Let’s be careful out there, but learn some bloody road rules!

John Thompson-Mills Columnist

By John Thompson-Mills, John Thompson-Mills is a Roar Expert


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    Are bike lanes enough to guarantee cyclists' safety? (Image Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons)

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    I was going to write another doping-related column this week, but instead, my mind was changed by some other kinds of dopes – those that get around in cars and a few who ride bikes.

    The past few days have been horrible for cyclists in what is always the one-sided argument against cars.

    In Adelaide, a 49-year-old woman was killed on Saturday morning when her bike and a car collided in West Lakes.

    In Brisbane, a motorist was run down from behind on Friday afternoon as he rode off from some traffic lights.

    Amazingly, he escaped with a few cuts and bruises.

    In Melbourne, a rider was ‘doored’ on Monday by someone getting out of a taxi in the CBD.

    And then there was the weekend crash in Sydney, where six people were knocked down by a four wheel drive, leaving two cyclists with spinal injuries and one facing up to six months in rehab.

    The circumstances behind the Sydney and Adelaide crashes are unknown, but one thing can be said for all four of these incidents – they happened in broad daylight.

    But some theories can be drawn from the Melbourne bingle, which, for the cyclist at least, doesn’t appear to have resulted in any serious injuries.

    I’ll preface my comments by saying I’ve been commuting to work for almost 20 years. I also ride on weekends, but only socially with mates. I’ve never raced.

    I’m also just back on my bike after a crash which left me with a dislocated AC joint in my shoulder, which I can’t afford to have operated on because I’ll be completely immobilised for six weeks.

    But more about that later. Here’s the video of the rider getting ‘doored’ in Melbourne.

    A few things annoy me about this video.

    Firstly, the taxi passenger says “no offence” has been committed and questions the rider as to whether she is riding in a bike lane.

    Well, Mr whatever your name is, you’re wrong because in Victoria it is an offence to open a door and cause injury to someone.

    Here’s the relevant section of the road rules introduced by the Victorian Government two years ago. It is an offence to “cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle”.

    The on-the-spot fine for opening a car door in the direct path of a cyclist has increased to $352, up from $141. If you go to court, you could be smacked with a $1408 fine, an increase of almost $1000.

    There are clearly a lot of people like him, who just see cyclists as always in the wrong and show them no respect. But obviously, he doesn’t know the road rules.

    He also doesn’t know that when you injure someone, it’s not wise to leave the scene without giving your details. For him and his fellow passengers to do that is quite sickening.

    Clearly, the lady wasn’t in an immediate life-threatening situation, but there was no excuse for him to refuse point blank to take responsibility for what he did, which clearly was accidental.

    That said, his “where’s the bike lane” question is relevant, because according to The Age, who ran this story, there isn’t a bike lane in that part of Collins St.

    As a cyclist I would ask, why, when knowing how risky CBD riding is, would you ride in that position on the road in the first place?

    If that was me, I wouldn’t be riding like that. I would try and sit directly behind the taxi and then if it stopped be looking to go around the outside, not the inside.

    ‘Dooring’ as an offence or not, riding up the inside like that is asking for trouble.

    We have no chance on the road when it comes to collisions with cars, so why invite trouble by putting yourself in such a vulnerable position to begin with?

    To me that’s just not sensible riding.

    Luckily, most of my ride to work is via bike lanes – most, but not all. So when I am ‘out there’ in and amongst the cars, I try not to ride too close to the gutter.

    I feel that only encourages motorists to try and squeeze past you when maybe there isn’t really enough room.

    If you look timid on the road because of the position you occupy in the lane, you’re asking for trouble.

    I also never try to squeeze past cars on the left when they have stopped. Even at traffic lights.

    I also have a little problem with the camera on the bike.

    Yes, it’s helped write this story, and it might even help catch someone guilty of an offence, but sometimes I wonder what’s behind the purpose of putting a camera on your commute ride?

    Is there a secret hope you might catch a motorist ‘bang to rights’ cutting you off or almost killing you? Does it automatically make you a little more aggressive and tensed up about what might happen? I reckon it does.

