Australian journalists wage war on cycling


Two recent traffic accidents involving cyclists and cars – one a ‘dooring’ and one a that can only be described as a driver flat-out running over a man on a bike with their car – provide a rather sobering backdrop to the introduction of Queensland’s new 1m law next week.

The law is described on the Queensland government website as follows [1]:

From 7 April by law motorists must give:

– a minimum of 1 metre when passing cyclists in a 60km/h or less speed zone

– at least 1.5 metres where the speed limit is over 60km/h.

Motorists will be allowed to cross centre lines, including double unbroken centre lines, straddle lane-lines or drive on painted islands to pass cyclists provided the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic and it is safe to do so.

There has been extensive media coverage of both the traffic accidents mentioned, and the implementation of this new law. As there should be.

But I simply cannot believe that the media coverage has been either honest or ethical. In fact, I would describe the media coverage as journalists promoting legal falsehoods and legitimising road-rage against cyclists.

In light of the media’s abysmal efforts to cover these stories I have been pondering the following questions: Is it ethical to misrepresent the new law, or even current laws related to cycling? Is it ethical to promote a war between motorists and cyclists on the road?

Let me show you why ask such questions.

A recent editorial in The Australian following the ‘oozing’ incident seemed to serve the sole purpose of misleading and deceiving the public. It needs to be quoted here in full to be believed – I don’t want to be accused of a lack of context

THE arrogant sense of entitlement in our inner cities is also evident in the ever-growing number of cyclists snaking their way through pedestrians on overcrowded pathways, darting between cars and clogging-up lanes on our congested roadways.

The problem of city cyclists reached their apogee in Melbourne this week when a cyclist was “doored” on busy Collins Street, after a passenger opened a taxi door and a rider crashed into it. Neither the taxi nor its passenger could be deemed at fault because a narrow “bike lane” inhibited the taxi from stopping next to the kerb. The passenger was lucky to avoid serious injury.

What makes this incident even more absurd is that, although the lane was marked by a bicycle symbol, it was not actually a dedicated bicycle lane. Melbourne bike lanes must have signage, fixed to a pole, that shows the start and finish of a lane, as well as clear markings on the road itself. The state’s bicycle operations officer — yes, there is such a position — admits there is confusion for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Cyclists, including the one “doored” this week, are using cameras to film such incidents so they can make insurance claims. The Victorian government imposed even tougher on-the-spot fines in 2012 for people who opened car doors in the direct path of cyclists.

For too long, authorities have bowed to the demands of selfish cyclists and their lobby groups. Truth is, our cities are dominated by cars because they are sprawling. We have no equivalent of Amsterdam and should stop pretending we do.

In this article the law, in my view, is clearly misrepresented. The lane used by the cyclist in this incident was marked in a particular way with bike stencils (what are typically known as Bicycle Awareness Zones) indicating that drivers should be alert for cyclists and normal road rules apply. These normal road rules allow bicycles to pass vehicles on the left side.

The Australian’s editorial implies that a) it was inappropriate, if not illegal, to cycle in that road space because it was not a bike lane, and b) the taxi driver and passenger could not be at fault. Both these claims are false.

Such poor journalism probably goes some way to explaining why in a later article at The Age, their readers blamed the cyclist for the collision.

Yesterday in Brisbane we had some coverage of the new 1m passing law. Madonna King calls it “a hostile and unworkable law”

That’s why there are so many spats even before the laws commence; sharing the road already requires motorists to cross the middle lane, to safely pass a cyclist.

But despite the law being introduced to try and diffuse arguments, it’s only going to escalate tensions.

In this article it is implied that it is difficult to drive with cyclists on the road and that the rights of motorists are superior. Similarly, The Australian’s Michael Saunders and Robyn Wuth covered the law with an article about how the new 1m law will be unworkable, with a helpful link embedded to a Courier Mail article by Chris Bartlett entitled 14 reasons we hate cyclists, which is so bad I just can’t tell whether it is satire (though the reader comments suggest not).

Returning to the question of ethics in journalism. How would these journalists feel if a driver who had killed a cyclist came forward and said

“It’s been in the newspapers everywhere. Cyclists bring it on themselves. The new law is unworkable. It wasn’t a real bike lane so I didn’t give them any room. Maddona King told me it is a war out there!”

