Bicycle Network: Behaviour
Demerit points for riders
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- demerits, fines, penalties
Bicycle Network Victoria's position
Aug 2005. There is no move by Victoria Police or the Victorian Government to apply demerit points to riders. Bicycle Network Victoria is not advocating such a move. It is an idea that was floated by one police officer to a journalist.
This officer has responsibility for a section of Beach Road and is working to control a group of riders - popularly known as the Hell Ride - who have been observed running red lights, riding on the wrong side of the road and riding more than two abreast.
We do not support the actions of the Hell Ride, just because they are bike riders. We support the traffic system and take a rights-and-responsibilities approach to make it more appropriate for bike riders. This means that we seek to control inappropriate behaviour by motorists and riders. Therefore we support penalties for drivers and riders as well as seeking modifications to the regulations that extend our rights.
The following paragraphs follow this issue in more depth.
Demerit points and fines
Demerit points can be issued to motor vehicle drivers who break some traffic regulations. The number of points and the relevant regulation are set down in legislation. For example, a blood alcohol level of 0.07 is 10 demerit points. If a driver collects 12 points, their licence will be suspended, hand held mobile phone use is 3 points and running a red light is 3. See the link on the right for more information.
The demerit point system does not apply to bike riders; nor does it apply to learner drivers.
Fines, however, do. A rider can be fined for riding at night without the proper lights or for going through a red light. The red light fine is the same as that paid by a motorist - more than $200, the 'no lights at night' penalty is $50, considerably less than the penalty that would apply to a driver who drove without lights at night.
Bicycle Network Victoria's view on traffic regulations and penalties
We take the view that we are 'in' the traffic system, not outside it. We benefit from being inside the system in a number of ways.
In Australia the bicycle, when ridden on the road, is a vehicle. This status brings rights and responsibilities. For example a motorist, faced with a give way sign must give way to a rider but does not have to give way to a pedestrian. Equally riders faced with a give way sign have to give way to a motorist. We support the need to fulfil our responsibilities, as we want the advantage of the rights.
Second, since we are in the system, the road authority has a responsibility to meet our needs. The VicRoads bicycle program invests at least $4m each year on improving the bike network making it safer and more attractive to ride.
Third we benefit from the controls the system exerts on other users. The number of cycle deaths each year in the 80s was around three dozen, today it is usually less than 10 and has been as low as 3. This is because fines and penalties have significantly reduced poor behaviour by motorists including speeding, fatigue and drink driving.
Applying penalties to riders
In this context we support the principle of penalties for bike riders. Support for this principle is the basis of our 'prevent collisions' approach in which we speak both to motorists and to riders about the things we all need to do to prevent collisions.
We currently have two messages
We want to stop motorists using hand held mobile phones. VicRoads says that this is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 - twice the legal limit! Riders have been hit and some killed by drivers who were 'phone drunk'.
We want riders to use lights at night. Last year three of the nine fatalities were after dark and the riders did not have lights fitted. Our surveys show that at best one quarter of riders do not have compliant lights. We get calls from members who have been driving and report a near miss on an unlit rider. This behaviour also brings cycling into disrepute in the mind of many, which makes it harder to keep or add to the respect we expect and need on the roads.
We have previously identified 'running red lights' as a cause of preventable collisions. It is also a behaviour that brings cycling into disrepute. We supported equivalent fines for riders in this context. As a result the police now will book riders and that enforcement and the awareness of the fine acts as a reminder of the benefit of not crossing on red.
Recently a police inspector raised the idea of demerit points for riders. Bicycle Network Victoria told the journalist that, in principle, the application of demerit points to riders was consistent with our approach of being inside the system. This is still our view.
If demerit points were to be applied to riders a number of steps would have to be taken.
First it would have to be shown in general that this was the next best move in bicycle road safety. We do not believe it is. As explained above our priority is mobile phones for drivers and lights for riders.
Then it would have to be shown that increasing the penalty for running a red light for example from cash alone to cash plus points would prove effective in reducing red light running. Our view is that many riders don't yet know about the financial penalty and that an increase in the severity of the penalty would have no effect except surprise.
The driver's licence procedure would have to be modified to ensure that all licence holders were properly trained so that when they ride a bike they are aware of the rules. This would provide a context for more stringent enforcement.
An expensive new regulation procedure would then have to be enacted. We would have the opportunity to oppose it if we didn't support it.
In our view it is unlikely that demerit points for cyclists will be applied in the foreseeable future.