    I’ve only done half a dozen commute rides since my accident, and there’s no doubt what happened to me back in January has unnerved me.

    I was ‘taken out’ by a cyclist riding in my small group as we came down a steep hill. He hadn’t noticed I had stopped to turn right and ploughed into me as I headed off into a side road.

    I had no idea the crash was about to happen, so the impact felt like a king-hit.

    I’m glad to be riding again, but despite considering myself a good defensive rider, I’m now worried about another impact from behind, especially from my right-hand side.

    Listening to music while I ride has never been something I’ve done and it’s not something I’d recommend either. I feel you need every sensory fibre you have to identify potential danger because, as I found out, it can be when you least expect it.

    And like that cyclist in Melbourne found out, not everyone is willing to take responsibility for their actions.

    The driver in Brisbane did stop and assist the injured cyclist but has not been charged with any offence, despite clearly being at fault for what happened.

    To injure six people and sustain so much damage to their car must have meant the Sydney crash occurred at a relatively high speed, but again, in broad daylight, how could you not see a bunch of cyclists in front of you?

    So what’s the solution?

    Better bike infrastructure is an obvious one, and over time, we’re seeing more of it appearing in our cities. But there needs to be education in how to best use it, not just installation.

    Has anyone suggested closing the left lane on multiple lane roads on weekends for bunch riders? Why not try this on popular cycling routes between 5am and 11am on Saturdays and Sundays? Cars can have the one or two lanes on the outside and bike the whole of the inside lane. It surely is worth a try.

    Or can the ‘one metre matters’ campaign be legislated and, just as vitally, policed?

    Of course, cyclists could just give up on riding on the roads, which would no doubt please many motorists, but it would also increase traffic, and no one wants that.

    Clearly, we all have to share the roads, but it seems the reports of incidents like the four I’ve highlighted are increasing exponentially.

    The Melbourne accident shows everyone needs to do more to be aware of the dangers, so we start by just taking a little more care out there.

    Learning the road rules properly would also be a good start.

    Ride safely.

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    The Crowd Says (84)

    • March 19th 2014 @ 6:48am
      Luke said | March 19th 2014 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      On that Melbourne incident, and feel free to correct me if im wrong, but wasn’t the bike rider illegally overtaking cars? Im pretty sure if a motorbike weaves through traffic like that it is illegal so whats the difference with a cyclist.

      • March 19th 2014 @ 7:32am
        Buzz said | March 19th 2014 @ 7:32am | ! Report

        Good call. If bike riders are to be protected by the law then they must be punished by it as well. The sooner we introduce a registration and licensing program that allows riders to be covered in the same way other road users are the better.

      • Columnist

        March 19th 2014 @ 8:01am
        John Thompson-Mills said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        HI Luke, I can’t comment as I can only go on what I saw in the video. And I said in my piece, it’s not how I would ride in city traffic.

        • March 19th 2014 @ 10:45am
          Kasey said | March 19th 2014 @ 10:45am | ! Report

          My old man taught me one very important lesson from his motorcycle riding days that I’ve take with me into my cycle commuting days.
          Its no use being legally in the RIGHT if you’re in HOSPITAL.

          ALWAYS assume the car is going to come at you. Never assume its going to even go where its indicators indicate take an extra second to be sure and get where you’re goin in one piece.
          there are idiots in both camps…sadly when a car driver screws up, somebody is likely to get seriously injured or dead..this places enormous responsibility on all drivers, too bad most people of the world these days are only focused on their rights and forget their responsibilities as a consequence:(

      • Columnist

        March 19th 2014 @ 8:05am
        Tim Renowden said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:05am | ! Report

        Cyclists are allowed to filter through stationary traffic on the left.
        From what I can see in the video I think she was in a narrow bike lane. You can see the line marking designed to keep cars far enough away from the gutter to allow cyclists to pass. I’ll ride up there today and have a look, but these are present throughout the Melbourne CBD, Collins St and Bourke St particularly, and they are classic examples of poor infrastructure design. They’re not wide enough to ride safely, the markings are ambiguous, and they raise the risk from this type of incident and also from cars turning left with a rider in their blind spot (which is common in the CBD because many drivers try to avoid doing hook turns). I commute into the Melbourne CBD every day and the bike lane situation there can be borderline homicidal, often taking riders into tiny gaps between parked cars and left-turning traffic. It is safer to stay out of these lanes.

