Home > Life in General > Who should be licensed to use the road?

Who should be licensed to use the road?

December 5th, 2013

I’ve seen a number of interesting things in relation to road safety lately, some of which have caused me to revise my thoughts.

First, there’s the question of retesting for older drivers. This seemed self-evidently desirable to me, based on data showing very high fatality rates per km driven and that in most collision involving older (75+) drivers they are at fault. However, a Twitter discussion (must work out how to do Storify!) following this Background Briefing showed that things aren’t nearly so clear-cut. The fatality evidence isn’t really helpful, since it just reflects the fact that an accident is more likely to be fatal to an older person than to a younger one. The differential hazard is far greater for falls, which suggests that forcing older people out of cars may not be beneficial. And overall, the evidence on the benefits of testing appears to be mixed at best (the Monash expert quoted in BB overstates the case a bit, in my view).

More directly relevant to me (at least for the next decade or two) there are some suggestions regarding cyclist: a one-meter clearance requirement for cars , relaxation of abolition of helmet laws and requirements for licensing, rego and third-party insurance. The first is obviously sensible, the big issue being enforcement. On the third, I agree in principle with licensing and TPI, the main problem being what to do about children. Registration seems undesirable until we have a proper system of road pricing.

On helmets, I’m genuinely ambivalent, particularly after witnessing a head impact accident this morning (no injury, thanks to helmet). I would always use a helmet, but I’m not happy about the claim that Australia should have different helmet laws than Europe because our roads are more dangerous, and our drivers more aggressive. Granted that this is true we need to change these conditions. The obvious first step would be to reduce the current 60/50 speed limits for suburban streets and subarterial roads respectively to 50/40. This would greatly benefit road users (including both cyclists and older drivers) who can’t or don’t want to travel at or near existing speed limits. The welfare cost of slightly lower limits would, in my view, be trivial. I have zero sympathy for those (echoing smokers and polluters of all kinds) who want their convenience to justify imposing risks on others.

The other point though relates to those aggressive drivers. Whereas the evidence on older drivers is weak, there is ample evidence that aggressive driving, manifested particularly in traffic violations, is associated with higher crash risk, as is at-fault involvement in a previous crash. The current points system is absurdly lenient in this respect. The 12 point allowance lets drivers be convicted over a serious offence (running stop lights, speeding in a school zone etc) every year without any restriction on driving, and the suspension period for violators is only few months. I’d suggest a lifetime allowance of 24 points, with permanent restrictions thereafter, as well as reducing the three year allowance to 8 points, and increasing suspension periods.

The restrictive treatment of drivers at the older and younger ends of the age spectrum contrasts sharply with the treatment of a drivers license as a natural right for the 25-75 group, to be withdrawn only in extreme cases. In my view, aggressive drivers should be taken off the road to make them safer for the rest of us, including non-motorists and those whose reflexes aren’t sharp enough to cope with the high-speed high-risk driving of others.

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  1. Chris
    December 5th, 2013 at 13:57 | #1

    John – on the enforceability, I think it’s more of a move to where the liability lies in the event of an accident: if you kill a cyclist…clearly you didn’t give them a metre.

    The Economist had an interesting take on how strict liability in the Netherlands had changed the number of cycling deaths

    Not everyone agrees strict liability is effective.

    And on registration – check out pps 102-106 of the Qld govt. Study that recommended the 1m rule experiment.


  2. Michael
    December 5th, 2013 at 13:58 | #2

    “relaxation of abolition of helmet laws and requirements for licensing” is there something missing here?

  3. December 5th, 2013 at 14:13 | #3

    One factor that may be overlooked is that health care professionals are often eager to get old people to continue driving after a health crisis because returning to old habits is associated with good recovery while failure to return to old habits and/or decline of social activity is associated with poor recovery. I don’t know how much of a health benefit is gained from keeping older people on the road, but I would guess it’s large enough that it shouldn’t be ignored.

  4. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:15 | #4

    There are also social equity concerns with bicycle registration. Bicycles are stereotypically used by people who can’t afford cars and there’s a lot of truth in that. Which means that any additional impost needs to be small enough that someone who can barely afford a bicycle can afford registration. Meaning an upper limit of perhaps $20/year. The estimates I’ve seen for the administration cost of registration start at about $100/year, suggesting that registration would be a significant cost to the state and any benefit would have to be significant.

    This also has significant public health implications. The “more bikes than cars sold every year” statistic means there are a lot of underused bikes. The usual conversion to regular riding starts with very infrequent riding. Making the first step of that process “visit the government, do paperwork and pay money” would be a significant disincentive (to use bureaucratic-speak). It would be like the helmet process, but more so. At least bike shops are open long hours, especially weekends, and will take cash from anyone without requiring ID and queuing. The local government vehicle registration office? 8-12 on Saturdays if you’re lucky, with an hour or more queue.

