Bicycle Network: Bicycle Network Victoria Membership
Rights on the road
As rider numbers grow it becomes increasingly important to clearly and confidently assert the legal rights of bike riders. We are determined that our members rights are respected and that the legal system treats riders with fairness.
Judges decision disappoints riders
28 November 2011. Victoria's Court of Appeal has overturned a harsh jail term which had set a welcome benchmark for the punishment of drivers who violated the lives and rights of vulnerable bike riders.
The Court reduced a cumulative 13 year sentence (for culpable driving and negligently causing serious injury) to ten years on the grounds that the original decision was excessive and out of line with previous sentencing practice.
The case involved a collision on Beach Road, Mentone, where a drunk driver in an unregistered car crashed into two brothers travelling in the same direction, killing one and seriously injuring the other.
The impact caused Sean Brindle (who died) to be thrown 51 metres and Alun Brindle to be thrown 68 metres.
The Court of Appeal was concerned that the sentence was significantly higher than those previously handed down for comparable cases. As the driver pleaded guilty, he had an expectation of the range of sentencing possibilities he faced, and the sentence handed down was outside that range, according to judges Buchanan, Whelan and Robson.
The judges drew on a range of cases over the last ten years for a view of what was a normal sentencing range. The sentences, they concluded, were generally well below that given to the driver, Luke Adam Shields, now aged 33.
The decision, while legally defensible, perpetuates a long standing blind spot of police agencies and legal systems whereby little or no consideration is given to the vulnerability of the person on a bike.
The idea that society would expect a great degree of care and responsibility from drivers where bike riders are sharing the road, is still not on the radar of many in the judiciary.
Much is made of the principle of equality under the law, but there is not much that is equal when a speeding car crashes into a human on a bike.
The judges did take into consideration the history of the offender when setting the new sentence. He was described as someone who was introduced to alcohol at an early age and whose schooling was disrupted.
From the age of 16 he had abused illegal drugs. He had also abused prescription medicines. He is an alcoholic. Attempts made to address his drug and alcohol abuse since 2000 have failed.
Shields had seven prior court appearances. Three of those appearances involved driving offences.
In July 2000 the appellant was convicted by a traffic infringement notice for the offence of driving a motor vehicle whilst having a blood alcohol content exceeding the prescribed limit. He was fined, his licence was cancelled, and he was disqualified from obtaining a licence for a period of one month.
In July 2003 he was convicted at the Frankston Magistrates’ Court of offences of driving with a blood alcohol content exceeding the prescribed limit, being in possession of a drug of dependence, and using a drug of dependence. He was again fined, his driver’s licence was cancelled and he was disqualified from obtaining a licence for a period of 16 months.
In April 2007 he was convicted at the Frankston Magistrates’ Court of the offences of driving a motor vehicle at a speed dangerous to the public and driving an unregistered motor vehicle. He was fined, his driver’s licence was cancelled, and he was disqualified from obtaining a licence for 18 months.
The incident in which Mr Shields crashed into the Brindle brothers occurred on 24 December, 2008.
Wire trap snares a conviction
7 April 2011. A man who strung a wire across a popular mountain bike track has been convicted of a minor charge with a only a soft sentence.
Hobart school teacher Stephen John De Lai, 48, of South Hobart, had fixed the wire trap a metre off the ground on a trail near the Cascade Brewery because riders were going too fast and close on tracks where he liked to walk his dog.
He was observed by riders, who confronted him, and he cut down the wire and went home. He then rang Police and turned himself in.
De Lai pleaded guilty in the Tasmanian Supreme Court to causing a common nuisance.
Justice Helen Wood rejected defence pleas to let De Lai off without a conviction for his 'momentary lapse in good character', saying that there was a need to send a message that such behaviour was unacceptable.
The judge said that a jail term was appropriate in all but the most exceptional of such cases, but the high regard in which De Lai was held for his work with under privileged students meant he was such a case.
Justice Wood ordered he submit to supervised probation for two years and be of good behaviour for the same period.
