King, has emphatically stated that the Government will not be improving the design standards to make the roads safer for pedestrians and riders.
"Over recent weeks I have received strong feedback through the consultation process associated with the Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) proposing the adoption of an international standard on pedestrian safety," Ms King said.
"Following careful consideration of the views and concerns put by individuals and stakeholders, I have decided that the proposal is not suitable for Australian conditions and I have directed the Department to withdraw the Regulation Impact Statement," Ms King said.
"While the Government is committed to improving the safety of pedestrians, we also recognise that bull bars play a positive role in the safety of vehicle occupants.
"In no circumstances will the Government consider banning bull bars or contemplate any lessening of the protection they provide. We are committed to ensuring that people remain fully protected in animal strikes and other hazardous situations where bull bars play a key role," Ms King said.
Animal strikes? What about people strikes?
Ms King failed to present to the public any evidence to show that bulls bars contribute to safety. That is understandable: there is no such evidence.
There is evidence that that they are harmful, something that Ms King is well aware of, but she does not want us to know that.
That is why she had abruptly stopped the consultation process on the Regulatory Impact Statement and withdrawn it.
Get ready for new road rules
8 September 2009. November brings changes to road rules in Victoria, with new requirements for U-turns, navigation devices and mobile phone use which will bring the State into line with nationally-set standards.
According to Roads Minister Tim Pallas the changes included preventing overtaking and U-turns over single unbroken dividing lines. Motorists will be able to perform a U-turn or overtake across broken dividing lines, or where there a no centre lines at all.
“U-turns alone have caused 19 deaths and 654 serious between 2004 and 2008. There were 1524 U-turn crashes in Victoria in that period. These changes will therefore have a significant impact towards improving safety on our roads,” Mr Pallas said.
Mr Pallas said the laws would also prevent dangerous use of mobile phones and navigation devices while driving. “Talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving is reckless and increases the risk of a crash fourfold. Phones and navigation devices will be required to be in appropriate holders or cradles in the vehicle."
The changes come into effect on 9 November 2009.
Read the summary brochure or the full set of rules.
The meaning of 'dangerous riding'
30 June 2009. The recent extension of dangerous and careless driving rules to bike riders (see earlier story below) has aroused interest in the legal definition of 'dangerous'.
Lawyers Maurice Blackburn explain:
Under the Road Safety Act 1986 the offence of dangerous driving for drivers of motor vehicles is set out under Section 64. The recent Road Legislation Amendment Act 2009 introduces the following new section to the Road Safety Act 1986 that is intended to apply to cyclists:
Section 64 Dangerous driving:
(2A)“A person must not drive a vehicle, other than a motor vehicle, at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.”
What constitutes ‘dangerous driving’ as interpreted by the High Court over time was very recently discussed in the Victorian Supreme Court by Justice Kaye in R v Scholl (Ruling No 1)  VSC 198 (22 May 2009). It was discussed in the context of the offence of dangerous driving causing serious injury or death under the Crimes Act 1958.
In his ruling, Justice Kaye made the following comments:
- The test is whether an ordinary person, when looking at the way the vehicle is being driven, recognises the manner of driving as dangerous.
- For the driving to be dangerous, it must put the public at some risk over and above the risks ordinarily associated with being on or near a highway. This would include risks created by people driving with less than reasonable care and skill. The driving must be a real danger to the members of the public who may be upon or in the vicinity of the roadway on which the driving is taking place.
- The conduct of the wrongdoer must create a real danger to the public and not merely a speculative danger.
Further, the High Court has previously stated the following:
- Manner of driving can include all matters connected with the management and control of the vehicle by a driver when it is being driven. It includes (but is not limited to) starting and stopping, signalling and failing to signal, sounding or failing to sound a warning, as well as any other matter affecting the speed at which and the course in which the vehicle is driven. (R v Coventry  59 CLR 633)
- Circumstances of the case may include but are not limited to the amount and nature of the (expected) traffic, the speed of the motor vehicle, the observance of traffic signals, the character and condition of the roadway and the condition of the driver’s vehicle. (R v Coventry  59 CLR 633)
- If the driver is in a condition while driving which makes the mere fact of his driving a real danger to the public, then his driving in that condition may amount to driving in a dangerous manner. (Giorgianni v The Queen HCA 29; (1985) 156 CLR 473.)
