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Cyclists fear heavy fines for drinking from water bottles if “draconian” careless cycling laws are introduced in Queensland

The state government insists that riders will not be penalised for “everyday” cycling behaviours, though campaigners say the laws could be open to interpretation by police officers

Cycling groups in the Australian state of Queensland have raised concerns that new careless cycling laws set to be introduced by the government will penalise people on bikes for everyday activities, such as drinking from a water bottle or talking to another rider, and have called for the “draconian” legislation to be more clearly worded to avoid being left open to interpretation by police officers.

However, the state government has insisted that cyclists have nothing to fear from the new laws, and that enforcement will be “proportionate to risk” and based on “common sense”.

The proposed legislation, which was introduced to Queensland’s parliament by transport secretary Mark Bailey last month, will see cyclists and e-scooter riders face fines of up to AU$6,192 (around £3,250) if they do not ride with due care and attention on “road-related areas” such as footpaths and cycleways, ABC News reports.

An extension of existing legislation that already requires cyclists to ride with due care on the road, the proposed laws are the latest in a series of reforms recommended by a 2022 personal mobility safety plan, and could also see riders fined AU$3,096 (roughly £1,600) for not providing details or assistance after a crash.

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However, in its submission to the parliamentary inquiry examining the laws, the Brisbane Central Business District Bicycle User Group (CBD BUG), a community-based cycling advocacy group, described the proposed penalties for careless cycling as a “draconian overreaction”.

Paul French, Brisbane CBD BUG’s co-convenor, said the “vague” legislation needed to be more clearly worded to avoid misinterpretation, and called for the laws to only apply to circumstances which lead to a crash.

“We’ve asked the question in our submission ‘what is careless riding?’ It’s completely vague,” he said.

In its submission, the group argued that it was easy to envisage police officers penalising cyclists under the new law for behaviours that have hitherto been “everyday, legal, and safe”, such as drinking from a water bottle while cycling, taking one hand off the handlebars, talking to another rider, or looking at a watch, the ground, or over your shoulder.

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Bicycle Queensland, the state-wide cycling organisation that boasts over 12,000 members, also expressed concern that the definition of ‘without due care’ is subjective in its own submission to the parliamentary inquiry.

However, while the group’s director of advocacy Andrew Demack claimed that penalising a cyclist for riding without due care was open to interpretation by police officers, he warned against inflaming a situation that could ultimately have little effect on the majority of cyclists.

“Our members are giving us feedback that they think that’s a bit of a concern,” Demack said of the law’s apparent subjectivity.

“Having said that, that same phrase is used elsewhere in many other contexts, and it hasn’t turned out to be nightmare for motorists or anybody else. We don’t want to be too inflammatory about this.”

Bicentennial Bikeway, Brisbane (Queensland Government)

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Meanwhile, in response to the cycling campaigners’ concerns, Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) insisted that cyclists will not be penalised for common, safe behaviours.

“This is not an issue for existing careless riding offences on roads, which already apply to bikes, and will not be an issue for the extension to road-related areas," a spokesperson said.

“Enforcement of the proposed new laws will be common sense and proportionate to risk. Police officers are well trained and operate under enforcement guidelines targeted at dangerous behaviours.”

The spokesperson also noted that examples of genuine careless cycling “could include dangerously swerving in and out of pedestrians on a crowded path, or riding at an unsafe speed around a blind corner where pedestrians and other vulnerable users might be present.”

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Transport Minister Bailey also backed the proposed laws by arguing that they would improve safety for both riders and pedestrians.

“These new laws are simply an extension of existing laws to include behaviours on shared pathways and footpaths,” he said.

“As everybody knows, I’m an avid cyclist and I know the vast majority of cyclists already do the right thing. Enforcement will be undertaken with a commonsense approach, targeting dangerous behaviours.”

A Queensland Police Service spokesperson added that when a police officer suspects a person has committed any type of offence, they exercise judgement to determine how best to proceed.

“Discretion is an officer’s freedom to make decisions on the job and to decide whether and how, within legal bounds, they enforce the law,” the spokesperson said. “A balanced approach is required to ensure community safety for all involved.”

> Australia’s mandatory helmet laws "have become a tool of disproportionate penalties and aggressive policing" say researchers

However, despite the state’s insistence that laws regulating the behaviours of cyclists will be exercised with “common sense”, Australia’s most famous, and controversial, cycling law – the mandatory requirement to wear a helmet – has long been criticised by cyclists, who say the laws “have become a tool of disproportionate penalties and aggressive policing”.

According to University of Wollongong law professor Julia Quilter and Russell Hogg, a School of Justice professor at Queensland University of Technology, Australia’s mandatory helmet laws – first introduced in 1991 – have become an exercise in revenue gouging (with fines exceeding those of speeding motorists) while also providing a flimsy pretext for police to stop and search people.