According to local riders, mountain trails around Hobart are regularly sabotaged with obstacles and hazards. In May last year, a rider was lucky to escape serious injury when he rode into a length of barbed wire strung between two trees on Mt Wellington.
NZ cracks down on 'dooring'
23 March 2011. A driver who opened a car door causing a rider to move into the path of a truck faces serious criminal charges over her death.
Following a three-month investigation police have charged a 35 year old man with careless use of a motor vehicle causing death.
Jane Bishop, a 27 year old nurse, was riding home from work along the popular waterfront Tamaki Drive when she swerved to miss the carelessly opened door.
She missed the car but was struck by a truck traveling in the same direction.
Her death was one of five New Zealand cycling fatalities in one week last November. Two of the drivers involved in those crashes now face the identical charge that was laid in this case.
The charge of careless use of a vehicle causing death for opening a car door has been laid before in New Zealand in a 2000 case where the driver was sentenced to just 125 hours of community work and disqualified from driving for six months.
Days after Ms Bishop's death in November, Auckland Transport removed four car parking spaces in Tamaki Drive where she was run down.
Four years earlier Cycle Action Auckland had asked Auckland City Council to remove the parking because the gap between a new median barrier and parked cars was too narrow to be shared by bikes and motor vehicles. No action was taken.
Jail for repeat offender
13 January 2011. A Geelong man has been sentenced to 12 months gaol and had his license suspended for three years after he chased and attacked a bike rider in Grovedale last year.
Trevor Jones, 46, of Oberon Drive, Belmont, pleaded guilty in Geelong Magistrates' Court to charges of recklessly causing serious injury, unlicensed driving and driving an unregistered car.
A Geelong court was told that the victim, David Rourke, needed facial reconstruction surgery requiring the insertion of four titanium plates and a dental reconstruction following the attack.
Police told the court that in May last year Jones accelerated into an intersection in Torquay road, almost colliding with the Mr, Rourke, who gesticulated to the driver and rode off.
According to Police Jones then drove after the victim, passed him and stopped in front. He got out of his car and walked back to the victim, who veered to try and avoid him. Jones then struck the victim to the face, got back into his car and drove off.
Jones was later identified following an appeal for witnesses.
Mr Tim Bourke, for Jones, said his client was remorseful but suffered anxiety and anger issues and, at the time of offending, felt he was under attack from someone who stuck his finger up at him.
Mr. Bourke asked that his client not be immediately jailed saying there was more chance of his rehabilitation in the community than behind bars.
Jones had prior convictions dating back more than 20 years, including a charge of assault with a weapon in 2007 for another road rage incident. A suspended jail sentence imposed on Jones had only just expired at the time of his attack on Mr Rourke.
Jones was bailed after lodging an appeal against the sentence.
Law flaw sees driver escape severe penalty
11 November 2010. The Tatura man who crashed into a bike rider and left her critically injured when driving while his license was suspended, has escaped a major penalty.
Magistrate Stella Stutheridge told the Shepparton Magistrate's Court that the law was inadequate to address the tragic consequences of the collision.
"I can't sentence this man for the consequences, the law doesn't allow me," she said.
Vincent Varapodio, 42, of Tatura, pleaded guilty to failing to give way and driving while his licence was suspended.
On the charge of driving without a valid licence he was sentenced to one month in jail, suspended for 12 months. On both charges he was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond and ordered to pay $10, 000 to the Scott Peoples Foundation. (The foundation was established following the death of local Shepparton competitive rider Scott Peoples, who was hit and killed by a car while training. See story immediately below).
The Court was told that about 6.30 am on Friday, March 19, 38-year-old Jodie Ridges, a mother of young children, was riding east along the shoulder of the Midland Highway when a Toyota Hilux driven by Varapodio pulled out of Turnbull Road.
Ridges sustained a serious head injury and was flown to the Alfred hospital in Melbourne where she remained in a coma for months. Police told the Court she was currently in a rehabilitation centre in a vegetative state. She may never fully recover.
Varapodio's Lawyer, Kyle McDonald, said his client had stopped at the intersection to give way to a car, and did not see Mrs Ridges. "It was, in my submission, an accident in the true sense,'' he said.
