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The real reason cyclists are dying on our roads

Alia Parker's picture

OPINION: Following the death of yet another cyclist on NSW roads, NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay Friday said he was “increasingly persuaded” that a bicycle licencing system was the way forward for improving cyclist safety.

This argument is concerning not only because it would not be an effective way of reducing the number of cycling-related deaths on our roads, but also because Mr Gay unintentionally uncovered the real reason behind the deaths – our State leaders and the Roads and Maritime Services Department do not have their eyes on the ball.

Mr Gay does not appear to be certain of the way forward when it comes to improving road safety – and that's a problem.

Put simply, NSW Roads are failing. Introducing bicycle licences for cyclists may sound like a logical solution at face value – make people accountable and they will behave – but when you delve a little deeper into what causes these deaths, a licensing system would have little impact.

For starters, drivers are found to be responsible in 79% of cycling fatalities, research by the University of Adelaide shows. Drivers, might I remind you, have licences.

Inadequate infrastructure

Saving lives comes back to creating safe, forward-thinking and sensibly planned transport infrastructure where all users have a space on the road. Cyclists aren't dying in separated bicycle paths or lanes; they are dying on main roads where they have little choice but to ride among traffic in order to get to their destination. These black spots are known and NSW Roads need to focus on making these areas safer for all. Anyone who is familiar with cycling infrastructure in Europe knows it is possible.

Non cyclists who support Mr Gay's suggestion believe a licensing system would make cyclists accountable and ensure they know the road rules.

Firstly, cyclists are already accountable. They don't need a licence to cop a fine for breaking the road rules. Secondly, there is no evidence to suggest cyclists don't know the road rules. In fact, most cyclists also drive and have been put through the same system as everyone else, and herein lies the problem – the Government's second biggest failure is education.

As it stands, not-for-profit groups such as the Amy Gillett Foundation have taken it upon themselves to try to educate the public about safely sharing the road – however, they are generally preaching to the converted. The NSW government needs to step up and lead.

There is confusion on our roads; there is poor infrastructure to cope with growing populations and congestion; and there is poor education about how to safely share the road. Roads in NSW are dangerous for cyclists because the State has let the situation get ahead of them.

Every day, confusion on the roads leads to road rage, misunderstandings and dangerous driving and NSW Roads has a responsibility to create order.

Case studies of safe cycling cities, like Amsterdam, show that this is done through infrastructure. Cycling licences will not prevent cycling fatalities, and here's why.

Why bicycle licences won't work

There is a very big difference between being licenced and obeying the road rules. For instance, having a driver's licence does not equate to driving safely on our roads. Licenced drivers still have accidents. Each day hundreds of licensed drivers are fined for things like speeding, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, failing to stop at signals, and driving while using a mobile phone. If anything, drivers are more concerned about being caught and fined than the act of breaking the rule itself. Basically, fines and penalties are more effective at influencing driver behaviour than the licence itself; and you don't need a licence to cop a fine.

Just as a proportion of drivers break the road rules, a proportion of cyclists also break the rules. As cyclists are already required to abide by the road rules and can be fined for failing to do this, would introducing a licencing system all of a sudden stop these rule breakers from running red lights? Unlikely. Chances are they won't even bother getting a licence.

And it's worth pointing out, as the Adelaide University research showed, that cyclists were only at fault in 21% of cycling fatalities. The other 79% were out of their control.

Cyclists are not dying on our roads because they are unlicenced. They are dying on our roads because as our roads become more congested, the NSW government is failing to provide safe infrastructure to cope with demand. Our government is accountable. We need safer roads and not weak and unresearched solutions tossed about by a minister on talk-back radio.


It is telling that you use the word "road" almost exclusively rather than differentiating roads and streets. Have Aussies forgotten the difference?

Infrastructure won't make much difference unless you fix the broken beliefs and behaviors.

Anyway, hope things change for the better.

I couldn't agree more!!! Infrastructure is the way to go and educating established drivers and new learner drivers about this 79% statistic and how to share our roads responsibly and considerately would go a long way. The real peacemaker out there would be infrastructure and not revenue raising ideology!!! Cheers and thanks

I commuted on a bike for 10 years. I've come to the conclusion that roads are not safe places to cycle. Drivers who are either angry at me for daring to ride on the road or who are simply distracted have nearly killed me too many times. Smart phones don't help! I've also seen motorists, pedestrians and bus drivers do dumb things.
We have some great cycleways and lots more that are ill thought out and go nowhere.
Fixing existing cycleways and creating new ones will save lives. Licences or registration is just going to waste money.
Like everyone, I pay to use the roads in car rego, fuel and state taxes. I'd pay to use cycle infrastructure also. I don't remember the last time I read of someone dieing on a cycleway - it's mostly on the way to or way from a cycleway.

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