Most of the time police in Australia are reasonable and help the cause of people who ride bikes, however there are occasions when individual officers are over-zealous or have an unexpected interpretation of a situation.
A couple of riders in Melbourne experienced this in recent months. They were given excessive and unreasonable fines but were able to have them reduced and suspended at the Magistrates court.
You can read their stories below and find out what you can do if you feel you have been treated unfairly by police.
From three fines to less than half of one
In 2018, Bicycle Network member Michael Milewski was fined more than $700 for not stopping at a red light ($403), riding across a pedestrian crossing ($161) and riding on a footpath ($161).
Michael was heading south on St Kilda Road and needed to turn right at the Linlithgow Avenue/Southbank Boulevard intersection.
After riding up St Kilda Road he got to the intersection where the light to head straight was red and the pedestrian light for those crossing St Kilda Road was green.
There is no bike lane or bike box in front of cars on Linlithgow Avenue. Michael made a judgement call that the safest way to turn right would be by using the pedestrian crossing.
He rode onto the pedestrian crossing on the northern side of Linlithgow Avenue (he did not ride through the intersection), crossed St Kilda Road, rode for two metres on the footpath near the National Gallery of Victoria and stopped.
Michael was then pulled up by motorcycle police and slapped with the three fines. He was judged to have disobeyed the red light at Linlithgow Avenue because the stopping line is in front of the lines that mark the pedestrian crossing.
After deciding to contest the fines Michael asked if Bicycle Network could help him. Through his Bicycle Network membership Michael was able to have meetings with Bicycle Network and law firm Maurice Blackburn, who also went to the Magistrates court with him.
Before the court hearing, Victoria Police agreed that the three fines were too much and dropped the fines for riding on the pedestrian crossing and footpath.
The police wouldn’t drop the red light fine, and it was decided that the best course of action was to plead guilty and ask for a reduction in the fine. The Magistrate reduced the fine of $403 to $150.
Unfortunately, Victoria lags behind the rest of Australia and hasn't legalised footpath riding which would allow people to legally avoid risky road-riding situations.
Michael decided to reduce the risk to him by riding on the pedestrian crossing, and while he should have dismounted to enter the crossing, he did not ride recklessly or put other people in danger.
Bike riding is meant to be easy, accessible and allow you to do things that you can’t in a car. It’s a shame that on this occasion the police didn’t understand this and instead insisted on a literal interpretation of the law.
No fine for failing to stop when a red light failed to change
In another case, Mark Ferguson (the rider formerly known as Cycling Maven) was fined for 'failing to obey a red traffic light', when the reality was he’d spent more than five minutes at an intersection with a light that wouldn’t turn green.
The lights on Martin Street, Brighton at the intersection of St Kilda Street are meant to be triggered by a detector under the road.
Despite being on one of Melbourne’s marquee bike routes, the detector was not good enough to pick up bikes, so when Mark was there at the intersection with his riding mate and no cars, the lights would not go green for them.
They waited, rolled up and down the street to try and activate the detector, and waited some more.
When it became clear that the lights would not change they thought about dismounting, getting on to the nature strip, walking to St Kilda Street and getting back on their bikes. However, they thought that may not be legal anyway, so they just rode up to St Kilda Street and turned left.
There was a car in the distance but they judged it safe to make the turn, like you would if the intersection had a give way sign. It turns out the car in the distance was a police car and the officer had no hesitation in giving them each a $403 fine.
Mark contested the fine at the Magistrates court, and after advice from a friend and Bicycle Network, pleaded guilty to running the red but explained the circumstances that left him with no option.
His actions did not deserve a fine (VicRoads say that all traffic light sensors should recognise bikes) and the Magistrate suspended the $403 fine for six months. If Mark doesn’t break any road rules for the next six months the fine will expire.
It was another example of police handing out a fine when they didn’t need to, discouraging bike riding and taking up valuable time of an already busy court system.
Hi Mark, apologies for the delayed response. All lights should sensor your bicycle, if not please drop us a line of the whereabouts as we'll need to get the team to look at the sensor :) Cheers, KM
— VicRoads (@VicRoads) May 27, 2019
Give riders a fair go
While there are occasionally some people who break the law when riding a bike, the vast majority are law abiding. In fact, when bike riding is properly planned for, only five per cent of riders break rules, much less than the 66 per cent of car drivers.
There are times when a bike rider runs a red light, rides on the footpath or a pedestrian crossing because the built environment has problems and they’re doing it to reduce the risk.
Until footpath riding is made legal for people of all ages in Victoria and there are no traffic lights that won’t change for bike riders we ask all police officers to please listen when a bike rider explains their situation.
In both Michael and Mark’s case they were just using a healthy, sustainable mode of transport and had trouble getting where they needed to go. We understand they didn’t obey the laws. While we certainly don’t encourage riders to disobey the law, we do ask our authorities to understand why sometimes riders do.
Have you been wronged?
Bicycle Network is here for people who ride. If you have been treated unfairly, please let us know.
Legal advice and our riders rights service is free for all Bicycle Network members. Membership also includes insurance to cover you if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a crash, plus access to special events, offers and other benefits.
Not only will you be looking after yourself, you’ll also support us in making Australia a better place to ride a bike.