24 August 2022

Advocates hold concerns new proposed laws won't go far enough to protect vulnerable road users

| Lottie Twyford
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Dashcam image of the cyclist hit by a passing motorist

Dashcam image of the cyclist being hit by a motorist in October 2020. The incident later prompted calls for stricter punishments for motorists. Photo: Screenshot.

Despite advocates and community groups speaking in support of a proposed bill to slap harsher penalties on motorists who cause harm to vulnerable road users, a parliamentary inquiry has recommended against it.

The ACT’s peak cycling body Pedal Power backed the proposed legislation introduced by ACT Greens MLA Jo Clay in June that would have introduced heavy penalties on motorists who injure vulnerable road users by way of a traffic infringement notice (TIN).

But a recent committee inquiry has instead recommended a different bill, introduced by Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel.

The committee was concerned that the proposed penalty in Ms Clay’s bill was an infringement notice rather than a court-imposed penalty.

They said the issuing of a TIN was “unusual” in an offence where there could be subjectivity around the circumstances.

Currently, if an offence falls short of causing grievous bodily harm, the only applicable penalty is a $393 fine plus three demerit points.

Ms Clay initially tabled the bill following an October 2020 incident which saw a driver given a $393 fine after colliding with a cyclist on William Hovell Drive.

Dashcam footage shows the driver, who was towing a trailer, crossing lanes without indicating before colliding with the first of two cyclists.

The cyclist was taken to hospital for treatment.

At the time, the ACT’s peak cycling body, Pedal Power, labelled the fine “grossly inadequate”.

Ms Clay said such a low fine sent a bad message to drivers and indicated to vulnerable road users that their lives were worth less than others.

Her initial bill would have added an offence of ‘Negligent driving – harm to vulnerable road user’ and quadrupled the maximum penalty to 50 penalty units or a maximum fine of $1600 and the loss of three demerit points.

Mr Steel’s bill contained a raft of amendments to the Road Safety Act, including the introduction of a new offence for negligent driving that occasions actual bodily harm, as well as increases to minimum automatic licensing disqualification periods for culpable or negligent driving.

Mr Steel’s bill would introduce a $598 fine for negligent driving alone which could be issued as an infringement notice. All others would go to court.

It also adds new offences to address the unsafe use of other vehicles including e-scooters.

Mr Steel has previously noted that his bill attempts to increase the safety of all road users, not just pedestrians and cyclists.

Pedal Power ACT CEO Ian Ross said he’d like to have seen both bills enacted but believed Ms Clay’s bill would have had “the most impact on the cycling community and most benefit behaviour change on our roads”.

“However, Chris Steel’s bill, if enacted alongside a strong community education campaign, has the potential to increase safety for all vulnerable road users. That’s the outcome we’ve been looking for, and we are hopeful we will see that change on our roads in 2022,” Mr Ross said.

When the bill was introduced earlier this year, Mr Ross said there was evidence to suggest that people’s behaviour changed when strong penalties were introduced.

“We know strong penalties act as a good deterrent,” he said.

“People’s driving behaviour changed when strong penalties were introduced for drink driving and speeding through school zones.”

Mr Ross noted it was important the ACT fostered a culture where drivers took care when driving near vulnerable road users.

“If they don’t, our police need to be equipped to impose high and immediate penalties,” he said.

Ms Clay also argued that the concept of issuing a traffic infringement notice for the offence of causing harm to a vulnerable road user had been supported by multiple organisations such as Pedal Power ACT, We Ride Australia, the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) and the ACT Law Society.

Ms Clay would now like to now see the government’s bill pass with an amendment to include issuing a traffic infringement notice for the offence of negligent driving causing actual bodily harm with a penalty set in the range of $900 to $1200.

She’s also calling for the final bill to include special protections for vulnerable road users.

Original Article published by Lottie Twyford on Riotact.

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