      • March 19th 2014 @ 8:55am
        Cantab said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        Sorry but there is no way I can see how the man opening the door on the curbside is in the wrong. I would never overtake on the inside and find it hard to believe its legal.

        I largely Agree with the rest of the article though, defensive cycling is a huge part of being a safe cyclist.

        These days I pretty much avoid areas where I can’t use a good footpath or a cycle path, i’m even pretty hesitant to use bike lanes attached to roads with heavy traffic.

        As when it’s bike vs car you can talk about ‘fault’ all you like but as the cyclist I’m the one who’s going to suffer the concequences of the accident.

        It’s no fun having the moral high ground to point the finger at someone if you no longer have the mobility in that limb to point it.

        In terms of Brisbane incident, I’d like to think the only reason there hasn’t been a charge laid against the driver is because the cyclist isn’t pressing any? As that is horrific driving.

        That being said, not sure what the cyclist was up to trying to claim the whole lane or why he wasn’t using the walk/bike path that runs next to him (under the M1 and along Klump road).

        When I’m cycling I find it easier to modify my behaviour than change the behaviour of every motorist out there. ‘Fault’ is a cool story, but I prefer not to get hit by a car, defensive cycling…do it.

        • March 19th 2014 @ 10:31am
          Kasey said | March 19th 2014 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          roads just aren’t engineered safely for Cyclists. Any cycling infrastructure is a sop to the weak-voiced cycling lobby and usually an ill-judged rush-job from a road-safety POV.

          The Australian Cyclists Party has been formed to help represent cyclists in the corridors of power and hopefully move up the level of recognition for cyclists from after-thought to integral part of the planning process.

          Only when Cyclists are thought of as a legitimate mode of transport by road/transport engineers will the safety of cyclists improve.
          Chicken or egg..better infrastructure leads to more cyclists, which will lead to more recognition for better infrastructure improvements…

          Other than that, what about the alternative/radical idea of introducing the requirement for L-Platers to spend a half year on a moped or bicycle prior to sitting their P-Plate licence test to understand just how vulnerable cyclists and motorcyclists are.

        • March 19th 2014 @ 4:02pm
          me, I like football said | March 19th 2014 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

          It’s legal, the cab wasn’t parked or had his indicator on. so the rider is well within her rihght to ride up the inside.

    • March 19th 2014 @ 7:09am
      Craig said | March 19th 2014 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      Two odd years ago I was cleaned up by an 4WD as I moved off on a green light doing the right thing. I ride defensively and have been riding nearly 40yrs. From riding almost daily prior to the accident, I’ve only ventured out half a dozen times. Yesterday, despite being lit up like a Christmas tree and sporting a fluorescent vest over my back, a motorist travelling in the opposite direction turned at speed directly in front of me into a side street and also failed to indicate. Roundabouts too, are a bloody nightmare. There are just too many drivers who are in dream states and sadly too many cyclists who make choices that don’t properly assess the risk and the dickhead factor.

      • March 19th 2014 @ 9:02am
        Cantab said | March 19th 2014 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        Yeah totally agree, I hate roundabouts are the worst, unless your just going hard left.

        That being said, I can’t see anything defensive about the behaviour of the cyclists in the above videos. I hope they have gotten over thier anger and learnt from it.

    • March 19th 2014 @ 7:23am
      Kate said | March 19th 2014 @ 7:23am | ! Report

      It’s legal for bikes to pass on the left.

      • March 19th 2014 @ 8:55am
        Baz Zinga said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        1. She was in a designated bike lane.
        2. The road rules allow for cyclists to pass on the left of cars if the vehicles aren’t indicating to turn left.

        • Columnist

          March 19th 2014 @ 9:49am
          John Thompson-Mills said | March 19th 2014 @ 9:49am | ! Report

          Is it a designated bike lane though? I don’t live in Melbourne but the article I read in The Age says that part of Collins St is NOT a bike lane. If it is though, it looks way too skinny to be a proper one and should be doubled in width. That said I would still ride around the outside of cars, to avoid being “doored.”