    Having worked in a bike shop and as a volunteer bike recycler/bike mechanic there are a lot of cyclists who struggle to buy a new tyre or tube for their bike ($30/$7), and will walk or fare-evade to work if their bike breaks down. At the extreme, the “bikes for refugees” prgram works with people who get 89% of the dole[1], and are legally forbidden to supplement that income (other than possibly by begging). Giving someone like that a free bike is relatively easy (“free” means the donors pay typically less than $10 per bike), but adding a registration fee to that would likely cripple the program.

    The people are also, of course, at most risk of enforcement action, and most likely to suffer the high end of whatever punishments are available.

    [1] the dole is accepted as being well below the poverty line AFAIK, so 89% of it is just sadism.

  5. Newtownian
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:15 | #5

    The helmet law controversy is an interesting one. As someone who used to ride motorbikes and has come over the handle bars and has several friends who have had bike accidents they are feeling still decades later, I feel this ‘right to wear no protection and be fixed up if possible on the public expense’ is a bit of a crazy length to take libertarianism and protests against the state. Fascinatingly motorbike riders are increasingly wearing incredible layers of amour protection while the inner city youth seem to favour no protection whatever (including shoes or gloves.) presumably based on them feeling immortal.

    But like say fluoridation it looks like a no common agreement situation. Especially as risk taking by some seems to be part of the spice of life in this increasingly crowded world.

    A different interesting problem is whether or not to impose more severe lifetime penalties. This would probably be workable were it not for the fact that town planning has made our mobility so dependent on cars that too often there is no affordable alternative. Long term sanctions could work in the inner cities I think but in the suburbs and bush it will make mobility near impossible unless you have a bottomless wallet to afford taxis (comments on the economics of different transport welcome).

  6. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:25 | #6

    The point with helmets is, per Chris Rissel et al, that the health benefit from cycling outweighs the health cost of permitting non-helmetted riding. It’s an argument about marginal benefit, not absolute benefit. Interestingly, car occupant helmets would save even more lives than bike helmets but that proposal has never been taken seriously because it would be inconvenient… see above about who rides a bicycle.

    There are a number of places where helmet use makes little to no sense, and the “town bikes” are one obvious example. Renting out bicycles is fairly simple to set up, but when helmets have to be provided as well you’re adding significant complexity. They are fragile, damage can be hard to detect, and they need to be cleaned. The Melbourne solution is to sell subsidised helmets, because an exemption would make it too obvious that MHL’s are a sick joke.

  7. Uncle Milton
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:36 | #7

    You can’t force people with bad records off the road. You can only take away their licence. There are a lot of unlicensed drivers on the roads. The kind of person who is aggressive on the road is exactly the kind of person who will keep on driving if they lose their licence.

    Suspend their car rego while they are unlicensed? They will drive an unregistered car. Take away their car? They will drive another car.

    Throw them in jail for driving unlicensed? You could do that, in the same way that if you make the penalty harsh enough you can deter most things. But this would be a very authoritarian as well as expensive solution. And it’s not like the road toll is spiralling out of control. In fact it’s been declining for decades, through the introduction of compulsory seat belts, random breath testing, safer cars and better roads.

  8. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:38 | #8


    The problem of car dependence is huge, and would likely create an even more substantial social pressure against the law than the one against speed restrictions.

    A better solution, IMO, would be to increase the penalties and require people to obtain a new licence if they lose it, rather than just paying a fee. Having to go through driver training and testing would be more effective than any level of fine, because fines are not indexed to wealth. Imagine Nationals MP Vince Catania (WA, 2011) having to go down and join the local schoolkids at driver ed after his disqualification period ended. That would be justifiable IMO since he clearly doesn’t know how to drive.

    This should also apply automatically to anyone who uses incompetance as an excuse after a crash. It’s disturbingly common and annoys me a lot. After killing someone the at-fault driver will say “I didn’t know what to do” or “I didn’t see them” (both of which are law-breaking actions) but those statements will be treated as mitigating factors. Ditto medical certificates saying “prone to sneezing fits” or whatever. Sure, accepted, but you can’t drive again until that problem is solved.

  9. Michael
    December 5th, 2013 at 14:39 | #9

    Alan Davies (The Urbanist, Crikey blog) has written on this topic a few times “s it time bicycles were registered?”

  10. December 5th, 2013 at 14:39 | #10

    With regard to aggressive driving, improved technology could be used to address it. The increasing ability of machines to interpret visual data could be used to capture a lot more road offences. This means we may actually have to increase the number of points people have on their licences, as if we ever got to a point where all offences were detected I think very few people would retain their licences under the current system. It would also be possible to require people convicted of serious driving offences to have a “black box” in any vehicle they drive that would basically teach them to drive safely. A modern mobile phone could potentially serve this function.