I hope they would think twice about publishing fact-free misleading articles primarily aimed at provoking outrage and conflict. It is simply not that difficult to drive with other vehicles on the road – trucks, cars, buses AND bicycles – if we al just have a little courtesy.

Tips, suggestions, comments and requests to [email protected] + follow me on Twitter @rumplestatskin

fn.[1] For future reference, here are the links to summaries of relevant traffic laws in relation to cycling on public roads- Queensland,New South Wales,Victoria,South Australia,Western Australia,ACT, NT.


    • +1, reality is that many people on the road act like entitled jerks regardless of their vehicle choice.

      I saw the dooring incident video, I am not convinced the passenger getting out should be considered at fault. Even if the passenger had turned around to check for bikes (which would offer a very limited view given the position), by the time they’d checked, turned back around and gone to exit the vehicle there could easily have been one speed from out of view to collide with the door anyway.

      Perhaps cabbies should be using their indicators when pulling over to let a passenger out or pulling in closer to the curb so that cyclists have a heads up.

      The other incident where a cyclist was ran over is clearly the fault of the driver.

      • plugmeisterMEMBER

        The “dooring” incident occurred in a no stopping zone, so the passenger was not supposed to exit the vehicle at that point, therefore they are 100% at fault.

      • @plugmeister, fair enough so after googling it seems the taxi driver asked them not to get out there, so in this case it was the passengers/pedestrians at fault (only), not the motorist/taxi driver.

        In that sense perhaps Rumplestatskin’s article is lacking the full story and proper context as did the MSM articles.

      • The passenger getting out ought be considered at fault because he broke the law/road rules.

        In NSW cyclists over 16 are generally required to ride on the road by law subject to being allowed to ride on bike paths shared paths and with children on a footpath.

        That means cyclists are entitled to a safe environent on the road.

        There are some idiots in every population, but the ones in cars are much more potentially deadly. When did a cyclist injure 12 car drivers or even 12 pedestrians in one hit? A cyclist injuring a pedestrian is just as likely to injure themselves as severely, or injure themselves while trying to avoid a pedestrian who turns abruptly without signaling or looking.

        Many if not most cyclists are already vehicle owners paying taxes, user pays charges and have drivers licences (but not necessarily on them).

      • drsmithyMEMBER

        Even if the passenger had turned around to check for bikes (which would offer a very limited view given the position), by the time they’d checked, turned back around and gone to exit the vehicle there could easily have been one speed from out of view to collide with the door anyway.

        You cannot possibly be serious.

        Amazing how people are more careful about opening their doors when there’s a possibility of a passing car tearing it off, than they are when it’s just some idiot cyclist who might end up losing a few teeth or maybe an eye.

    • Yeah sure…..just the other day I saw a totally careless cyclist barrelling along at what must have been at least 80 kph and sent a group of pedestrians on a zebra crossing flying like 10 pins.

      It was absolute f*cking carnage with blood everywhere, limbs severed, people screaming like banshees….blah blah blah….

      See….I can make this crap up just like you too !

    • StomperMEMBER

      Nonsense – most cyclists I know are courteous to pedestrians and motorists alike – most deaths on the road are due to motorists. All jaywalkers are pedestrians.
      Cyclists very rarely kill – motorists on the other hand…

    • I think the problem is that cyclists think they are a law unto themselves, I have never seen a copper pull over a cyclists for running red lights etc etc, I have seen cyclists hold onto the back of trucks and cars to get a ‘pull along’ (wish I had my camera) also in Footscray there are roadworks,where is quite clearly says “cyclists must unmount” I have yet to see one obey the traffic sign. maybe when cyclists are given rear rego plates and pay a small rego drivers will have more respect for them.

  1. The underlying problem is lack of accountability.

    Through state-based insurance (like the TAC in Victoria) and mandatory 3rd party insurance, those operating motorised vehicles are not held completely liable for their actions.

    Behaviours will change if you’ve got to pay tens of thousands in compensation to a cyclist or spend some time in the clink if you’re at fault. The same can be said for cyclists if they are at fault.