        • March 19th 2014 @ 9:54am
          Hmmm said | March 19th 2014 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          Baz Zinga, according to Google Maps the area is designated as “bicycle friendly” not a designated bicycle lane nor a “bicycle trail”.

          As such the bicyclist was NOT riding in a designated cycle lane and thus MAY not have had the “right” to pass on the left as you claim.

          All in all it’s very poor traffic planning and I have to ask how from the back of a taxi being the size that person is that they would be able to look back and check FAR enough back from their limited window view to see the cyclist as they are highly likely to have been out of view in any case and moved into the zone between the “check” and the door opening time.

        • Columnist

          March 19th 2014 @ 10:07am
          Tim Renowden said | March 19th 2014 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          That’s what Kate said, it’s legal.
          The road rules in Victoria only state that:
          “Overtake to the left of a vehicle that is turning left and indicating” is a $144 fine. Overtaking to the left is otherwise legal for cyclists.
          Seeing as that taxi wasn’t indicating and there was nowhere for it to turn left, the rider was well within her rights.

          It’s a bit ambiguous as to whether that’s a bike lane, but that’s also a problem because if the rider thinks it is, she may have thought it was compulsory for her to be riding there:

          “Rule: A bike rider must use the bicycle lane if there is a bicycle lane on a length of road in the same direction as they are riding (unless there are obstacles in their way, i.e. parked cars, debris etc).”

          Personally I think that’s a stupid and dangerous rule, given the shocking design of some of the bike paths going around which actually create more danger.


      • Columnist

        March 19th 2014 @ 10:21am
        John Thompson-Mills said | March 19th 2014 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        It may be legal, but that doesn’t make it safe. Sometimes it will be safe. Sometimes it won’t. It’s about good decision making.

        • Columnist

          March 19th 2014 @ 10:42am
          Tim Renowden said | March 19th 2014 @ 10:42am | ! Report

          Too true.

        • March 19th 2014 @ 11:47am
          Mango Jack said | March 19th 2014 @ 11:47am | ! Report

          And if it isn’t safe, it probably shouldn’t be legal either. As a social cyclist, I would never pass between the kerb and a car, particularly a taxi that has just stopped (without indicating, note). Why else would the taxi have stopped other than to let out passengers, ie a high likelihood the door was about to open? As a car passenger opening a kerb-side door, how many times do you look to see if anything is coming?

          • Columnist

            March 19th 2014 @ 4:47pm
            Tim Renowden said | March 19th 2014 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

            The taxi stopped because the cars in front of it had stopped!

            Lots of things are legal but not absolutely safe. Let’s not get too eager to ban everything that isn’t 100% safe. We’ll all be walking around in padded suits and cooking with blunt knives.

            Thousands and thousands of cyclists filter down the left side of traffic in Melbourne every day without being doored.

            • March 19th 2014 @ 8:13pm
              Mango Jack said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

              I looked very closely at the video, Tim. I couldn’t see a car immediately in front of the taxi, so to me it very likely stopped to let out passengers. Stop it at 0.07 secs and see for yourself.

              I must say, it is very rare, at least in Sydney, to see bikes riden between the kerb and traffic. I would never do it.

              • March 19th 2014 @ 11:54pm
                Jimbo Jones said | March 19th 2014 @ 11:54pm | ! Report

                Pause it again at 0.09 or 0.10 seconds… There is clearly traffic banked up in front of the taxi.

                Incidentally, Melbourne is not Sydney and has better (albeit lacking on this occasion) cycle markings.

    • March 19th 2014 @ 8:01am
      Banana Bob said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      Remind me to never live in Victoria.
      What a dumb state.
      I would have slashed her tires for being so STUPID and riding illegally.
      Stick that one up ya mate!!!

      • March 19th 2014 @ 8:57am
        Baz Zinga said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        @ Bob

        She was riding in a bike lane, and the law permits cyclists to pass on the left of vehicles. So, can you explain which road rules she was breaking?