    And then there is the fact that high end cars are getting increasing amounts of surveillance equipment built into them to increase safety, all the way up to self driving cars that are now being tested in various places around the world. I think it is likely that a considerable number of people with this technology in their cars would want to use it to punish dangerous drivers they see on the roads and would be more than happy to have their technology used to gather evidence against them.

  11. Fran Barlow
    December 5th, 2013 at 15:10 | #11

    @Ronald Brak

    While I share the sentiments expressed by PrQ above, I continue to linger on the prevention is better than cure side of the line, and rather more I suspect than our host. To use another common metpahor, I like the fence at the top of the cliff better than the ambulance below, while agreeing that both are going to be needed.

    As I’ve said a number of times here, I’d say that every motor vehicle should have a transponder in it, and some sort of biometric log in so that every driver — just to start the vehicle would have to authenticate. Vehicles that exceeded the speed limit (or looked as if they were about to do so, could be warned and then fined on the spot if they breached and didn’t immediately desist . Those that avoided warnings over a significant period of time/distance driven could be rewarded with various kinds of tangible and intangible benefits. Those that were doing the wrong thing would be caught and DQ’d much earlier.

    I’d also have cameras in vehicles so that evidence of driver misconduct/inattention (one’s own or that of others) could be collected. I’d also have passive breath test analysis in vehicles which, when a certain level was detected would prompt the driver to bring the vehicle to a safe stop within 30 seconds and do a PCA test or start a phased shut down of the vehicle’s fuel/energy system. Once that had occurred, the vehicle would not restart within 2 hours and only after a clean PCA test.

    One of the key reasons for ignoring rules is the suspecion that you won’t be caught. That’s far more salient for most than the size of the apparent penalty.

    It seems to me that we could keep the points system we have now in that paradigm — although I agree that anyone guilty of the higher range offences (e.g. more than 30km/h over speed limit, fail to stop at stop sign, cross unbroken separation line etc) who committed three of these offences in three years could have their points reduced. I’d also relate the cost of road usage in part to compliance — so those with a clean scoresheet would pay less per km than those without a clean sheet, and less still than those who had six points or more against them.

    I also believe a lot more needs to be done to get people out of cars and into mass transport. We could do a lot better with car pooling too.

    As to bikes, I remain very much in favour of physical separation from other traffic on main connecting roads adnd in favour of compulsory helmets. I have an open mind on how we force compliance with the latter.

  12. John Quiggin
    December 5th, 2013 at 15:20 | #12

    ” The kind of person who is aggressive on the road is exactly the kind of person who will keep on driving if they lose their licence.

    Suspend their car rego while they are unlicensed? They will drive an unregistered car. Take away their car? They will drive another car.

    Throw them in jail for driving unlicensed?”

    Someone who has gone through all those steps is dangerous enough to be at high risk of killing or injuring someone else, either on or off the road. So, yes, imprisonment looks like a pretty sensible response to continued aggressive and dangerous lawbreaking.

    As for the view that only 1000 or so fatalities a year is doing fine, I don’t know how to respond. The same claim could have been made in the mid-80s before RBT. Death rates were way below their peak then, and would have continued falling.

  13. iain
    December 5th, 2013 at 15:21 | #13

    I’d like to see dash cams and helmet cams made compulsory. With laws allowing these as evidence against d*ckhead drivers caught on camera.

  14. Uncle Milton
    December 5th, 2013 at 16:01 | #14

    @John Quiggin

    1000 fatalities is not “fine”, but it’s a lot better than it used to be, particularly on a per kilometre driven basis, and it’s still on a downward trend. Fatalities were 30 per 100000 of population in 1970 (the peak) and are about 7 today.

    “imprisonment looks like a pretty sensible response to continued aggressive and dangerous lawbreaking.”

    Unless you lock them away for life because they represent a permanent danger to the community, like child molesters who are kept in prison even after they have completed their sentence, this still won’t solve the problem. And these are people who in most cases will not have actually hurt anybody, just potentially so because of their driving.

  15. Hermit
    December 5th, 2013 at 16:10 | #15

    I think cyclists should carry a 9mm Glock so that after encounters with disrespectful motorists they can (to quote John Cleese) fire a warning shot between the eyes.

    If the playing field was level in terms of kinetic energy cars and bicycles should be nowhere near each other. Think of an 80 kg rider on a 10 kg bike doing 15 kph vs a 1350 kg car travelling 60 kph, over 200X more k.e.. Despite the enduring popularity of clunky SUVs some car makers want to ‘lightweight’ using aluminum panels and electric transmission. Those cars could get squashed like an ant in a collision with a semitrailer. Therefore we’ll need new road rules to cover many new developments.

  16. Tim Macknay
    December 5th, 2013 at 16:25 | #16


    I think cyclists should carry a 9mm Glock so that after encounters with disrespectful motorists they can (to quote John Cleese) fire a warning shot between the eyes.

    That thought has also occurred to me.