    The 1 metre or 1.5 metre rule sounds like lunacy. How could someone operating a car measure that distance? Another case of institutionalised stupidity…

    • That is lunacy and will just mean more cars clipping cyclists as they misjudge the distance. Cyclists can veer left and right. I know. I am one but keep my pursuit to mountain biking as I don’t have to be on the road with idiots of which there are plenty. And I only say idiots from driving every day and seeing the chaotic decision making or lack of indication etc first hand without fail on a daily basis.

      Common sense would say move a lane if there are two or wait for a safe passing spot where you can cross the median dividing line whether it is solid or not. Also, bikes should be given the right (if they don’t have it already) to take the whole lane in multiple lane road situations or in other words cycle in the middle of said lane.

      Giving a small avoidance distance is just asking for more accidents.

      And I notice the first comment is a predictable lazy MSM type reply to the article using sweeping statements.

      • as you have mentioned lack of indication, I’ve never understood why cyclists aren’t required to have indicators on their bicycles -indicating to other road users of an intended move is critical to safe movement of traffic.

      • The laws will make a difference, and anecdotal evidence from people I know who cycle in Brisbane is that they are being given more space on the roads.

        If drivers are aware that they need to leave a metre, they will by necessity pay more attention when passing cyclists, and those dickheads who deliberately ‘buzz’ cyclists for the fun of it (sadly they do exist) will clearly be breaking the law.

        What the law will also do is make it much simpler to prosecute a driver who does hit a cyclist, as to do so they’ve obviously broken the 1-1.5m separation law. The SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you) defence will harder to get away with.

        Re. your comments about lane rights, cyclists already have the legal right to a whole lane on multi-lane roads. They are also legally allowed to ride two abreast on single-lane roads, provided they’re no more than 1.5m apart.

        Finally, as a long-time bike rider, I’m well aware that just because the law says you can do something, does not mean it’s always advisable to do it 🙂

      • I beleive technically its illegal to overtake a bike on a multi lane road .. but when a cyclist takes then lane they will get abused for it.

        Asa cyclist tI think the law will help, currently I get a car a day that overtakes with less than a 50cm gap. I got clipped once which was terrifying, luckily I held on and made it home in one piece.

        I think the use of cyclists as clickbait and further alienating cyclists in the eyes of other road users is giving a certain degree of support to the wackos out there that do intimidate cyclists and drive dangerously. It will be causing further accidents and injuries/deaths. But it does sell papers…

        I’d love to see laws passed that gives the same level of protection as pedestrians to cyclists. i.e. A car would have to prove they were innocent. It seems to have made a massive difference in Europe and is being pushed as a progressive way of making the roads safer.

      • @ Sidamo:

        “Finally, as a long-time bike rider, I’m well aware that just because the law says you can do something, does not mean it’s always advisable to do it”

        Never a truer word spoken – as a cyclist (and driver) I am extremely leery of heavily used roads for cycling, unless the margin is absolutely superb and the journey extremely short.

        I ride bikes several hundred km’s per week and drive by car several thousand per month, and am quite happy to confirm there are idiots doing both, that are definitely going to kill/be killed at some stage.

        Its a real shame society has become some sort of idiotic tribal thing where everything is ‘my side good, your side stupid’ i.e. debates about politics, cycling, economics. Its not conducive to useful discussions about anything. Paid and unpaid trolls or outright ignoramuses on all sides tend to ruin any attempts at logic.

    • The specification of a distance is odd given that the law allows drivers to cross a double line, if it is safe, to give them a wide berth. Perhaps some wording of intent would do more than a small distance.

      We’ve all seen/done the typical parent thing of seeing a child about to do something risky then becoming angry with it. I think this applies to cars v cyclists. Most people don’t want to hurt or kill a cyclist and this then flows into anger toward them and their actions.

    • Mining BoganMEMBER

      I’m thinking that someone who can’t judge that distance shouldn’t be in charge of any sort of vehicle. Ever.

    • My understanding of the 1 or 1.5 metre rule is that it provides some legal protection to the cyclist.

      If it was not in place and you get hit where the motorist was too close then you probably have no chance of legal action but with the law, if it is shown that the motorist was closer than the required legal distance they are breaking the law and therefore must suffer the consequences.

