Misunderstanding & Misinformation Part 2 – Lawlessness.
(This is part 2 of a 3 part blog. This one deals with the perceived notion of lawlessness amongst pedal cyclists as referenced in the article above)
“Another member of the public said that Judge Mary Devins had thrown out a prosecution in Westport District court in connection with a cyclist. This was followed by a quote “It was announced by Judge Devins that we are the only country in Europe which hasn’t a law in place regulating bicycles”
This comment is part of some loudly trumpeted cyclist fallacies but is a narrative that many individuals like to use in the pseudo, sanctimonious drivers vs the scofflaw cyclist phoney war.
Let’s take a closer look at this alleged comment said to have come from Judge Mary Devins. Of course we have no way of verifying that the judge said this in the first place. All we can go with are the opinions expressed at the meeting in the aforementioned article and these are what I wish to address.
A common narrative that follows cyclists around is that there are no penalties for them breaking the rules of the road. Of course we know that not to be true.
Fixed Charge Notices (FCNs)
On July 31st 2015 the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, introduced Fixed Charge Notices (FCNs) for cyclists who commit certain road traffic offences. The fixed charge was set at €40. The fine rises to €60 if it is not paid within 26 days, and if it remains unpaid, court fines of up to €2,000 can be imposed.
The first one of these FCNs on the RSA list is “cycling a pedal cycle without reasonable consideration”. I’m not exactly sure what the pedal cyclist was charged with that judge Devins allegedly felt there was no law that could be used, but in the same way that ‘driving without due consideration’ can be used as such a broad brush stroke measure, it would be my belief that this was the intention of this particular pedal cyclist FCN.
There are of course 6 more FCNs as part of the list should the judge have needed a more specific one.
So to suggest that there’s aren’t laws in place regulating bicycles is incorrect.
In fact contrary to popular belief more than 1,500 FCNs have been handed out to cyclists in the two years since their introduction, according to figures released by the Garda in August. Breaking a red light was the most common offence, accounting for 843 of the 1,660 fines issued.
Cyclists in general don’t have a problem with these and Dr Paul Corcoran, chairperson of the Dublin Cycling Campaign, said the fines are proving a deterrent to cyclists breaking road safety regulations.
“I welcome that the gardaí are clamping down on cyclists. It is an issue amongst a minority of people that don’t obey the rules and we would endorse that all cyclists out there would do so,” he said.
Real Danger vs annoyance
If you don’t cycle, I can almost hear you screaming that you could catch that amount of cyclists in a week, never mind 2 years. That may be but let’s not lose focus on the real danger on the road.
Bear in mind that there hasn’t been a single fatality caused in Ireland by a bicycle rider in over 15 years now, while during the same period thousands have died as a result of motor vehicle collisions.
Like pedestrians, cyclists have a limited capacity to cause harm.
According to a recent AA survey, over 46 per cent of us witness non-hands-free ‘phones being used “on a daily basis”. This is despite advice from experts about the danger posed by being distracted by technology while driving and a campaign by the Road Safety Authority to show drivers what carnage a momentary lapse in concentration can result in.
These include 45% of Irish drivers admit making a phone call while driving.
26% of Irish drivers admit sending text messages while driving
15% of Irish drivers admit checking / posting to social media while driving
11% of Irish drivers admit viewing or uploading images to social media while driving.
This is before we even glance over matters such as speeding, drink-driving, drug-driving etc.
Translate these in to real figures and we see nowhere near this amount being fined.
Simple reason is that the Gardaí can’t be everywhere but in times where Garda Traffic numbers are low, it’s the sources of real danger that needs to be targeted.
To elaborate though on the nonsense of Ireland being the only country in Europe which hasn’t law in place regulating bicycles…
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ireland certainly does have laws governing bicycle riders at the punishment end of things but in contrast to most European countries, does not have laws that recognise the disproportionate vulnerability.
You see when it comes to law in most of Europe, there exists civil law called strict/presumed liability that serves to protect vulnerable road users from more powerful road users.
Under this law, in crashes involving vulnerable road users, unless it can be clearly proven that the vulnerable road user was at fault, the more powerful road user is found liable by default. In a nutshell, these European countries recognise the added vulnerability of a bicycle rider on the road and puts the onus on the driver’s insurance company to prove that the vulnerable road user caused the collision rather than the other way around. It works in much the same way that if you rear-end another motorist when you drive, you are presumed liable.
But just so that we are clear here, this isn’t about just blaming motorists. If a cyclist runs a red light and causes a collision then it’s their fault and there wouldn’t be a cent paid in damages. This doesn’t allow dangerous or negligent cyclists to recover compensation.
Only 5 European countries don’t have this and of course, we in Ireland are one of them (the others are the U.K., Malta. Cyprus & Romania). This is an important tool in changing the focus of sharing the road where unfortunately, the ‘might is right’ notion seems to occupy the minds of many.
Similarly this disproportionate vulnerability that a bicycle has is a matter addressed by a cyclist specific minimum passing distance law.
Drivers are sometimes baffled or infuriated by cyclists’ behaviour and this leads to many thinking that a cyclist may have broken a law.
This link explains this further.
It is from the U.K. but we see these types of comments all the time over on our Facebook page so it translates very easily in to an Irish context. It deals with filtering, riding 2 abreast etc. and answers in a concise easy to read manner.
‘Rogue’ road users.
When it comes to lawlessness in relation to bicycle riders, many motorists are simply not aware of the rights of bicycle riders and the challenges they face in navigating a road system designed primarily for motor vehicles. This in turn underpins a stubborn prejudice that bicycle riders are “rogue” road users.
I feel that a lot more of cyclist rights needs to be added to the Rules of the Road and added to a mandatory section of the driver theory test (more on this in blog 3).