Magistrate Stuthridge said the consequences of Mr Varapodio's driving had been extraordinarily devastating but the law was inadequate in providing a means of addressing the tragic consequences and the impact on Mrs Ridges and her family.
Ms Stuthridge said if she were sentencing for the consequences, Varapodio would go to jail for several years. "I do think the penalties for failing to give way are too low,'' she told the Ridges family in the Court.
The Court heard that Varapodio had been convicted previously for other traffic offences.
Bicycle Network Victoria's Riders' Rights team has been assisting the Ridges family throughout the court process.
Doctors should report dodgy drivers
28 October 2010. It should be mandatory for medical practitioners to report patients whom they know are unfit to drive, but defy advice and stay behind the wheel, Coroner Gerald Bryant has recommended in his Inquest into the death of bike rider, Scott Peoples.
Peoples died when struck from behind by a driver who, as a result of a stroke, had little or no left side peripheral vision, but had continued to drive.
Tragically, the same driver had struck another rider in similar circumstances on the same road two years earlier.
It was not until the rider involved in that collision, who survived, alerted the Police to the previous crash, that authorities became aware of the link between the two events.
Coroner Bryant was severe in his criticism of the Police for not realizing the importance of the connection, and for not alerting the Coroner.
Peoples, aged 20 and from Shepparton, was an outstanding young rider who had jst won a scholarship from the Victorian Institute of Sport and had been accepted to ride with a professional cycling team in Europe in 2007.
The driver involved, 73 year old Kenneth Blay, of Wagga Wagga, had been diagnosed with impaired vision following a stroke in 2003. Repeated visits to eye specialists confirmed the deficiencies with his vision.
The truth of the ugly reality of this death would have been buried but for the courageous action of his family who fought to have the matter fully investigated by the Coroner.
The family proposed a number of reforms to the Coroner, including mandatory reporting requirements on police and health care professionals; drivers with high risk medical conditions being required to demonstrate their fitness to drive; and police being given the power to suspend a drivers licence where they believe the driver is unfit to drive due to incapacity or impairment.
The Coroner sought the views of VicRoads, Victoria Police and the Monash University Accident Research Centre on the mandatory reporting issue. None were in favour.
Bicycle Network Victoria strongly supports Coroner Bryant's recommendations on this issue.
There was another death of a rider in 2005 where the driver was impaired by prescription medication, but had been allowed to keep her licence.
The VicRoads policies on fitness to drive have tragically failed bike riders, yet it continues to defend them.
The findings of the Peoples Inquest should be the trigger for a comprehensive Government review.
Ride for crash victim family
5 August 2010. A ride is planned on August 15 to support the family of Jodie Ridges, who remains in hospital in a coma more than four months after a driver with a suspended license crashed into her near Tatura.
Ridges, 38, of Tatura has four young children. She was on an early morning fitness ride on the Midland Highway when a vehicle on a side road allegedly failed to give way at an intersection.
The local Shepparton and Tatura communities have united to conduct a community bike ride to highlight safety issues and generate support for the Ridges family.
The ride, which offers several choices of distance, is on Sunday, August 15 and leaves from the Friars Café carpark, Fryers Street, Shepparton
Registrations www.sheppartontriclub.com.au or at Friars Cafe.
Sunday August 15th
Shepparton to Shepparton – 66.8 km
Shepparton to Tatura – 20.5 km
Starting from Friar’s Cafe
Registration: 7:30 am Start: 9:00 am
Tatura to Shepparton – 46.2 km
Starting from MacTier Park
Registration: 8:30 am Start: 10:00 am
Adult: $50 Junior: $25 Family: $100
Includes coffee and toast at start, light lunch and refreshments at finish.
Raging driver convicted
22 July 2010. A driver who crashed into a bike rider, and then chased the man in his car and assaulted him, has been convicted of serious offences.
Robert Thomas, 50, of Moorabbin, pleaded guilty to charges of assault, driving dangerous driving and criminal damage at Moorabbin Magistrates Court on July 9.