      • Alex Heyworth

        If a cyclist is hit by a car, then by definition the car was less than 1 metre away 🙂

    • drsmithyMEMBER

      The 1 metre or 1.5 metre rule sounds like lunacy. How could someone operating a car measure that distance? Another case of institutionalised stupidity…

      You know, you’re right. I can’t measure exactly 100 or 150cm while driving along in a car.

      However, I can be pretty sure I’m at 200cm+.

      1 and 1.5m are minimums, not exact measurements. You make sure you pass by at least that amount by exceeding it or, if there isn’t enough room to do so, BY WAITING UNTIL THERE IS.

  2. rob barrattMEMBER

    Do I still have to allow so many metres clearance when the cyclists are riding 2 or even 3 abreast?

    • The links that Rumples has included at the bottom of his post are informative. Sadly the QLD one does not mention how many can ride abreast, but the Victorian one does, and the answer is 2. However they must not be separated by more than 1.5m. As a cyclist in Victoria I wouldn’t try my luck with that one.

      As a driver in Victoria I’d love both public transport and cycling infrastructure to be increased so that fewer cars are on the roads for when I’m putting along. The Melbourne crawl is a bothersome experience.

    • Yes, you need to leave 1-1.5m no matter how many cyclists there are 🙂

      Riding 2-abreast is allowed. >2 abreast is allowed whilst overtaking.

    • When they are perfectly entitled to do that, wha’d ya think …

      Yes I appreciate that some twots do it in spots they shouldn’t. Its like car drivers doing 40 in an 80. We dont kill/scare/intimidate them for it …

  3. It’s a nice ideal, cycling to work. But then we’d have to have showers before work. I don’t particularly want to deal with smelly, sweaty, nudie people before work. Plus he’s right Sydney is just too hilly and spread out. Maybe it’s doable from the East and Inner West, I wouldn’t know.

    Cyclists can be quite aggressive. I copped a dirty look from some lesbian feminazi as she demanded I give her the whole road so she could get a good run down the hill to go up the next. Nothing was coming the other way so I passed her. What might seem fast to them is dead slow to cars and just adds to the variables drivers have to deal with, it’s dangerous to all. Yes we know you’re saving the world in your lycra and $2k racers, but you’ll just have to accept that most of us are environment murdering scum.

    • Electric bicycle? Low sweat, low cost and good speeds. My Dad just got one to potter around on. He claims he hit 35 clicks and then effortlessly climbed a steep and long hill. Looks like he can have it all, cycling and smoking.

    • StomperMEMBER

      I cycle to work in Sydney – there are showers available locally.

      It takes me 50mins each way – 5mins longer than driving (only because I’m not yet at peak fitness) – overall the speed of cyclists in peak hour is almost the same as motorists – cars just get to the red light quicker.

      I do get aggressive – mostly when I’ve nearly been killed by someone breaking the road rules – including one dizzy teen on her mobile phone.

      For the most part I try to keep as clear away from motorists and plan the safest route possible – unfortunately Sydney lacks a proper cycling infrastructure (ever try to tackle Gladesville Bridge and River Road?)

      The biggest problem is that many motorists lack patience and are burdened with pent up frustration due to the appalling traffic conditions.

      • “The biggest problem is that many motorists lack patience and are burdened with pent up frustration due to the appalling traffic conditions.”

        I agree with this observation. People appear to be forcing their position on the road instead of just working with the prevailing traffic conditions. This is equally true of cyclists as it is of car drivers.

        If commuters were realistic about what lays in front of them then I don’t think there would be so much anger out there.

  4. Hard to believe such drivel could be presented by a national newspaper as editorial opinion.

      • +1

        Used to be an outstanding paper in the 90’s for everything from economics to foreign affairs, now its our very own Fox News.

        Nothing reflects the change in Australian society more effectively.

  5. Cyclists should not ride up to the front of the traffic que and sit in front of cars then take off at a snails pace when the light changes.

    “aint nobody got time for dat”

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      I don’t know what all the fuss is about. A while back I fitted knives to the wheel hubs of my SUV, got the idea from the Ben Hur chariot race. Now everyone gives ME a 3 metre clearance.

  6. Not sure how different cycling is in Melbourne than sydney, but in Sydney my biggest problems have been cyclists (cutting across bike path without looking causing a head on collision) and pedestrians (not hit one yet, but come very close with them not looking when walking across a bike lane), not cars.

