Cycling injuries in NSW rise as drivers blame aggressive motorists

In NSW, drivers must leave at least one meter space for cyclists when overtaking in areas with a speed limit of 60 km/h or less and at least 1.5 meters where the speed limit is over 60 km/h.

Hawkins, an accountant, understands how much work it is to follow these Highway Codes and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver broke the law.

So he ‘does the work’ for the NSW Police. It provides video evidence, a canned statement and video screenshots marked at road markings and motorist distance to meet the burden of proof for police.

He sends complaints by registered mail to a station’s senior officer, who arranges for them to be entered into the system, and then proceeds by telephone.

NSW Police have declined to answer questions about fines, requests to investigate dangerous driving or their enforcement activities.

A police spokesman said: “You must file a GIPA [freedom of information] request for the information you are looking for.”

In the 12 months to the end of January 2023, 20 fines were imposed on drivers in NSW for breaching the minimum overtaking distance rule, but none over the Christmas holiday period in December and January despite several nationwide traffic blitzes.

Since the Safe Passing Act was introduced in 2018 after a 2016 trial showed it made cycling safer, police have issued 171 fines to motorists for riding too close to drivers. Four of these can be attributed to Hawkins.

Hawkins understands why police are reluctant to ping drivers because there is “heavy burden of proof” for a violation to result in a $352 fine and two minus points.

In contrast, he says, cyclists pull through a disproportionate amount of police.

“Cops like easy targets. And cyclists, who are more law-abiding, don’t run away. By comparison, monitoring the source of the greatest harm to drivers – bad driving – often seems like too much work,” Page said.

Since 2016, cyclists have received around 55,000 fines for a range of offences, mainly for missing or improperly fitting a helmet (31,402 fines), riding on the footpath (5,645 fines), riding at night with no lights on (5,678) and not having a working bell ( 2476). There were also 207 fines for not turning all the way to the left (sic).

To reduce cycling deaths and injuries, Transport for NSW launched the Share the Road campaign last October to remind cyclists and motorists of their mutual responsibility. The campaign will be shown again this month.

Researchers and cyclists say public opinion has become increasingly polarized since social distancing was introduced.

A review of the law in Western Australia, for example, found the rules have made cycling safer and drivers reported giving cyclists more space when overtaking, but there have been unintended consequences.

“Drivers also self-reported more aggressive behavior towards cyclists, such as honking or swearing,” the University of Western Australia researchers said in the report.

Hawkins said international cyclists visiting Australia often comment on how poorly motorists treat them in contrast to other countries.

Page said there is a bias against cyclists in society. Part of the problem has been the lack of respect cyclists receive. But he says it’s not a one-way street: drivers should also be treated with respect.

More and more cyclists are attaching high-resolution cameras to their bikes to record these incidents. Page and Hawkins say this evidence is critical to the success of any complaint.

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Login here. Cycling injuries in NSW rise as drivers blame aggressive motorists

Justin Scaccy

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