The National Transport Commission (NTC) is reviewing the Australian Road Rules (ARR). The ARR serve as the model on which all states and territories base their respective road rules, including the Queensland Road Rules.
If you just want to find out how you can help, you can skip to the bottom. Otherwise, read on.
Alongside factors such as provision of infrastructure, cycling-hostile road rules are one of the significant factors holding back the growth of cycling right across Australia as a practical transport alternative to the private motor car, yet they are also one of the cheapest and easiest factors for governments to address.
The road rules we have today are the result of many decades of car-centric policy, planning and attitudes, with governments and the motor lobby both promoting private, motorised transport as an economic ideal, and in most cases the only viable means of getting around. The result of this has been the marginalisation of cycling as a legitimate mode of transport, and a set of road rules that in many ways actively discourages cycling and other alternatives to the car.
Since 1999 all state and territory governments have collaborated with the Australian Government to adopt a nationally consistent set of road rules. The desired overall consistency has been achieved but, for cyclists, the rules can be most easily recognised as being consistently unfavourable. Many of the rules create additional and unnecessary risk for cyclists or make cycling impractical.
Road rules across Australia contrast markedly with those applied in overseas jurisdictions where increasing non-car based travel has been not just a policy objective on paper, but backed up with meaningful changes. In part that has been through passing laws that provide much greater protection for cyclists and other vulnerable road users from the dangers posed by motor vehicles.
Some proposed changes
One of the rules being targeted for abolition in the CBD BUG’s submission to the ARR review is Rule 248, which forbids cyclists to ride across a road on a pedestrian crossing. Every day thousands of cyclists safely and easily share crossings with pedestrians, even though this rule makes it illegal. Having to dismount and walk for every road crossing makes cycling a less attractive option, and for those with cleats it can be quite awkward and unsafe. Despite this, the police enforce the rule even when there are no pedestrians using the crossing, and even though their own police bike squad usually does not follow it themselves. Instead, local and state governments are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars fitting special cycle crossing lights to existing pedestrian crossings to allow cyclists to use them, when they could simply change the law.
Another current rule needing abolition is Rule 258, requiring the equipment on a bicycle to include “a bell, horn or similar warning device in working order”. This rule appears to be a hangover from the early 20th century, when road conditions were much quieter and the “ding ding” of a cyclist’s bell could be heard by other road users. Modern cars are such that a bell outside is unlikely to be heard by the occupants. Cyclists also usually find they receive a better response from giving a friendly vocal warning when approaching pedestrians on a pathway. This is because the sound of a bell or horn is often interpreted by pedestrians as an aggressive gesture, reflecting the manner in which motorists use their car horns.
A new rule the CBD BUG is calling for is the rolling stop / give way rule for cyclists. Almost two decades ago a rolling stop / give way rule was introduced in the state of Idaho in the USA. The rule allows cyclists to not come to a complete stop at stop signs. They must still give way to vehicles in or already at the intersection, and then proceed with caution through the intersection. There were many reasons for the introduction of this rule. Primarily, it was intended to make cycling a more viable alternative mode of transport to the car and to grow the level of cycling. The rule recognises that cyclists are greatly disadvantaged by repeated stopping through losing their momentum.
Another essential change is to introduce strict liability on the part of a motorist who runs down a child. This rule needs to be introduced to address the appalling level of thoughtlessness and callousness prevalent among many motorists towards pedestrians, even extending to children. This attitude is based on motorists thinking they “own the road” and all pedestrians and cyclists must get out of their way. Children are vulnerable road users and even when trained in the road rules can still step onto the road unexpectedly e.g. if they are scared by a dog. Motorists should drive to expect the unexpected, but all too often they do not. In countries where the community cares about the health and safety of children, motorists are obliged to drive with caution whenever there are children around, and accordingly are held automatically at fault if they run down a child.
The CBD BUG will be lodging a detailed submission on behalf of all members. CDB BUG members are invited to send their ideas in for this submission via email to email@example.com.
It’s important that as many people as possible make a submission supporting changes to the road rules to better accommodate cyclists. The more voices are raised together, the more likely they are to be heard. We need to reinforce in transport bureaucrats and politicians a broader awareness of the community’s demand for safer and more inclusive roads and road rules. You can make a submission directly to the National Transport Commission by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can mail your submission to:
Review of the Australian road rules and vehicle standards rules
National Transport Commission
Level 15, 628 Bourke Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Submissions close 16 December 2011.