- Driving a motor vehicle that is in a seriously defective condition may amount to driving in a manner dangerous to the public (Giorgianni v The Queen HCA 29; (1985) 156 CLR 473.)
Serious legal pain for irresponsible riders
Road Legislation Amendment Bill 2009
1 June 2009. Stiff new penalties await riders convicted of serious traffic offences such as dangerous and careless riding.
The Road Legislation Amendment Bill 2009, now going through Parliament, introduces new requirements for bike riders involved in serious collisions.
The legislation also expands the definition of some inappropriate behaviours to include bike riders.
Serious collisions (14, 16)
Bike riders involved in a serious collision that damages property or injures someone will, like drivers, need to ‘render assistance’, exchange names and addresses with the other parties and report the incident at a police station.
The penalty for failing to stop and render assistance is up to five years in prison and 600 penalty units (currently $68,000).
The penalty for failure to provide information to the police is 20 penalty units. (currently $2,268).
In addition if someone is killed or injured the first offence penalties are 40 penalty units ($4,536) and up to 4 months in prison. A subsequent offence is 120 units and from 2 to 12 months in prison. If no one is killed or injured then the first offence is 2·5 penalty units ($227) and up to 7 days in prison. This doubles for a second offence.
Dangerous and careless riding (18, 19)
The changes to the rules also include provisions that allow police to charge a rider with:
* Dangerous riding ‘A person must not drive a vehicle, other than a motor vehicle, at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.’ 120 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months or both
* Careless riding ‘A person must not drive a vehicle, other than a motor vehicle, on a highway carelessly.’ 6 penalty units (currently $680.52), second offence 12 penalty units
These changes to the regulations are endorsed as they are consistent with Bicycle Network Victoria's long standing support for responsible behaviour on the roads.
The themes behind the new legislation mirror the concerns brought to the attention of the government about driver behaviour over many years.
Failure to stop and render assistance is legalese for ‘hit and run’. In 2005 the Victorian Government announced the introduction of a new law covering people who leave the scene of a crash, increasing the penalty to ten years. This followed the hit-and-run crash that killed a rider on Plenty Rd.
Bicycle Network Victoria is a strong supporters of the provisions in the Crimes Act that cover culpable driving. In 2001 a driver fell asleep and drove into a group of riders on Beach Road killing one of them. Bicycle Network Victoria and others took this up with the Government which in 2004 introduced new definitions for culpable driving.
With Bicycle Network Victoria support the existing criteria of speed and alcohol were widened to include driving while fatigued, driving while under the influence of drugs and driving while using a mobile phone. The Government also introduced random drug testing of drivers.
The Bill currently before Parliament is a response to the incident in 2006 when a rider on Beach Road failed to stop at a pedestrian signal, collided with a pedestrian, James Gould, and killed him. The rider was fined for failing to stop at a red light – the only charge that could be applied.
Bicycle Network Victoria will continue to support appropriate legislation that reduces irresponsible behaviour on the roads.
Recently the Victorian Government tripled the penalties for drivers caught using a hand held mobile phone while driving. The previous penalty was 3 units. The new penalty is 10 units or $1,134. This penalty is appropriate and should be supported by frequent enforcement.
New 10-year maximum penalty hit-and-run law
April 05. The Victorian Governmentt has announced the introduction of a new law covering people who leave the scene of a crash. This follows the hit-and-run crash that killed a pedestrian and also the case of Matthew Coleman, a cyclist killed on Plenty Rd by a driver who left the scene of the crash.
The new law will give a max penalty of 10 years. The case got coverage on 3AW and Harry Barber appeared on Channel 9.
There was a similar case in SA which saw the driver who killed a cyclist get a fine and suspension of license after he left the scene of the crash. Both that case and the pedestrian case in Victoria are being appealed.
Motorised scooters off track
Dec 04. New laws came into force Wednesday 15 December 2004 prohibiting motorised scooters and miniature motorcycles from the state's public roads and footpaths, including shared bicycle/pedestrian paths. The new laws will help address safety and amenity issues associated with miniature cycles, petrol powered scooters, skateboards and other recreational devices. See VicRoads for information on rules for their use (Link at Right).
