Sunday 9 February 2014

How to avoid cycling fines with minimum inconvenience

Summary: Urban cyclists can get heavy fines from traffic police for breaking various rules. Getting heavy fines for using your bike conveniently and safely can be a major disincentive to riding for transport. This post advises on how best to avoid getting fined while preserving your convenience, safety and enjoyment.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Jeremy Keith

Notes: I've never received a cycling fine but have observed other cyclists in Melbourne being given them, particularly during the occasional cycling blitz on popular cycling routes - usually near intersections.

1. Learn about the types of cycling fines that apply where you live
- To avoid the impact of fines, you need to start by learning what things you can get fined for and how much the fine is. Refer to your city's cycling rules and read them - different rules apply in different places and some aren't obvious, apply only to cyclists or have quite specific conditions/exceptions. E.g. For Victoria/Melbourne see the Further Info links below for the key road rules pages; the list of all road rules and possible fines for cyclists is very long.

- Specifically, you'll want to find a list of the rules in your city that cyclists are typically fined for breaking and the penalty amount. One source is the subset of rules for which cyclists are often issued on-the-spot fines for:

VicRoads: Bike Road Rules & Fines

Note: While breaking any road rule can technically result in a fine/penalty, some are more relevant to cyclists in Australia and more commonly result in fines.

2. Identify the specific fines you're actually at risk of and the estimated probability given your circumstances
- For Melbourne (your location will be different), I've broken down the table of likely fines and ordered them by my estimated, overall probability. However, just because the risk of being fined is low doesn't mean you should break rules. Always put safety (yours and others) first and don't inconvenience others.

OffenceFineProbability and Advice
No proper bicycle helmet$180- Is a high priority in some cities/areas and not others. In Victoria, 6,000 - 8,000 fines are issued a year.
- The Vic Police's bicycle unit or the occasional enforcement blitz are the highest risk but fines are issued throughout the year.
Passing stopped tram$361- Can't ride past while the tram doors are open or people are on the road next to the tram.
- Enforcement is high if a blitz is on or police are present, especially in the city centre (e.g. Swanston St).
- You should always obey this rule anyway as pedestrian safety trumps you saving a few seconds.
Riding through amber/red light$361- Just like with cars, you'll almost never get fined for riding through an amber light unless during a blitz.
- Riding through red lights is enforced if police are present. Red light cameras obviously do not catch you.
- Regardless of getting caught, only ride through red lights in exceptional circumstances where it is perfectly safe.
Ignores a Stop or Give Way sign$289- Quite possible if a police car is behind you or on the road you turn into to. However, if you're riding safely and keeping left it's unlikely you will have a problem if you slow down and turn without fully stopping.
Riding on the footpath$144- Unlikely if there is no safe option and you are not riding fast or dangerously. May be able to justify limited use for safety reasons but not for convenience.
- If there is a blitz on or the Bicycle Police present then fines are very likely.
- You should only do this where safety makes it necessary and if there are lots of pedestrians you should walk your bike.
No front or rear bicycle lights at night$180- Unlikely to be fined unless during a blitz, in an accident or the police passing by determine there is a significant danger (e.g. riding in front of cars who may not readily see you).
- However, your decision to use lights should always be based on safety not the chance of being fined.
Riding across a pedestrian crossing$144- Unlikely to be fined unless during a blitz, in an accident or the police passing by determine there is a significant danger.
- If doing so, you should always give way to pedestrians and ride slowly.
Ignores One Way or No Entry sign$144- Quite possible if police are present and on look-out to fine you or you are riding dangerously.
- In a few circumstances it may be safe to do this slowly for a short distance but generally it is not safe or inconveniences others.
Breaking signed cycling rule (e.g. speed)$144- E.g. Southbank is a shared pedestrian/cycling area with a posted 15km/hr limit. During a blitz fines may be given, otherwise only if police are present and your riding dangerously.
Riding in prohibited parks$250- Only during targeted blitz as council rangers can't detain cyclists. See: $250 fine for cycling on the path
- Prohibited parks include: Fitzroy, Carlton, Treasury & Flagstaff gardens, most of Fawkner Park, Botanic Gardens.
- Use other recreational routes. If you really need to ride in a park always give way to pedestrians and ride slow enough to be safe.
Riding on tram track zone$144- If for limited distance, are unlikely to be fined unless during a blitz, in an accident or the police passing by determine there is a significant danger.
Failing to keep left$144- Unlikely unless unnecessarily obstructing traffic. However, you should always keep left when safe to do so.
Overtake to left of turning vehicle$144- Unlikely to be fined unless during a blitz, in an accident or the police passing by determine there is a significant danger.
- However, if the driver hasn't definitely seen you and is waiting you shouldn't always cut through the inside, even if following other cyclists. Use common sense and put safety first.
Riding more than two abreast$144- Unlikely unless unnecessarily obstructing traffic. E.g. If on a multi-lane road you would be occupying a full lane with 2 riders, having 1 or 2 extra in the lane is unlikely to result in a fine.
Carrying a passenger illegally$144- Very unlikely if not on the road. Quite likely if on the road and the police see you - especially on busy roads.
- You obviously shouldn't do this if unsafe.
Does not have a working brake or bell$180- Very unlikely unless in an accident or already stopped by the police for some other reason. You should always have a brake as it's unsafe not to.
- Your voice is perfectly suitable instead of a bell, but you need to use it.
Riding while over alcohol limit$400+- Cyclists don't get stopped at random breath tests. Only likely to be tested if obviously riding under influence.
- You obviously shouldn't ride if drunk and it's unsafe.
Unsafe U-turn$289- Cyclists often need to perform U-turns or cut across to the other side of the street. This is almost never fined in Melbourne unless dangerous.
Stopping in front of intersection$144- Almost never fined unless dangerous or a blitz. However, you should not obstruct pedestrians or traffic.
Failing to signal$144- Virtually never fined but, as long as you can ride steadily, you should signal when turning and there is traffic around you.
*If there is a cycling rule-compliance blitz, Bicycle Police are present, you are involved in an accident or are riding dangerously then naturally the risk of being fined is much higher.