“From 2016-2019, 17,560 penalty notices worth almost AU$6 million were issued to cyclists. Over the same period only 95 fines were handed out to drivers for unsafe passing,” Quilter and Hogg argued, while also pointing out that fines tended to be geographically concentrated in poorer areas.

“Local helmet-wearing behaviours could explain some of the disparity,” they said. “However, the stories we are hearing from lawyers suggest something much more troubling is at play.

“Our interviews reveal the helmet laws are being used for purposes unrelated to safety. These include gathering intelligence about offences and suspects, justifying searches and harassing targeted individuals – particularly young Aboriginal people.

“Sometimes this involves multiple penalty notices for failing to wear a helmet, including where a child rides both to and from school on the same day.

“The penalty for riding without a helmet is now ludicrously excessive. Proportionality between penalty and offence has been lost. The goal is meant to be harm reduction. Piling on the fines does more harm than good.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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11 comments

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Muddy Ford | 3 months ago
9 likes

Ozzies have V8 Utes to go shopping, and to them cycling is only ever done on a static bike in an air conditioned gym. They generally dislike cyclists, and generally dislike Abos who are twice as likely to be in the poverty bracket and therefore ride a bike because a car is unaffordable. The disproportionate fining is a reflection of that prejudice. 

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mark1a replied to Muddy Ford | 3 months ago
0 likes

Have you ever been?

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Muddy Ford replied to mark1a | 3 months ago
5 likes
mark1a wrote:

Have you ever been?

Yes, many times. I have a lot of family there. 

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chrisonabike replied to Muddy Ford | 3 months ago
0 likes

How did you get to the shops?   Australia vs. NL.

Now - given Australia is a large continent, mosly extremely sparsely populated in places, with some cultural quirks (history), extreme weather and some of the most deadly fauna on the planet (never mind the animals) - perhaps cycling doesn't seem a natural mode of transport.

OTOH the vast majority of people live in the suburbs there and lots of them in (mostly) pleasant climes...

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joe9090 replied to chrisonabike | 3 months ago
0 likes

I think you meant 'flora'

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chrisonabike replied to joe9090 | 3 months ago
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Philh68 | 3 months ago
1 like

there's a whole bunch of unintended consequences that could arise from this. There's no need for dangerous cycling provision as pavements and paths are road related areas and already covered in the existing road rules. But while targeted at PMD's like scooters they could unfairly catch cyclists with the new rules. Eg by setting a 25kmh speed limit for on road cycle lanes, which at present have the same limit as the road they're on. They're obviously trying to regulate E-scooters but not allowing that e-bikes cut assistance at 25 but may be ridden faster without it.

The most charitable way of describing it would be conceived with the best of intentions but totally flawed in execution.
https://streetsmarts.initiatives.qld.gov.au/initiatives/pmd-rules/

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Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
0 likes

This sounds virtually identical to the UKs careless driving/ riding laws - on the surface vague but in reality work reasonably well.

The caveats in the UK are such low enforcement of careless cycling the law may as well not exist, and overuse of the downgrading from dangerous to careless option for bad drivists.

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hawkinspeter replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
8 likes
Secret_squirrel wrote:

This sounds virtually identical to the UKs careless driving/ riding laws - on the surface vague but in reality work reasonably well.

The caveats in the UK are such low enforcement of careless cycling the law may as well not exist, and overuse of the downgrading from dangerous to careless option for bad drivists.

Unfortunately, I can see Australian police would seek to enforce laws against cyclists in order to harass certain ethnic groups. Or at least, that's how they tend to enforce their helmet laws.

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qwerty360 | 3 months ago
3 likes

Only way it will actually be proportional would be to require everyone involved has to issue fines to motorists at an appropriate ratio...

 

E.g. for every AUD cyclists are fined for any offence, motorists must be fined AUD 1000; Any organisation failing to issue fines at roughly this ratio to be liable for the full difference and the region banned from fining cyclists for any offence until the ratio is met.

So any police force shall lose bonuses and services if they are issuing excessive fines to riders to pay difference; same for courts as well as being publicly recorded as being unable to prosecute cyclists for anything until they fix the ratio...

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eburtthebike | 3 months ago
3 likes

"........the proposed laws are the latest in a series of reforms recommended by a 2022 personal mobility safety plan,......."

Which will make personal mobility appear safer by getting those pesky cyclists off the road, and hence reducing the numbers of them killed and injured, so that the laws can be declared a success with much fanfare and backslapping.  At the same time they'll be raising money by fining cyclists extortionate amounts, probably more than drivers get fined for careless driving, so double celebration.

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