A flaw in the system has led Bicycle Network to assist 16 members in wading through complicated legal proceedings and avoiding exorbitant fines after being caught breaking the speed limit on their bicycles.
45 riders, including 16 Bicycle Network members, were charged as part of Victoria Police’s Operation River Run earlier this year, enforcing the 10 kilometre speed limit along Southbank Promenade.
The flaw in the system is that people speeding on bikes are charged on summons rather than receiving an on the spot fine, as you would if you were caught speeding in a motor vehicle. This results in months of unnecessary anguish and paperwork for an already overburdened court system.
Not to mention, the fine for riding 12 kilometres over the speed limit on a bicycle is more than four times higher than if you were caught driving 12 kilometres over the speed limit or commit a low-level drink driving offence.
The maximum fine handed down during Operation River Run was $1,652.20, equivalent to nine penalty units in Victoria. For context, the fine for vehicles travelling 45km/h over the posted speed limit is $909.00, equivalent to five penalty units.
A person speeding behind the handlebars should not face a more traumatic, expensive and time-consuming fate than a person speeding behind the wheel, particularly when you consider the consequences of crashing a two-tonne vehicle compared to a 15 kilogram bicycle.
For this reason, Bicycle Network appealed to riders who had been issued charges to come forward so that our Rider Rights service (free to all members) could help in acquiring legal representation and support through the process.
Bicycle Network Chief Executive Officer Craig Richards said: "Our court system is always under great strain and it's extraordinary that magistrates’ valuable time is being spent on these matters. Imagine if every speeding infringement by a person driving a vehicle ended up in court? We’d need hundreds more magistrates."
“The law needs to change so that if people on bikes are being fined for speeding, it should be the same on the spot fine as for vehicles, and certainly shouldn’t be a higher penalty.
“This isn’t a registration issue. All of the riders charged on summons were pulled over in person, meaning there was ample opportunity to issue an on the spot fine.”
The large sum of these fines were due in part to the nature of the penalty process. Rather than issuing ‘on-the-spot’ traffic infringement notices, police issued a summons notice to riders, compelling them to appear before the local magistrate. Charges issued in a court summons, by nature, carry higher penalty units. In Victoria, fines for bike-related traffic offence may be between two to ten times higher if charged in court.
If the penalty units of bicycle speeding offences were at the very minimum the same as they are for vehicle-related offences, the speeding offense for a bike rider on a 10km/h shared path should be no higher than $363, or 2 penalty units (assume that the maximum speed of a person riding a bike is 30km/h).
This amount is 4.5 times lower than the fines issued during Operation River Run.
Though some argue bike riders shouldn’t be charged for speeding because they don’t have speedometers, let’s agree the speed limits are there for a reason and breaking them is a serious safety risk. Accepting this, Bicycle Network helped connect our members with lawyers to assist in applying for a diversion – where you admit guilt, show your genuine remorse and demonstrate your good character. If the police and magistrate agree, you avoid conviction.
Bicycle Network is pleased to report that so far all applications for a diversion have been successful, with our members avoiding conviction and receiving terms of good behaviour. Two had to pay $50 into the court fund. One had to pay $200 to the RSPCA. Another had to complete a road safety course. Ironically the course costs $350: $25 more than the equivalent speeding fine for motor vehicle drivers.
As well as promoting safety along Southbank, Operation River Run has highlighted an urgent need to address the penalty system for people violating bicycle speed limits.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.