- Note that you can apply for a permit allowing you not to wear a helmet in most Australian states if certain conditions apply. E.g. Victoria exception form

- I'll collate further statistics on the types of cycling fines issued in Victoria. Here is the breakdown from the regular Operation Halo safety blitz:

2013: 140 bicycle offences
• 86 failing to wear a helmet
• 30 disobeying traffic lights and signs
• 8 riding on a footpath
• 3 failing to have lights or equipment

2012: 178 bicycle offences
• 113 failing to wear helmet
• 25 disobeying traffic lights or signs
• 24 riding on footpath

3. Obey the rules generally unless in the specific circumstance there is a valid reason not to and it is safe and of no inconvenience to others
- Once you know the rules and especially the ones you are at risk of getting fined for, the simplest, foolproof way to avoid fines is to consistently obey the rules. Many rules are in your interests (e.g. using lights at night). Others are just common courtesies expected from civil people - such as giving way to pedestrians and tram passengers. Also read this article on why cyclists should aim to comply with rules: > Cyclists Aren't 'Special,' and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules

- However, some rules are for your benefit only and it is justified to make your own decision. E.g. See: > When should urban cyclists wear a helmet? And, in certain circumstances, some rules can be broken without any significant safety impact or inconvenience to others. E.g. Riding slowly across a pedestrian crossing or briefly on the footpath if it's the only safe option.

- In Melbourne, if you wear a helmet on-road, always stop for trams, always give way to pedestrians and only ride through red lights when there is no traffic around and it's perfectly safe then by simply riding safely and respecting others you can ride very conveniently and never get a fine.

4. Identify and avoid situations where the risk of fines is very high
- There are a few situations where the risk of fines for things that would normally be fine is elevated. You should look out for these and be careful not to break rules in these situations.

(a) When the Victoria Police Bicycle Unit is present. These police on bikes ride around specifically to enforce cycling rule compliance and can fine you for anything even if perfectly safe.
(b) When a cycling compliance blitz is on (Example1, Example2). This occurs a few times a year, usually during commuting peak hours on popular cycling routes and in the inner-city. Police will be set up around intersections, tram stops or other key cycling routes to issue fines.
(c) When police are on foot near intersections. They are more likely to fine you for riding across pedestrian crossings or not stopping or giving way or not having lights.

5. If caught try relevant strategies for avoiding fines
- Being caught for not wearing a helmet is one situation where being a tourist or recent arrival can be a legitimate excuse. Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the world with mandatory helmet laws. People recently arrived from overseas are often let off with a warning. If the particular rule seems like something that you'd need to be a local to know then you can try it for other fines too. See: > Should Brits Be Able To Flout Australia's Bike Helmet Laws?

6. Inform yourself of the particular road rules, circumstances and possible exemptions/justifications from Police and the relevant agency
- In Australia, some of this information can be obtained via community engagement mechanisms (e.g. Twitter chats, Facebook posts/comments). The Victoria Police (with VicRoads) have conducted a couple of community online chats where road rules, fines and enforcement were discussed. For instance, here is he conversation on how cycling on footpaths is enforced:

> Safe cycling online chat with Arty Lavos (3 Nov 2014)
> Safe cycling online chat with Sergeant Arty Lavos & Juliet Reid from VicRoads
> Safe cycling online chat with Arty Lavos (30 July 2010)

Further Info:
Wearing a bicycle helmet
> Cycling

Amy Gillett Foundation: Cycling rules in Australian States
Amy Gillett Foundation: Victoria Cycling Specific Road Rules

Victorian Road Rules - Additional rules for cyclists (pdf)

VicRoad Penalty units and fines - full list (pdf)

Bicycle Network Victoria - Road rules category

Bicycle Network Victoria - Police enforcement

The Law Handbook (Victoria) - 10.3 The Road Law for Cyclists and Skaters

Melbourne Bike Share - Summary regulations

Riders left reeling by bike fine increase

$250 fine for cycling on the path

Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists

Cyclists Aren't 'Special,' and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules