Tuesday 23 July 2019

Penalty system for reckless cyclists needs to go much further

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe will be overseeing the introduction of a Fixed Charge Notice fines system for cyclists
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe will be overseeing the introduction of a Fixed Charge Notice fines system for cyclists
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Cycling on footpaths has reached epidemic levels and Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is making a big mistake not including it as a penalty in the soon to be introduced Fixed Charge Notice fines system for cyclists.

Mr Donohoe's assertion that it might discourage children from cycling to school is not a sufficient excuse for excluding this most dangerous of cycling practices from the new system, which will see cyclists face fines of €40 for a range of 36 different offences.

Gardaí surely have sufficient enough discretion and cop-on not to fine young children who cycle on the path - but every other cyclist should face the full rigours of the new system, because cycling on the footpath is downright dangerous, aggressive and intimidating not only to old people, but to anybody walking along the footpaths or coming out of shops or houses.

The question also arises about how effective these measures will be. With cars, identification by speed camera is easy because of registration plates, but in the case of cyclists it can only be enforced by gardaí on the spot issuing a summons.

Does the case for registration plates on bicycles now become an issue?

There has been a huge upsurge in cycling in recent years for a variety of reasons.

The most obvious is the 'bike-to-work' scheme introduced by the Green Party during its term in power. But it has also been fuelled by the prohibitive cost of public transport, for health reasons and the certainty that cycling gives practitioners in getting from A to B in a certain time.

But cycling is a dangerous practice, not least because cyclists themselves are reckless, intimidating towards other road users and seem to have a belief that just because they don a high-viz jacket and a helmet they are immune from the laws of good manners and the laws of the land.

The introduction of the Dublin Cycle Scheme has also led to a huge upsurge in bad behaviour from cyclists who think it is their God-given right to cycle anywhere they like - whether it be the wrong way up a one-way street, on the footpaths or blatantly cycling through red lights.

As someone who has been cycling before it became both popular and profitable I can't say that I am the perfect role model, but I do my best to at least have consideration for other road or footpath users.

In central Dublin, it seems to be an accepted practice for people to cycle on the footpaths - indeed some with terrifying speed - simply because they feel like it, or the street itself is one way and they are going against the traffic.

It is also common in the suburbs and cyclists don't seem to realise or take into consideration that an old person, or indeed anybody else, might suddenly walk out of their gate or turn a corner and be confronted which such behaviour.

When I was growing up, gardaí adopted a very stern approach to cyclists caught breaking the law, whether it be cycling on the footpath or cycling without proper lighting.

But with the switch to cars the authorities seemed to have forgotten this kind of zero-tolerance approach and there were even cases of gardaí being mocked in court for "having nothing better to do" when they brought prosecutions for such offences.

The result is that the laws have basically fallen into disuse. As a cyclist, I have frequently watched gardaí standing at traffic lights ignoring a procession of cyclists blithely breaking the lights. I often wondered, has it been struck off the curriculum in Templemore?

Even worse are the myriad of cycle couriers whizzing around the city on high-powered bikes without any regard for other people. The fact is that many of these light-framed powerful bikes can easily reach speeds of 30/40mph - they are lethal weapons and unfortunately, many are in the hands of people who think they are entitled to do as they please.

Obviously, with the upsurge in cycling, which is growing exponentially, something needed to be done and it is welcome that the Transport Minister has included 36 penalties which will carry fixed charge fines of €40.

But the scale of the problem warrants him going even further.

Of course, cyclists don't have a monopoly of bad behaviour on the roads, or even the footpaths. (Texters, eyes fixed on their mobile screens, are the new menace.)

But not including cycling on the pavement in the Fixed Charge Notice system devalues the whole concept of tackling recognised and endemic bad behaviour by cyclists.

Mr Donohoe argues that there is a penalty for "cycling without reasonable consideration" and while that is a welcome, 'catch-all' solution, it is not the same as cracking down now on the dangerous practice that is all too prevalent in our towns and cities.

Irish Independent

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