The State Government's announcement of the new laws states: 'Mr Batchelor said the Government was acting in response to community concern about use of the bikes and concerns from Victoria Police regarding enforcement. "The current regulations already outlaw the use of miniature motorcycles on the roads," he said.
'But police have had trouble enforcing the regulations, due to requirements to test the power output of individual vehicles.
'There has been some dispute over how powerful some bikes are but the new regulations will remove those requirements, leading to better enforcement and tough penalties of up to $818. These bikes cannot be registered because they do not meet Australian design standards.'
Random roadside drug testing introduced
13 Dec 04. New laws and testing for illegal drugs were today welcomed by Bicycle Network Victoria, who has been campaigning for their introduction since 2002. Along with hand-held mobile phone use and sleep deprivation, drugged driving was identified as one of the three driving behaviours that contributed to deaths of people cycling on Victoria's roads in Bicycle Network Victoria's review of cycling deaths in 2002.
In a world first, people driving on Victoria's roads can be tested and prosecuted for driving with illegal drugs in their system that would impair their ability to drive safely.A first time offence now carries a penalty up to $614 fine and three month license suspension.
The first positive test by the new police drug bus was returned on Mon 13 December in Yarraville. The driver of the van was not allowed to continue driving.
See the Arrive Alive website for more: 'Under laws that came into effect on December 1, 2004, Victoria Police have the power to conduct random roadside saliva testing to detect drivers travelling under the influence of illicit drugs.
'Drug driving is a major contributor to road fatalities in Victoria . In 2003, a total of 31 per cent of drivers killed in Victoria tested positive to drugs other than alcohol. Many drivers appear unaware of the effects that drugs can have on their alertness, vigilance and ability to react rapidly to unexpected events. Some drugs can also increase the impairing effects of alcohol and fatigue.
'The new random roadside saliva testing is aimed at making Victoria 's roads safer for everyone by reducing the incidence of drug driving.
'For further information about random roadside saliva testing for illicit drugs call 1300 369 819.'
New dangerous driving law
2 June 04. Bicycle Network Victoria today welcomed the Victorian Government's introduction of a new law to increase the penalty for dangerous driving.
As of today, a new offence of dangerous driving causing death will be punishable by five years jail and 18 months loss of licence.
We have been asking for this for some time.Our review of cyclists' deaths in 2002 made it clear that not enough was being done to prevent or deter dangerous behaviour on our roads.
The Bicycle Network Victoria report in 2002 highlighted in particular three dangerous behaviours that had resulted in cyclists being killed on our roads:
driving while sleep deprived
driving while using a hand held mobile phone
driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.
Today the government has taken a significant step to deter other dangerous driving behaviours that have led to cyclists dying on our roads. This is in addition to the recent announcement of a trial of random drug testing.
People need to realise that driving while fatigued, driving while under the influence of drugs and driving while using a mobile phone are the same as driving while drunk. This new law reinforces that.
Bicycle Network Victoria will continue to ask the government to introduce public reporting of handheld mobile phone use to help stamp out this growing problem before it gets out of hand and more people are killed.
Changing the law
We campaign to change legislation so that our laws are supportive of cycling. These efforts reflect areas of the law relevant to the deaths of cyclists in collisions with motor vehicles (as revealed by our review of cyclists deaths in 2002)
For example we are working to:
Target hand-held mobile phone use while driving, already one cyclists (Anthony Marsh) has been killed by a motorist sending a text message while driving (see below). We are calling for the introduction of public reporting of handheld mobile phone use while driving and an increase in penalties in line with the culpability of the act (equivalent to driving drunk - minimum 10 demerit points and $300 fine);
Introduce a police administered drug test for drugs other than alcohol. The government is congratulated for trailing random roadside drug testing - a world first. Currently there is legislated defined blood alcohol level included in the definition of culpable driving, we would like to see a similar definition for other drugs which impair a driver's ability. We have reviewed cases where cyclists have been killed by motorists with drugs in their body at a level that could effect their ability to drive. The driver has only been charged with dangerous driving rather than culpable driving and received a lesser sentence (a fine and suspension of license) that of someone caught drink driving who has not crashed or injured someone (automatic loss of license); and
Add sleep deprivation (and hand held mobile phone use and other negligent driving behaviours) to the definitions of gross negligence in the charge of culpable driving. Again we have reviewed cases where motorists have claimed they have fallen asleep at the wheel and killed a cyclist. They have only been able to be charged with the lesser charge of dangerous driving.
