Bicycles, the law, and a bit of ambiguity …

I’ve had car drivers indicate to me that I should be walking across a crossing when  I am on a designated bike route which crosses a road. Or when they cut me off, point out to me that my bike lock, which is hanging from my handlebars is not locked ….

I was riding along Fernleigh Track one day recently and had my helmet off as it was very hot. There were no other cyclists nearby, no potholes or other obstacles in my way and I was in no danger of falling spontaneously off my bike as I have pretty good balance. A cyclist going the other way called out to me: “It’s meant to protect your head not your bike!” Really?  I know I am not alone in this as I have read bike blogs before, but really, why is it that everyone feels they can say these things to cyclists? Including from among our own ranks…

My theory is that, because the law regarding cycling is often not enforced if it is a motorist who is at fault (for a recent example of this in Australia, see this discussion and read the coroner’s report if you like – an instance of a cyclist killed and no charges laid against those who committed offences leading to that death), and the road markings and signage in place are often ambiguous or a death trap that we are meant to follow, regardless…At the other end of the spectrum, ie laws that are meant to be for our protection, are laws about helmets (and I mostly wear one, just in case). And signs that I guess are for our protection, though I am not sure how, one example being the sign at SOME rail crossings: “CYCLISTS DISMOUNT”. What is the point of this sign when cyclists cross the rail line perpendicularly to the rail line and it is only when you are crossing them at a more acute angle that there is any danger? I have never seen a cyclist dismount to cross at them, so presumably we are breaking the law when we ride across them.

The only sense I can make of this mish mash of legality is that cyclists are being asked to follow a set of laws that are either overly nannified or which throw us to the wolves and we are never sure when or if they will be enforced.

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5 Responses to Bicycles, the law, and a bit of ambiguity …

  1. Democracies commonly make laws that don’t work for minority groups. Consider the bullshit hoops indigenous Australians, homosexuals, and often women, have been asked to jump through.
    Sometimes we can forgive fellow cyclists for speaking out of turn—they are at risk, and tormented too, which puts them in an alert state. Like any rednecks, drivers who goad us think about clearly as dogs, and likewise may be prone to give chase if they sense fear.

  2. adventurepdx says:

    I think the reason why you see the “Cyclists Dismount” signs at rail crossings is liability. Yeah, they can say “Cross Tracks Perpendicularly” or “Cross Tracks at Right Angle”, but that means people would have to understand what they’re saying, and run the risk that someone will mess up, bite it on the tracks, and then hold the government liable. So “Cyclists Dismount” it is.

  3. Vicki says:

    “Democracies commonly make laws that don’t work for minority groups”
    I have often thought that a benign dictatorship is the best way for sensical laws to be made, Steven. A three year term of government means no government will make laws which are needed for long term expedience but are unpopular short term (ie any law which will protect the environment but which means people giving up some of their rights/money in the shorter term).

    Yes Shawn, that is probably the reasoning behind those signs, you’d have to be a pretty incompetent rider to get stuck on the tracks riding across them, while other bicycle signage requires riding skills most would be incapable of. And the authorities who make those signs/laws are not held acountable at all (see link to the coroner’s report at Cycle Space above …)

  4. AdamM says:

    I believe, although could be wrong, that as the helmet law is enshrined in the Highway Code it doesn’t apply in places like the Fernleigh Track anyway? I’ve tried searching for the original legislation but have been unsuccessful to date. I’d love to be riding without a helmet at the moment, but I want my 2 1/2 yr old to wear one so need to set an example.

  5. Vicki says:

    That is interesting Adam. I thought that on shared paths helmets were compulsory. I mostly wear one anyway, and it has been great modelling for my grandson too, he used to watch me put on my helmet in awe when he saw me and now that he is on the front of the bike he accepts that he has to wear it, no fuss.

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