  17. John Quiggin
    December 5th, 2013 at 16:44 | #17

    @Uncle Milton

    Exploring a bit further, how would you deal with other habitual dangerous criminals where no one has yet been physically harmed eg a burglar who repeatedly breaks into houses when people are likely to be there, ignores supervision orders, refuses community service, removes monitoring bracelets etc? Or do you see your potentially lethal motorist as being in a different category?

  18. cbp
    December 5th, 2013 at 17:02 | #18

    Bicycle registration has proved unworkable or expensive in most countries and the trend has been to drop the laws.

    The only country I know of that still has bike registration is Japan, but the situation in that country is completely different: real estate is at such a premium that owners of tiny apartments are likely to dump or park their old bikes on the narrow, busy pavements. Police do multiple sweeps each day and unregistered bikes are sent to the scrapyard.

  19. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 5th, 2013 at 17:23 | #19


    It’s important to differentiate between the Japanese/Swiss etc schemes where cycles pay a token fee and get a sticker, from the motor vehicle style “must have a number plate” registration. I’ve heard very few motorists advocate for the former, and almost never a cyclist for the latter (and those few usually amend their view when informed of any of the counter-arguments).

    The funding argument is interesting. There are roughly 20M bicycles in Australia, of which perhaps 0.1M are ridden at least weekly. Or 1.3M bicycles sold every year at an average of under $500. So if we charged $100/year for bicycle registration (on a par with the admin costs for car rego) plus $50 for a number plate, we’d get about $10M annually plus $5M the first year. My guess is that very few of the “less than once a week” cyclists would register at that price. Or we could add, say, 2.5% to the cost of every new bicycle and get $10M a year that way (I assume a drop in sales). By comparison, there are 10M motorists in Australia paying well over a billion dollars just for registration. So adding $10M to that barely makes a difference, and a $1/year variation in what motorists pay would wipe it out.

  20. December 5th, 2013 at 17:45 | #20

    Fran, installing a black box in every vehicle would certainly cut road accidents. However, I doubt that legislation requiring they be universally installed would get passed, at least not in the near future. It may be easier to start with only requiring them for new cars or for learner and probationary drivers and those with serious traffic offences, with money off car registration costs for leaving the system installed and operational. Then when enough people are comfortable with being monitored by black boxes and see them as a useful safety system instead of device that will suddenly take control of their car and drive them to a concentration camp, then it would be easier to require them in all cars. Of course, by that point we may be able to get rid of human drivers altogether, or at least have them closely moitored by machines so that driving becomes like a small child using one of those toy steering wheels that lets them pretend they are driving.

    And opportunity cost comes into it. Spending money on creating a new organisation to take over functions currently not being performed by the Anti-Commonwealth Serum Laboratory may be a better use of funds and save more lives per dollar spent, but I think we can probably take that as a given in these sorts of conversations.

  21. Sam B
    December 5th, 2013 at 18:37 | #21

    Well John,

    With regard to “… reduce the current 60/50 speed limits in urban areas to 50/40 … The welfare cost … would, in my view, be trivial…”, I would hope that the analysis in your professional work is a bit more thought through. (Or is this the indulgence of a well paid academic with flexible hours and a residence near work).

    The proposed 20% reduction in speeds (I know that people don’t spend the whole trip at peak speed, but slower peaks typically means more intersection delays) would translate into a 25% increase in trip times.

    Just off the top of my head that means:
    (a) at any given time, 25% more vehicles would be occupying the same road surface, dramatically increasing traffic congestion and driver stress levels.
    (b) a 25% increase in car generated pollution (including carbon).
    (c) assuming a 40 minute trip to/from work (not atypical for people living in outer suburbs of Sydney), this is an extra 20 minute of each person’s life wasted every day. Assuming 1 million working commuters, that represents 38 man years squandered each day or 1 life wasted every 2 days (so the equivalent of 180 fatalities each year).

    Those are the immediately apparent costs, which frankly don’t strike me as trivial at all. Maybe we have a different definition of trivial.

    This isn’t even mentioning the contribution of the drivers (through registration fees) to road construction and maintenance (raising the question of exactly for whose “convenience” are these utility costs being imposed).


  22. John Quiggin
    December 5th, 2013 at 18:57 | #22

    Sam B, your calculations are way off the mark.

    1. Where congestion is a problem, speed limits aren’t binding.
    2. Fuel use for a given distance increases with speed, it doesn’t decrease
    3. Your calculations assume a 40 minute commute entirely on suburban streets now subject to a 50 k limit. That’s silly. In context, it ought to be clear that the 60k limit similarly refers to sub-arterial roads, not to the motorways typically used for long distance commutes. I’ll edit the post to make this clear

  23. Megan
    December 5th, 2013 at 19:03 | #23

    @John Quiggin

    The unfortunate reality is that a lot of drivers who end up on the downward spiral don’t have “aggressive” offences in their traffic history. In fact, hardly anybody does – ‘exceed speed limit 40+ kph’ can mean anything (of course doing so is highly likely to be dangerous and that is why it’s in the most serious class of offence).