The court was told Thomas crashed into the rider on Tucker Road, East Bentleigh in November last year.
After an argument the rider tried to ride off, but Thomas returned to his vehicle, swerving in front of the rider and forcing him to stop.
Thomas kicked the bicycle, grabbed the rider by the throat and called him a “maggot”.
Magistrate Paul Smith described the offences as serious, deserving a custodial sentence as Thomas had been in trouble with the law previously.
Following an assessment Thomas was given a five-month intensive corrections order and had his driver’s licence cancelled for six months.
Councils warned following Nillumbik settlement
1 April 2010. A leading public liability specialist says councils need to focus on improving bike paths, after Nillumbik council settled a legal claim arising from the fatal crash of a champion triathlete in 2007.
Warrandyte Secondary College teacher Robert Graham was riding on the Diamond Valley track, near the Eltham rugby oval, when his cycle hit a culvert hidden by long grass.
He suffered severe spinal injuries and died six days after the accident. His wife Julie Vomero recently settled her legal case with Nillumbik Council.
Lawyer Barrie Woollacott from Slater & Gordon says the case is a warning to all councils to lift their standards on maintaining bike paths.
“Councils have made playgrounds safer -- now it's time to focus their attention on bike paths,” he said.
“The open drain that caused the accident was purpose-built but its design, location and maintenance were poor.
Mr Woollacott said the Council had acted compassionately in settling the matter, and had fixed the site of the incident.
“Hopefully other Councils will learn the hard lessons of the Eltham tragedy: authorities responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of bike paths need to apply adequate resources to ensure that the pathways are safe for all users.
“Councils need to be pro-active," he said. "The less claims the better for everyone."
Major legal win puts Councils on notice
3 March 2010. A highly significant court victory by a Melbourne bike rider has put local government under new pressure over the building of sub-standard bike facilities. "Fix it or you will be hit with large damages", is the message of the judgement.
Bayside City Council has to pay $229,000 damages to the rider as a result of the court decision.
The case involved a cyclist who in August 2005 was riding along the off-road bike path adjacent to Beach Road in Black Rock when his wheel came into contact with a bluestone retaining wall along the path.
The rider fell, striking a steel stanchion holding an 'Armco' safety barrier on Beach Road, and was seriously injured.
The 57 year-old recreational cyclist from the suburb of Parkdale sued Bayside City Council for negligence.
The matter was heard before His Honour Judge Coish in the County Court over five days. The plaintiff's lawyers, Wisewould Mahony, sought information on technical issues from Bicycle Network Victoria in preparing the case.
Evidence was presented on behalf of the plaintiff by Mr Andrew O'Brien, a traffic and road engineer, that the path did not comply with the requirements and recommendations of the AustRoads Standards or the VicRoads Cycle Notes.
Mr O'Brien told the court that the path design was deficient and that the combination of the bluestone edge on the path with the guard rail and posts was a "severe safety hazard".
He said that obstacles should be at least one metre from the path. At this location, with the bluestone directly abutting the path, there was zero clearance.
A suitable and safe treatment of the guard rail-shared path space could have been designed at minimal, if any additional cost, Mr O'Brien said.
Bayside City Council's expert witness, Mr Keith Mitson, a traffic engineer, expressed the opinion that the hazard in question did not increase the overall journey risk to the cyclist because frequent hazards existed on almost any cycle path.
The council said in evidence that the path was originally constructed in 2000 when the council's engineering services were outsourced. The bluestone retaining wall was added a short time later to prevent water and soil coming on to the bike path.
Bayside submitted that the crash was a 'freak' accident and that the risk was 'far fetched and fanciful'.
The Judge found that the council has breached its duty of care and awarded damages to the rider.
Further details of the technical issues revealed in this case will be added to the relevant section of this website soon.
13 year term over bike death
15 December 2009. A drunk driver who slammed into two brothers riding on Beach Road, Mentone, on Christmas Eve last year, killing one of them, will spend more than a decade in gaol.