  7. I’m a regular cyclist and I get seriously pissed off with other cyclists on the cycle paths in Melb being reckless – overtaking blind, not warning, going way too fast etc. Many also do this in the city, speeding past parked cars, pedestrians etc so there is zero margin for error. A lot of this seems to stem from a very macho cult amongst cyclists and its deplorable TBH.

    HOWEVER, its definitely right that there is much ignorance in the media and populace at large about this. What should always be understood is that cyclists wellbeing / lives are always in jeopardy on the road, whereas the most a motorist suffers is mild annoyance. This perspective is getting lost in an us v them mindset. It needs to stop.

    • StomperMEMBER

      I’m a regular motorist and I get seriously pissed off with other motorists on the roads in Sydney being reckless – overtaking blind, not warning, going way too fast, using mobile phones etc. Many also do this in the city, speeding past parked cars, pedestrians etc so there is zero margin for error. A lot of this seems to stem from a very macho cult amongst motorists and its deplorable TBH.

  8. boomengineeringMEMBER

    I gave up cycling after a life time of it 12 years ago because it was too dangerous sharing with cars but restarted about 3 months ago because of safety in numbers and now that there are so many cyclists the car drivers must be aware that there could be a cyclist about.
    50 years ago if a cyclist was hurt it had to be someone you knew because not many did it.
    If you see a cyclist break the law it is usually a novice.
    It is a two edged sword I don’t want to claim a pension so I ride 50 klms including 5 klm hills 3 days a week but of all the death defying sports I participate in this is still the most dangerous.

  9. Perhaps I am becoming a wowser – the investment grump of MB. We have invested for many, many years in transport dysfunction. The result is we now have it everywhere. We can choose the transport environment in which we all live and are obliged to compete and/or share – which is in all cases rationed in some way among those who venture onto public thoroughfares.

    Our roads and urban environments generally do not need to be mono-cultural. But we have built them to accommodate dominance by motor cars. Once again, this reflects a desire to make minimal public (common, up-front) investments rather than to measure investment decisions against long-run benefit/income flows. This is a mindset that sees investment as a source of cost rather than as producer of future economic benefits/income.

    We should see the conflict between road users as a consequence of deficiencies in road design – deficiencies that we have attempted to limit by extra regulation (traffic laws). We should really try to be a lot smarter about the designed use of public thoroughfares, the regulation of their use and the pricing that is applied to access to them.

    This would all be a lot more useful than making spiteful attacks on cyclists from a position of privilege, such as that published in the worthless rag, The Australian.

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      My mother in law lives in the Netherlands. They design roads for both users and it’s a pleasure to cycle there. One small point about the worthless rag, doesn’t one of our esteemed columnists publish in the er em Weekend worthless rag?

  10. I often wonder about the angst against cyclists. It doesn’t seem rational.

    We kinda sense the whole road monopoly, urban degradation with smog and freeways, high fuel and parking prices, sh*t traffic, consumer debt for cars thing is a con that benefits few, blights our society but struggle to admit it.

    Cyclists are a symbol of freedom that the average debt loaded, overweight, urban mule doesn’t have, they don’t have traffic, they do have their health, they clearly have time and are not victims.

    • Mining BoganMEMBER

      Time eh?

      My neighbours hate it that I can hop on my trusty steed and pound my way to glory to the shopping centre(8ks away)quicker than they can in their automobiles. And get a better park.

      I actually have more time to drink the beer that I picked up while there and reflect on my many achievements.

      • That should be ‘use’ time. When i was in melb i had a car park in the CBD that i never used because it was so much nicer and quicker to ride.

        Sitting in traffic on Beach Road watching the riders enjoying the day go past is the very definition of torture.

      • Actually this is a reply to AJ below.

        I think part of the hostility of driver to cyclists in Australia is that car advertising in Australia promises status, dominance, being in control through owning and driving a car and sitting in a traffic jam and watching some little weed on a cycle passing you destroys everything you believe driving bestows on you.

        No wonder drivers hate us.

  11. I ride a lot and almost all drivers are careful and courteous. I’ve had some near misses, some my fault and some the fault of the car, but generally we are all just relieved that no one ended up hurt. I’ve had near misses in the car too. I’m not sure we should make policy based on rare cases and the loudest commentators.

