Law and Enforcement 27/1/2011

Transport for London finds that law-breaking males are safer than law-observing females.  Reported by The Times


See also Speed


Safer Cycling Australia calling for a "Minimum Safe Passing Distance rule of at least one (1) metre to be enshrined in law."


Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety Special issue: Bicycling safety, "Cycling injuries in Australia: Road safety's blind spot?" page 37 by J Garrard, S Greaves and A Ellison.  Quotes from this article:

"...while road safety counter-measures have undoubtedly led to a safer operating environment for vehicle occupants, the (arguably) car-centric nature of many of these measures appears to have one little to improve cyclist safety."

"It is likely that good cycling infrastructure, policies that treat cycling as a legitimate form of transport, lower urban speed limits, national driver and cyclist education, skills and training programs, and stricter levels of liability for drivers in car/cyclist interactions all contribute to improved cyclist safety [in] countries and cities with high levels of safe cycling." [emphasis added], 

"Improved cycling conditions that are likely to contribute to increased cycling safety include:

  • more extensive, high quality and well-maintained cycling infrastructure, including separated cycling facilities
  • basing priority systems on needs of vulnerable road users (where appropriate), rather than car occupants
  • improved interactions between cyclists and drivers in the form of mutual respect, courtesy and willingness to share public road space
  • education and training for drivers and cyclists aimed at improving skills, attitudes and behaviours
  • urban speed limits based on human tolerance to injury in collision with a motor vehicle
  • placing greater responsibility for traffic safety through the legal system on those road users who have the potential to cause the most harm to others."

Age article reporting this paper: "call[s] for the legal onus for road safety to be changed so that it f[alls] on the road user more likely to cause the most damage in an accident". 


Prof Narelle Haworth has been commissioned by the Queensland Government to review evidence for and against mandatory helmet laws.  This has probably been triggered by the introduction of CityCycle, the bike share scheme. 

Prof Haworth has a paper in the recent Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety Special issue: Bicycling safety, which uses police data in Queensland.  She finds that:
  • "When the motorist was at fault, traffic violations were recorded in 85.4% of crashes [...]
  • When the cyclist was at fault, traffic violations were recorded in only 28.1% of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes."

Of the 28.1% about 5% (almost a quarter) were "failure to keep left", i.e.  the cyclist got in the way of the car, which is discriminatory and shows that we need the 1m clearance law featured above.
Given that 70% of crashes "caused" by cyclists did not involve the cyclist in breaking any law, if strict liability applied to drivers, these crashes would be regarded as the fault of the driver, which would make the overall percentages of all bicycle-motor vehicle crashes 88% caused by drivers and 12% caused by cyclists.


Put simply, Strict Liability recognises that cars create the danger, therefore they must take the responsibility.  In Australia you can kill somebody without any penalty, so long as you were not breaking any law at the time.  Strict liability places the onus of proof on the motorist, to show that they were taking account of the possibility of colliding with a pedestrian or cyclist and avoiding that possibility.  Note that the same applies to a cyclist who collides with a pedestrian.  Strict liability is a key ingredient in making Cities livable, indeed it equates with being civilised vs barbaric.

Other issues require better laws in Australia, such as a law requiring motorists to leave a minimum clearance when passing a cyclist.  See the Amy Gillett Foundation campaign for this law.

Behind all of this is an attitude change, both in the community and in Parliaments.  The trend over the last few years has been to strengthen laws that penalise cyclists, in a blame-the-victim approach to road safety.  Reversing this trend will show an acceptance of the need to encourage more people into cycling.  The community is already moving in this direction, as evidenced by the increases in people cycling,  but Governments are dragging their feet.  We need Government to lead, not follow, the trend to increase cycling numbers. 

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