Drivers have now been charged for culpable driving causing death for driving while sleep deprived (Lynette Satalich's case where she killed David Renowden) and using a hand held mobile phone (Silvia Ciach case where she killed Anthony Marsh).
From time to time we work to change the laws relating to cycling to build a strong cycling culture within the existing rules and to build community support for cycling. For example we supported moves to make the cyclist who goes through a red light pay the same as a motorist. We are looking at the level of fines for cyclists who ride at night without lights.
Don't SMS and drive
On Monday 10 November 2003 Silvia Ciach, who killed cyclist Anthony Marsh with her car while sending an SMS message on her mobile phone, was given a two year suspended jail sentence. This case has brought home to us all the possible consequences of using a hand held mobile phone while driving.
The sentence handed down by the judge was the first culpable driving conviction for hand held mobile phone use. However the suspended sentence shows that our road safety legislation and our preventative efforts have not caught up with this dangerous new behaviour.
At the moment the points and fines for hand held mobile phone use in Victoria are as strong as any in Australia but they are still out of whack. The current penalty for hand held mobile phone use is 3 demerit points - the same as being 15kmh over the speed limit. The fine is $135 - less than running a red light.
How severe should the penalties be?
Hand-held mobile phone use reduces our control of the vehicle as well as sucking our concentration off the road and into the phone. Studies show that this cuts coordination and judgement so much that you are more 'drunk' than someone with a blood alcohol of 0.08.
If the SMS driver had been drinking, she would have faced the 'alcohol' penalty of up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to $240,000.
In a similar case recently a woman was sentenced for killing a cyclist with her car after she had been awake for twenty-four hours. She was as 'drunk' from lack of sleep as if she had a blood alcohol of 0.1. She will spend at least 27 months (2 years 3 months) in prison.
Our road safety laws and penalties should deterpeople from driving while incapacitated, no matter what the incapacitating behaviour. If you are drugged, sleep deprived or using a hand held mobile phone, you are in effect drunk and you should know it.
The penalty should be the same as for being incapacitated by alcohol consumption.
Someone caught using a hand held mobile phone should pay the 'alcohol' penalty of 10 demerit points and $300 for a first offence.
Better prevention methods are needed.Bicycle Network Victoria is calling for community reporting of hand held mobile phone use to help eradicate this deadly habit. This system operates in New Zealand.
In Victoria currently we are encouraged to report people who drive smoky vehicles or those who throw litter from their cars. To make a report you have to give your name and address and sign that you are prepared to appear in court.
The same system should be set up for hand-held mobile phone use. Then we can all help to break this habit that threatens our hard won road safety gains.In the end it would be a mistake to use our convenient phones but lose the friends and relatives that we want to talk to.
Making the most of how things are
We promote the current road rules, encouraging cyclists and motorists to do the right thing. We work with the police to build enforcement campaigns that achieve these aims. For example, at the change of daylight saving we encouraged riders to get lights, refresh their batteries and carry a spare.
Through www.bv.com.au we provide explanations and links so riders can inform themselves easily of the current rules.
We encourage VicRoads to produce pamphlets and web pages on legal issues that need clarification.
We promote the design guidelines to Councils. For example, we encourage them to remove bollards from paths.
We follow the legal process of cycling fatalities through the legal process from the Coroners Court through the Magistrates to the County Court. We comment on these processes and outcomes as appropriate.
We support our members through common legal processes. We have worked to overturn wrongful bookings by police; to report and follow up police and road user harassment of cyclists, to follow up on police unwilling to take a report on harassment.
We support members who want to make a property claim against a motorist who was at fault in a collision and damaged their bike, and against retailers or wholesalers who have not fulfilled guarantees or the requirements of consumer legislation.