    I’d encourage everybody to spend a few hours one morning in their local Magistrates Court (or ‘Local Court’) and witness for themselves the range of charges and circumstances that come up in the real world daily.

    You will see desperate people who are charged with unlicensed driving but, at least in their mind, had no alternative. If they keep doing it they end up in jail – almost invariably after being told that would be the consequence of a further breach.

    I once saw a guy screech to a halt outside the Brisbane Magistrates Court, leave the keys in the ignition and the windows down, didn’t feed the meter and raced into court where he faced driving charges. I later found out that the car was stolen.

    Free public transport would solve a lot of problems.

  24. December 5th, 2013 at 19:26 | #24

    I pay an annual registration fee to use the roads. Some of the time I’m in a car, and some of the time I’m on a bike, and some of the time I’m a pedestrian.

    In the very short term I favour harsher penalties for people who can’t drive properly.

    But I’d prefer that people who aren’t able to drive properly be forced to have their cars fitted with collision avoidance and speed limiting devices.

    We are only a short step away from self driving cars, and in 30 years young people will look back in horror, finding it hard to comprehend that we allowed people to control cars.

    My Dad, aged about 80, had an accident that was his fault, and spent close to 6 months in hospital and various stages of rehabilitation. A car that drove itself would not have had that accident. The health system savings from accident reductions would be enormous.

  25. December 5th, 2013 at 19:30 | #25

    Indeed, driverless cars will be the public transport of the future. You’ll call one on the internet, and it will come to you, and after its dropped you off, it will move onto its next job. No more looking for parking spots.

  26. Felix Alexander
    December 5th, 2013 at 19:36 | #26

    The only way to go is physical separation for bikes as standard. It should be required in all new developments, as well as good, safe access to the front of the shopping centres and other facilities (front, as opposed to, the edge of the carpark; not necessarily the main entrance).

    A first step would need to be making it possible to safely do right turns into a road that terminates on the multi-lane road you’re on. You can do a hook turn at a four-way, but at a three-way the only (safe, legal) option in most cases is to get off the bike, cross as a pedestrian twice, and get on the bike again. But I’m not even convinced that is safe much of the time, because where are you supposed to stop and dismount when there’s cars and trucks thundering past close by on your left?

  27. Donald Oats
    December 5th, 2013 at 20:10 | #27

    I’ve always thought that as part of getting a license, people should be taught a few road skills beyond the rules. A day doing some driving in difficult and changing conditions, night driving, etc, under supervision, would be very helpful in getting (inexperienced) people understand through experience what happens if the road becomes slick with rain, oil, etc; what to do if braking becomes a skid; what it really means to be travelling at 40, 60, 80kph and then to stop as rapidly as possible (ie how far do you really go before coming to a halt at different speeds), etc.

    Today I saw the oh so common situation of a P-plater roaring through a round-about, gunning the motor, only to brake quickly upon coming up the rear of a group of cars doing the speed limit; said P-plater then stuck right up the exhaust pipe of the last car in the group, effectively intimidating that driver into trying to speed up—with nowhere to go. If any of the cars ahead had hit the skids for any reason, the P-plater had only 2 to 3 metres between his car and the one ahead. Anyone driving like that should be dealt with rather brusquely, surely.

  28. Uncle Milton
    December 5th, 2013 at 20:13 | #28

    @John Quiggin

    I am not in favour of locking up anybody on a pre-emptive basis. You should punish people for what they have done, not what they might do.

  29. December 5th, 2013 at 20:26 | #29

    Uncle Milton, I think if someone was locked up because they drove without a licence, refused community service orders, and removed home detention ankle bracelets, they would be locked up for something they had done, namely driving without a licence, refusing community service orders, and removing home detention ankle bracelets, rather than something they might do.

  30. December 5th, 2013 at 20:30 | #30

    @Felix Alexander

    As a cyclist, I can’t go for physical separation of bikes from cars. Roads are great, they get you where you want to go quickly. They are almost always better quality than cycle paths. And where bikes and cars are separated by a bit of curbing, it becomes really dangerous, as a bike may clip the curbing and fall into the path of the car.

    I much prefer a marked cycle lane on the road. As long as cyclists are in the lane, cars can safely overtake. Any form of barrier is just an accident waiting to happen.

  31. Uncle Milton
    December 5th, 2013 at 20:38 | #31

    @Ronald Brak

    Sure, but they are not going to be locked up for long. It’s not like they have committed mass murder. The effect on the road toll will be next to zero. If you want to stop dangerous people from driving, the solution has to to be a technology that stops the car’s ignition when they are at the wheel. That way, all you at doing is stopping them from driving, which is what you are aiming to do.

