herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Dr Mike McKillen: Why are cyclists considered nothing more than traffic vermin?

Cyclists can get abuse on roads
Cyclists can get abuse on roads

As a driver of a car, motorcycle and bicycle I am disappointed by a general failure of drivers to understand that they are not permitted to drive or park in a cycle lane during its hours of operation.

Nor can they be halted at any time within an ‘advanced stop line reservation’ i.e. a bike-box.

Both these offences are set out in statutory regulations. Fixed-charge fines go with each of them...a paltry €60 plus one penalty-point.

The extent of the penalty is derisory in the context of protecting vulnerable road users and it is time the Government raised the bar.

It is proposing to fine cyclists €50 for a range of offences in new regulations from March. This magnitude of fine is wholly disproportionate to the risk posed by cyclists to other road users.

A penalty should properly reflect a vehicle’s potential to do damage and harm.

Driving fines should be set at two orders of magnitude above that proposed for cycling offences – so by this token, €5,000 would seem right.

We have to get serious about the damage being done by drivers to vulnerable road users in particular.

The Government has set itself a target of 10pc of daily trips to be made by bike by 2020. Even though numbers commuting by bike in Dublin are increasing, this is not matched by the rest of our urban areas.

We need a shift in traffic management if we are to get – for example – children back cycling to school. Remember that we have an overweight and obesity crisis among our young people, due in part to the school runs taken by car.

But what cycling advocates are told by potential cycling commuters is that the so-called cycle lane system is dysfunctional.

The primary reason given is that cars, taxis, delivery vehicles and skips are driving on or parked willy-nilly in the lanes with no apparent intervention by gardai.

Recent news reports show just how poor the garda detection and enforcement effort actually is – only 144 fixed-charge notices were issued to drivers nationally in 2014. That’s no more than one ticket issued nationally every other day!

I call this a derisory effort. Cycle lanes are a road safety feature designed to offer comfort and safety to cyclists: they are not a convenience for motorised drivers to come and go from at their pleasure.

A constant refrain from cyclists using bus lanes is the extent of ‘dangerous overtaking’ by permitted users such as buses, coaches and taxis.

Such overtaking is a statutory traffic offence that is also poorly detected and enforced by the gardai.

MESSAGE

The Road Safety Authority has listened to cyclists and is running a TV advisory video showing drivers that they have to give cyclists proper space if trying to overtake a rider (1.5 metres) but there is still a cohort of drivers not getting this message.

 One issue that concerns me is that whereas bus drivers have to undertake annual road safety training (the Road Safety Authority’s CPC system), taxi drivers are exempt. Why are taxi drivers admitted to bus lanes when they are not subject to this training?

Why do individual gardai not understand the importance of the cycle and bus lane system to the comfort and safety of cyclists?

Is it that their senior officers take a selective approach to enforcement? Are cyclists seen as nothing more than ‘traffic vermin’ and not worthy of protection?

Twelve cyclists were killed on our roads last year. I do not want to see a repeat of this in 2015. Our police force has to enforce traffic law.

Dr Mike McKillen is chairman of Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network

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