  12. Re: Australian Cyclists Wage War on Cycling, Macrobusiness, 4th April 2014

    The rights of motorists are superior. Most roads are purposefully designed for automobiles. Where it is not safe for cyclists to be using them, then it is a nonsense for us to pretend they can be shared, that motorists are being uptight about having to slow down behind a cyclist doing 35km an hour in a 60 zone. Cyclists should be required to dismount and use the footpath where there are no designated bike paths or cycle lanes. Otherwise, share the road with cars at your own risk.

    Yours most grumbly

    Upton Grumblebottom

    Grumble Heights

  13. As an Australian living in London who has commuted by cycle for over 20 years why, oh why do my fellow countrymen have such strange ideas on cycling….. and I just don’t mean car drivers!

    Yes car drivers have stupid ideas and do dangerous things to cyclists (I have bruises from such an occurrence earlier this week) but, why, oh why do so many people in Australia both cyclists and non cyclists see cycling as only an exercise activity where wearing BDSM style lycra, cycling in packs and then crowding cafes talking in loud voices about how fast you went is both the only reason and way to cycle. This viewpoint really holds back cycling from becoming a major part of Australia’s personal transport economy. Here in London such people are in the minority and are regarded as just a ‘little’ weird as cycling is seen as a way to get around so not requiring the wearing of BDSM style lycra. Yes, you might say the weather is different but lycra aint gonna cool you down while cycling in hot weather better than loose practical clothing. Cycling for commuting is such a normal activity here that I have waited at the traffic lights beside Boris Johnson on his bike with him in a suit and on another occasion I have passed David Cameron on his bike (well he was dressed in lycra but I doubt he would’ve been channeling Abbott as he was cycling in the direction of Westminster).

    Yet, I’ve had the amazing experience in Melbourne of being stopped by Flinders St Station opposite the tram station by two very polite policemen who were stopping all cyclists to ‘congratulate’ them on cycling safely. They couldn’t understand my incredulous response when they explained what they were doing nor could they understand my question asking why they they weren’t doing the same thing to the drivers held up at the pedestrian crossing to the Tram station.

  14. Meh, yet another reason to never move my family back to Australia. Sydney is probably the worst city for cyclists I have ever experienced. If you ride there, you will die.

    The average Australian is a fat lazy turd; 60% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. These same fat turds will defend to the death their ‘right’ to operate their dangerous machines in any way they see fit, leaving a trail of dead kids, cyclists, and pedestrians in their wake. They almost always find some way to blame the person who was killed by the car, and never the operator of the car.

    Countries where the people actually think (Holland, Switzerland, etc…) implement systems to slow vehicles down and force driver awareness. On the contrary, in Australia you can have footage of a driver wilfully running down a cyclist, and half the responses will be from fat turd drivers seeking to somehow blame the victim.

    Australia is rapidly becoming a case study in a country going from the best developed nation on Earth to a mediocrity in only a couple of decades. As a previous poster said, the country has become an overpriced car park with an attitude problem.

    The US is pretty bad too, but it at least has variety going for it, and the trend is generally towards improvement. There are many places in the US that are more cycle friendly than Oz, and it keeps improving.

    In Oz there seems to be some unidentified virus whose symptoms include obesity, belligerence, self-righteousness and entitlement.

  15. I meant to ask, did the News Limited editorial say anything about the injuries to the cyclist? Is the cyclist still alive, in a coma, attached to a ventilator? Just asking.

    Can you imagine the agony for the editorial writer if the doored cyclist had been Tony Abbott on one of his cycling-as-a-dominant-male activities. Which way do you think the editorial writer would’ve swung? Imagine you are the editorial writer and try and think how to not shift blame onto the person in the car yet not let any blame fall on Abbott while blaming all cyclists. Tricky eh!

  16. If you want to build a city with bike lanes like Amsterdam’s, you have to start out this way when the land is still greenfields.

    It is ridiculous to expect space to be sacrificed to low value uses decades after a city is built out and grossly over-congested already.

    “The Woodlands” near Houston, is a classic example of what can be done when you are allowed to, when you get the land for $10,000 per acre. But greenies will weep and wail over the example of “uninhibited sprawl” that “The Woodlands” represents.