WHEN a video went viral late last year of a cyclist being knocked off a bike by a trailer, Pedal Power ACT discovered a major issue with the law.
The incident eventually saw the driver lose a small number of demerit points and fined $393 for negligent driving, however, the charge was in response to the driver travelling over an island, and not in response to it endangering the bike rider.
“They would have got the same fine had they not hit the bike rider,” says Pedal Power ACT CEO Ian Ross.
Since this discovery, Pedal Power ACT has been calling for urgent changes to the current road transport legislation to better reflect the seriousness of endangering cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists through negligent driving.
Ian says if a bike rider has been hit by a car and is not admitted to hospital, and the driver is at fault, the only action police say they can take is to issue a negligent-driving infringement notice to the driver.
“[The legislation] should also include an offence provision for negligent driving which causes injury – current legislation only recognises injuries at the very top end of the scale, where a person is permanently disfigured,” he says.
“We believe this is a significant gap.”
In regards to the incident in the video, Ian says a motorist could basically do that three times and they could still hold on to their licence.
“You could write off a $393 fine and not really worry about it if you’re a small business. So it just struck us that the penalties were not sufficient to deter people from doing those things,” he says.
It’s not uncommon for bike riders to get struck by vehicles in the ACT and Ian says Pedal Power receives at least one report a week about someone being hit.
“It is an ongoing issue,” says Ian, who also points to the data nationally, which reveals that bike-rider fatalities are on the rise.
“The most recent data shows that between 2008 and 2021, there’s been a 45 per cent increase in fatalities on our road.
“That’s just completely unacceptable. Cycle accidents are just not viewed as serious enough.”
One problem, according to Ian, is that many of the accidents don’t require people to be hospitalised (people can have broken bones and other things and not need to be admitted to hospital). However, because of that, it might not be considered to be grievous bodily harm and therefore doesn’t get referred to court.
“[For the rider in the video], they had damaged their wrist, they had quite a bit of time off work and they reported that they had ongoing trauma,” he says.
Pedal Power ACT would like more serious penalties being given following accidents where there is any kind of injury to a vulnerable road user.
“The police need to have the capacity to leverage that as a traffic-infringement notice so that there is a really clear connection between the crime and the fine,” Ian says.
“We would like to see a significant increase in points as well.
“We’ve had people die on our roads in Canberra, we have not seen a lot of prosecutions for dangerous driving for those people.
“I’m not judging any individual cases [but] people have to grossly break the law or already be doing terrible things on the roads for it to be considered a significant crime.
“It’s really unfortunate that we do live in a community where it takes penalties to change behaviour but we know from drink driving, for instance, that it substantially changed behaviour as soon as police were able to start targeting those things and introduce serious fines.”
Pedal Power ACT also wants to see more road safety campaigning by ACT and federal governments, in particular in minimum passing distance laws, says Ian.
“We would like to see better enforcement action by ACT policing, too,” he says.
“The minimum passing laws were finally introduced into law in 2017 and we are yet to see substantial work being done to enforce those laws.
“We’re aware that there were campaigns done late last year but we have seen no data or information about those. We would love to see ACT policing seriously test and prosecute minimum passing distance offences, too.”
Pedal Power ACT is currently in active negotiations with the ACT government to have the laws amended.
“We are pretty confident that we will get something moving in the next few months,” Ian says.
Here’s a link to the video youtube.com/watch?v=oFexFlQVsSs