    • Roar Guru

      March 19th 2014 @ 8:27am
      Atawhai Drive said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      The Roar’s stated aim is to be a sport opinion site.

      So how does this piece, well written though it is, qualify for publication?

      • Roar Guru

        March 19th 2014 @ 8:35am
        Rabbitz said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:35am | ! Report


        But there is nothing like faux controversy to get your click count up.

        Maybe this story should have been sold to one of the militant bike blogs instead.

        • Columnist

          March 19th 2014 @ 9:53am
          John Thompson-Mills said | March 19th 2014 @ 9:53am | ! Report

          Nothing sinister in my motives for writing this column Rabbitz. The Editors didn’t ask me to write it and have published it. I’m not trying to be militant either, as I have attributed faults to both riders and motorists in my piece. And I don’t think there’s a case of faux controversy here. I’m just observing a series of accidents ranging from scary to tragic and giving an opinion. Thanks for reading though.

      • Columnist

        March 19th 2014 @ 9:46am
        John Thompson-Mills said | March 19th 2014 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        Yes it is a sports opinion site, but in the wake of these recent incidents where some of the people injured were engaged in a sporting pursuit–albeit probably a social sense, I felt I needed to comment. I also figured that many people who read this particular page of this excellent website, like me, ride a bike. So, I’m assuming it strikes a chord with many of you, whether you agree with my comments or not. “Normal” service will resume next week.

        • March 19th 2014 @ 10:25am
          fadida said | March 19th 2014 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          Agree John. Cycling is one of the highest participation sports in the country, making the article very worthwhile.

      • March 19th 2014 @ 11:51am
        Mango Jack said | March 19th 2014 @ 11:51am | ! Report

        AD, how’s it different to articles on concussion in rugby? Cycling is a popular sport and this article is discussing an important safety aspect that is of interest to many readers.

    • Roar Guru

      March 19th 2014 @ 8:31am
      Rabbitz said | March 19th 2014 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      From your first par you clearly do not live or ride in Sydney’s north. The proportions of one idiot vs another idiot are massively reversed.

      North of Hornsby the Pacific Highway has bike lanes in both directions, yet large groups of riders choose to break the road rules by riding in the traffic lanes, more than 2 abreast, ignoring little things like traffic lights and other traffic control measures.

      Then they hurl abuse and kick out at vehicles who are obeying the rules but get “in their way” while they commit traffic offences. This happens every weekend and most weekday mornings.

      They make being a safe and considerate driver impossible. I both ride and drive in the area and it terrifies me as these guys have a death wish.

      As for the camera’s, to make the ‘audit trail’ complete the rider or driver should be required to submit the entire footage, not just ‘the interesting bit’. It would then allow the rider/drivers behaviours to be assessed completely.

      • March 19th 2014 @ 1:28pm
        Tom said | March 19th 2014 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

        That’s all well and good Rabbitz, but you could say exactly the same about car drivers – look at the profits made by speed and red light cameras if you don’t believe me. It would be rare that I go for a drive without witnessing someone talking on their mobile whilst driving. The difference is in the damage a car can do to other road users – even in the case of a bike hitting a pedestrian, the cyclist is unlikely to come off well in the incident. I am also unaware of any car drivers being killed by a collision with a cyclist.

        Funnily enough though, I have never been abused or had my vehicle kicked by a cyclist whilst driving, and living in Sydney’s north, I guess I encounter very similar driving conditions to you. I have basically discontinued road riding in favour of mountain biking these days, my decision further reinforced when a friend recently had a woman turn right in front of him, only to get out and yell abuse at him, claiming that she gave him ‘plenty of time’ as he lay bleeding on the road, only to drive off without helping nor exchanging details with him.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 21st 2014 @ 11:07am
        Andrew Graham said | March 21st 2014 @ 11:07am | ! Report

        As someone who lives in Sydney’s north and rides those roads weekly I must say I’ve seen very little of this, even at 7am on a Saturday when the big groups (peletons of 50 people) are out riding. Further, those aren’t actual designated ‘bike lanes’ in many places – it’s just the shoulder of the road. An important difference, particularly as there are big sections where its too narrow to ride safely (around Mt Colah in particular).