Recently, an old friend of mine told me how they'd been caught running a red on their bike. There was no cars on the road, it was the crack of dawn, and, she was heading down the street to grab some milk. A red light on what's normally a pedestrian crossing, but not a traffic intersection stopped her progress a hundred metres from her quarry. She slowed, then decided to creep through. A flash or red and blue, a single siren, and a look behind confirmed, a police car indicating for her to stop.
My friend is a middle-aged woman with, or so she tells me, an unblemished traffic record. She's never been pulled over by police, save the odd random breath test, until this incident very recently. She was fined too. Perhaps, all fair enough, she broke the law. But it's the kind of law that police often don't enforce. In her experience, police have regularly turned a blind eye to bicycle traffic offences in the spirit of common sense.
Officially, in NSW, bicycle riders when riding on the road must obey all the normal traffic laws, and a number of special regulations designed specifically for bicycles.
They're all here (click the link) but notably include:
- Bicycle riders must not ride on a crossing unless there is a green bicycle light.
- Bicycle riders must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the rider's head.
- You are required by law to give a hand signal when turning right or merging to the right lane.
- You can only ride your bicycle across a crossing where bicycle crossing lights are installed.
- Bicycle riders must not ride a bicycle that does not have at least one working brake and a fully functioning bell, horn, or similar warning device.
- Bicycle riders must not ride a bicycle at night or in hazardous weather conditions unless the bike displays a flashing or steady white light from the front, and a flashing or steady red light from the rear. The bike also requires a red reflector which is visible from the rear.
- Generally, bicycle riders must not ride on a footpath.
I'll be honest, one of my bikes has no reflectors, and no bell. I will regularly take lights if riding early, but sometimes don't. I've never been fined, but have once been advised to get a bell by a policeman pulling over riders in a bike lane, and it was noted that I didn't have reflectors. I cross with the pedestrian traffic, often. On short "errand" rides, I might leave the helmet in the house to grab something. In the course of going to the supermarket for example, I have to ride past a police station. I've ridden past police. In broad daylight. I almost want them to fine me, but they don't. They never have.
I wondered if my own experience is unique. I asked another of my friends who is far more relaxed with the road regulations than I am, and he also said he's never been pulled over. He told me regularly rides through red lights, and often will leave his helmet behind. He said he doesn't ride recklessly, but sees some of the laws regarding bicycles akin to jaywalking. A technical offence, but one nobody really takes much note of.
I put it out to twitter too. I imagine you aren't all angels either, but anecdotes of being pulled over, or fined, were incredibly rare. Most people said they'd been pulled over once, or less.
And then the occasional, bored policeman story.
Which to me, is good, sensible policing. But then every now and then there are major crackdowns. At Taylor Square, the junction of two major bike routes in inner-Sydney police can have field days pinging riders. It's bizarre. Riders that police have watched go by them breaking laws they don't enforce all year, being pulled aside and fined and disciplined en masse. It's like cattle to the slaughter. Then nothing for another 12 months.
It all seems utterly inconsistent, and certainly not in the spirit of safer roads, and safer riding. For the most part police do an excellent job in finding a balance that works, but you can't help but wonder if you're turning a blind eye to traffic offences on a regular basis what value there is in existing bicycle regulatory system. Sorely in need of reevaluation.