  32. Ramiro Fernandez
    December 5th, 2013 at 20:49 | #32

    While I don’t think I agree with the idea of bicycle registration, I certainly think that a concerted effort needs to be made in education and enforcement of road rules for cyclists would be a good idea. When I started cycling it took me a fair bit of effort to find out the relevant laws for how I was to behave, and there are clearly a large number of people who either don’t know or don’t care about them.

    The number of times while walking and have been nearly hit by a cyclist riding on the footpath, running red lights, or overtaking stopped trams is concerning, and police do absolutely nothing about it. But it is hard to punish people for not obeying the laws when it is difficult to actually find out what those laws are.

  33. John Quiggin
    December 5th, 2013 at 20:57 | #33

    @Uncle Milton

    That’s a better option if feasible.

  34. December 5th, 2013 at 20:57 | #34

    Uncle Milton, the first time you beat up a granny you don’t go to jail for long either but keep it up and by the time they let you out they’ll only be robot cars on the streets. (Note this only applies if you keep your opponent’s injuries minor, but I find I can often defeat a woman in her eighties with her only suffering bruises if I remember to keep my left up and my thighs close together.)

  35. Sam B
    December 5th, 2013 at 21:06 | #35

    @John Quiggin
    1. My point was that increasing the amount of time cars spend on the road (given a fixed amount of road surface) would in itself create congestion where none previously existed.
    2. That assumes that people drive at a steady (lower) speed, not that they are constantly accelerating and decelerating to adjust to varying speeds – or to stop, idle, and start at each intersection. (Slower speeds mean that less cars get through each intersection each time lights change, and so more starts and stops.)
    3. Before passing judgement on how people commute, perhaps you should try getting into a car and commuting somewhere other than in St Lucia. In Sydney for example, both Victoria Rd and Paramatta Rd and major routes for traffic flow – neither is a “motorway”.

    Now if there was a credible public transport system (or were talking about building one) we could have a different discussion. As it is though, is your proposal is essentially that the broader community should subsidize the people who are young/healthy/fit/balanced enough to ride a bike over long distances. A more select small, privileged segment is hard to come up with.

  36. Sam B
    December 5th, 2013 at 21:08 | #36

    @Sam B
    that was meant to be “are major routes” rather than “and major routes “

  37. Felix Alexander
    December 5th, 2013 at 21:23 | #37

    @John Brookes

    As a person who rides a bike (I’ll probably borrow a car so I can get to the parents’ place in the country for Christmas), I know that it’s people who are in cars because it’s too bloody dangerous to ride are the people who we need to get out of their cars and onto their bikes. If you want to go down the road at whatever speed you like, by all means, do so.

    And I simply have no idea how you’re planning on falling over the division between cars and bikes into the car’s path. There’s probably parked cars or trees or something in the way, and the main road for bikes probably only gets a few cars at 40 or 50 k because it’s not the main road for cars cos it’s optimised for safety not speed.

    As for me, however fast I ride when I’m riding for leisure, there’s two or three ways I could get to work. Only one of them has a bike lane—and I avoid it like the plague. It’s too loud it’s too smelly it’s too stressful it’s too hectic and I don’t see how a white line keeps me safe from cars doing 80 km/h where they almost never see a bike and want to turn left into this or that side street.

  38. John Quiggin
    December 5th, 2013 at 21:27 | #38

    @Sam B

    1. This doesn’t work. If the traffic can’t move at 50 k, it can’t move at 60k either
    2. This makes your case even worse. The higher the maximum speed, the greater the energy used in accelerating to top speed then braking to a stop
    3. Do you claim these are sub-arterial roads? If not, what is your point?

  39. December 5th, 2013 at 21:51 | #39

    Very good discussion here.

    As far as elderly drivers, I think most people could rattle off a few names of their elderly family and friends they think shouldn’t be driving. I certainly can.

    Someone mentioned about doctors keeping the elderly in their routine, well I can tell you that’s been my experience. My gut instinct is that something should be done, but I’ll go with the evidence. If the evidence is mixed I don’t see it as a big drama trailing a system for a period. Give it 6 years and see what the feeling is like in the community, what the data shows etc.

    Essentially the topic, once you think about it, is really about the safety and efficiency of urban transport systems as a whole. Sure we can think about getting the elderly off the road. But if we simply got more of anyone off the road and on their bikes, on the train etc. than that would probably result in a similar safety improvement from a whole-of-system perspective.