Luke Adam Shields, 32, had a blood alcohol reading of .221, more than four times the legal limit. The court heard he was speeding in excess of 77 kph in a 60 kph zone.
Shields had two prior convictions for drink driving and also had a prior conviction for for driving at a dangerous speed.
Shields pleaded guilty to culpable driving and negligently causing serious injury.
Sean Brindle, 35, from Perth died as a result of injuries received in the crash. His brother Alun, 33, is still recovering from serious injuries.
Shields must serve a minimum of ten years jail before being eligible for parole. He is also disqualified from driving for two years after his release.
Guilty plea on Beach Road death
12 August 2009. A Mentone man who crashed into and killed a Perth paramedic riding on Beach Road has pleaded guilty to culpable driving.
Luke Adam Shields, 31, was allegedly drink driving on Christmas Eve last year when he ran into 35-year-old West Australian Sean Brindle.
Shields also pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to negligently causing serious injury to Mr Brindle's Melbourne-based brother, with whom he was riding when the crash occurred.
Police had alleged at an earlier court hearing that Shields consumed three or four bottles of wine and LSD before crashing into the bike riders at a speed of more than 90km/h.
The court was told Shields continued another 600m before stopping.
Shields will next appear in the Victorian County Court for a pre-sentence hearing on October 13.
Police seize car after bike path incident
15 July 2009. Police seized a car for forensic examination following a collision between a bike rider and a car on the off-road bike path along Footscray Road in Melbourne's docks precinct.
A rider was travelling outbound along the busy path in the evening peak when he encountered a car coming towards him on the bike path from the opposite direction.
The rider, a member of Bicycle Network Victoria, attempted to avoid a collision by riding on the grass verge, but as the photograph shows, the motor vehicle also moved to the verge.
The bike and the car collided head-on, wrecking the rider's rare hand-made bike. Miraculously, the rider sustained only minor injuries.
The car left the scene of the accident, but was traced by Victoria police and impounded.
At this location the bike path is well separated from road traffic and cars would not usually be expected to accidently wander into the path of riders.
As a Bicycle Network Victoria member the rider is being legally supported by Bicycle Network Victoria's recently launched Member Rights initiative.
Ballarat court case shock
20 April 2009. Bicycle Network Victoria has asked the Attorney-General to investigate disparaging comments by a magistrate in Ballarat towards a bike rider who had been struck from behind and severely injured.
According to local media reports Magistrate Terry Wilson described cyclist William Angel, 56, as "an accident waiting to happen" when he was knocked from his bike and had his back broken when riding in Alfredton at around 6.45am on March 29, 2008.
Although evidence was before the court that Mr Angel had a flashing rear light, was wearing a yellow vest and reflective shoe covers (but no front light), the driver Kerri Lee Jasper, 34, said she did not see the rider, who came out of nowhere.
Magistrate Wilson dismissed the charge of careless driving against Ms Jasper because by not having a front light, Mr Angel had not met legal requirements.
Defence lawyer Mr Jon Irwin had told the court that a cyclist riding in darkness required a headlight, rear light and reflectors on the bike.
Bicycle Network Victoria has asked the Attorney-General to examine the Magistrate's comments in this case.
It has previously been assumed that the purpose of the rear light was to be seen from behind and the purpose of the front light was to be visible from ahead.
If this previously accepted logic has been reversed by the Courts, then bike riders would appreciate a full explanation.
Traralgon woman pleads guilty to 2005 cyclist death
20 November 2008. Leanne Gail Cutting, 35, has pleaded guilty to to one count of dangerous driving causing death, and six counts of reckless endangerment, in relation to the death of a cyclist in Gippsland three years ago.
Evelyn Hassler, 66, a Bicycle Network Victoria member, was in a group of cyclists riding between Traralgon and Roseldale in December 2005.
She was hit by a car driven by Cutting and died at the scene.
Bicycle Network Victoria has been taking an interest in the case, liaising with the Office of Public Prosection and the riding group TRAMPS (Traralgon & Morwell Pedellars), to ensure a decent outcome for Evelyn Hassler's family.
Cutting was to appear at a sentence hearing today (20 November).