    Things that haven’t been mentioned re: bikes
    1) connecting off-road cycle paths so they can be used to actually get somewhere
    2) removing ‘street clutter’ from cycle paths – yellow ‘banana bars’, other dividers etc.
    3) improved standard road designs that provide adequate parking, cycling, merging etc space. The Dutch have been testing these designs for decades, we can just borrow their latest and greatest. I do know there are good people in the Qld government pushing for this, but it’s like steering the Titanic with a paddle-pop stick.
    4) Tougher driving licence requirements (already happening)
    5) More heavily subsidised public transport (I’ve never understood the rationale behind raising revenues from fares rather than say, land taxes)
    6) no helmet law

  40. Crocodile
    December 5th, 2013 at 22:23 | #40

    John Brookes :Indeed, driverless cars will be the public transport of the future. You’ll call one on the internet, and it will come to you, and after its dropped you off, it will move onto its next job. No more looking for parking spots.

    Perhaps by then the “beam me up Scotty” device will have been invented.

  41. Donald Oats
    December 6th, 2013 at 10:12 | #41

    And this morning, walking along the footpath through the CBD, I watched at three separate intersections, the crazy drivers who pile into the intersection, just hoping the traffic ahead is going to clear before the lights go red—then get stranded across the intersection, thus blocking an entire major road’s worth of traffic for another entire cycle of the lights. Funnily enough, this then provokes the next set of drivers to pile into the intersection and to hope that those ahead will get moving before the lights change on them…

    Idiots. Anyone can get caught out on a rare occasion; however, basic polite driving (and safe driving, and legal driving, etc) would suggest that if you are stopped before an intersection, and the road on the other side is jam packed full of cars, you wait until there is an adequate gap for you to drive up into: it isn’t as if anyone can cut in front and steal a gap that suddenly appears, is it?

  42. Fran Barlow
    December 6th, 2013 at 10:35 | #42

    @Donald Oats

    it isn’t as if anyone can cut in front and steal a gap that suddenly appears, is it?

    Not so. Sitting at the corner of Rawson St and Carlingford Rd Epping in the peak you see a lot of people take the gap you leave.

    I agree it’s stupid and discourteous. Again though, this is where in-vehicle cameras and a suitable app could really help. People won’t do bad things nearly as often if they feel they are going to be held accountable.

  43. Donald Oats
    December 6th, 2013 at 10:51 | #43

    @Fran Barlow
    True, but I’m talking about traffic going from stationary at the lights, to straight into an intersection that is blocked with stationary traffic on the opposite side. If there is no gap on the other side of the intersection when you decide to enter the intersection, driving straight ahead, then you are assuming that a gap will appear only through the traffic ahead starting to move forwards from a stationary position. I guess I wasn’t too clear about that. Maybe this driving into the intersection, stopping and waiting for the traffic ahead to start moving, is an Adelaide phenomenon, but my impression is that it is on the increase during peak hour periods. The last case I saw this morning was an articulated bus blocking virtually every lane across the intersection for the whole light cycle. Good way to end up with a case of road rage.

  44. Hal9000
    December 6th, 2013 at 11:03 | #44

    Regarding helmets – the same arguments apply to motor vehicle occupants as apply to cyclists, viz.: helmets save lives and head injuries. You don’t see motor racing drivers without a helmet, for good reason.

    I have no doubt that wearing a (then non-compulsory) helmet saved my life in a bad bicycle bingle in 1985, and I have never been out cycling without one since. I cycle every working day. However, the major safety risk to helmet-wearing me comes from careless and agressive drivers for whom my life is a far lesser concern than the minor inconvenience involved in safe overtaking. This will only be remedied, as numerous examples around the world have shown, when bicycles form a significant part of normal traffic flows. Anything that hinders this development, such as compulsory helmet laws, prolongs and exacerbates the danger faced by all cyclists.

    If however the coercive powers of the state are going to be deployed against non-helmet wearing cyclists, they should also be deployed against non-helmet wearing motor vehicle occupants and for the same reason. Of course, this is not going to happen, for the rubbish reason that motor vehicle drivers and passengers are addicted to convenience and care little about safety except where it does not inconvenience them. A

    nother major safety improvement for motor vehicles that is not going to happen, for the same reason, would be to replace lap-sash seat belts with full racing harness seat belts.

    Motorists who are keen for cyclists to be forced to wear helmets should admit that safety does not occupy poll position among their reasons.

  45. Fran Barlow
    December 6th, 2013 at 11:16 | #45

    @Donald Oats

    Oh yes, I know what you’re saying but I’ve seen people break from the lane next to me (or from the cross street) and fill the space. Once a handful of people start that contest, all you get is gridlock and then people fancy that they might as well join in an iteration of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

  46. may
    December 6th, 2013 at 13:09 | #46

    no one is paying attention to the fact there are two categories of bike riders.

    category 1)
    people who use their bike to get around,go shopping etc, who have a basket on the front and a rack on the back.
    they go pretty slow and generally avoid riding in traffic,so bike paths and foot paths are the go, which means interaction with other users and saying hullo to pram pushers, gophers, joggers, walkers etc.
    the vibe is quite cheery.
    the bikes are generally not expensive and the lack of licence fees,parking fees,petrol and other running costs and the cost of licences are zero is a big point in favour.

    the lancearmstrongarrogantupmarketlogolycraillmanneredcorporatespeedfreakingidividualandpackridingmenaces
    (i say,steady on ,that’s a bit harsh.(sorry))

    the ones who ride in traffic and sometimes also do it for sport.

    going slow and being out of reach of traffic means if you can off,at worst you get a bruise and pick up the shopping that has spilled all over the place and then get back on,swearing.

    riding in traffic means if you are collected by any of your fellow road users you are either seriously crunched or dead meat and wearing a helmet is nothing but a fashion accessory.

    the use

  47. Jim Birch
    December 6th, 2013 at 13:24 | #47

    I remember in some sci-fi book someone being aghast about manual driving on a public road. I look forward to robotic cars. The road system of our age will be looked back on like open sewers.

    In the meantime, I’d like to see a tougher stance taken on aggressive or foolhardy driving. It would be very easy to require anyone who is convicted of a driving offence or accumulates a chunk of points to have an online tracking device in their car. It would also be possible to have graded sanctions, selectively ban them from driving, say on one day per week, or after curfew time. This has an incentive effect that could produce self-monitoring without the big bang of total loss of mobility or unemployment.

  48. Tim Macknay
    December 6th, 2013 at 13:39 | #48

    Plenty of cyclists fall in both categories, may.

    The “arrogant” stuff about lycra wearers is mostly just irrational prejudice. There’s always the occasional dickhead, but that is just as true of “slow” riders, pedestrians and motorists as it is of the lycra brigade.

    In my experience. the lycra brigade are generally more conscious of safety, road and path rules and signalling than non-lycra cyclists. As a bicycle commuter who rides predominantly on a dual-use path rather than the road, I find the biggest hazard is cyclists who don’t use lights, signal, wear visible clothing or stop at intersections. Often these are not lycra-wearers.

  49. Fran Barlow
    December 6th, 2013 at 13:54 | #49

    For the record, I’m yet to meet or hear of a discourteous cyclist from within my circle of acquaintances. I often walk dogs around dusk and the bikes can startle the dogs if they come up quickly behind us but there’s never been a problem.

  50. Sam
    December 6th, 2013 at 18:51 | #50

    FTR, I think in-vehicle cameras and compulsory gps tracking sound pretty dystopian.

    Also, as a non-lycra wearing cyclist, I completely agree with May’s assessment of the distinction between the two subtypes. Lycra people are very particular about rigidly adhering to rules for the sake of rules, but show no actual courtesy towards other road users, or any interest in genuinely contributing to road safety.

  51. Doug
    December 6th, 2013 at 19:00 | #51

    Categories 1 and 2, to the extent that those categories are meaningful can be found intermixed on the bike paths around Canberra – i.e.. categories don’t mean much. You can’t tell about behaviour towards pedestrians with whom they share the pats from their outfits

  52. Donald Oats
    December 6th, 2013 at 19:01 | #52

    I’ve seen cyclists do some stupid things, some of them old enough to know better. Generally though, I’d say that the most important thing is whether an individual, whether driving a car or riding a bike, is capable of following the road rules, obeying the law, and being reasonable in their treatment of other road-users’ rights, including their right to a decent safety buffer in front of them when travelling at speed. Stealing the space in front of rapidly moving traffic is just wrong on so many levels…

  53. Tim Macknay
    December 6th, 2013 at 19:16 | #53


    Lycra people are very particular about rigidly adhering to rules for the sake of rules, but show no actual courtesy towards other road users, or any interest in genuinely contributing to road safety.

    Like I said, irrational prejudice. 😉

  54. CJ
    December 6th, 2013 at 19:26 | #54

    The biggest hazard I face on bike paths is pedestrians who wear headphones and can’t hear my bell, stare at their iPhones and meander randomly, and change direction suddenly without checking behind themselves. Still, I make an effort not to collide with them. When I ride in a marked bike lane on the road, most drivers are courteous and careful, and they pay attention to other road users.

  55. December 6th, 2013 at 21:41 | #55

    I’m both sorts of cyclist. Sometimes lycra clad in a bunch going as fast as possible, and sometimes a slow commuter. And sometimes a fast commuter. I cycled to school, to uni, to work, and round the Swan River and up in the Perth Hills for fun.

    As a cyclist, I choose my roads. Great Eastern Highway was a definite no-no before it was upgraded. Most of the time Canning Hwy is out of the question, but Stirling Hwy is not so bad. The cycle paths from Cottesloe to the city are great, as is the cycle path heading out along the Midland train line.

    But right now there are so many cyclists in Perth that the most dangerous place is the cycle path from the Narrows Bridge to Canning Bridge around 7am. Most bikes are heading into the city, and they’ll often be overtaking. If you are heading away from the city, you take your life in your hands. For this section of path, a dual carriageway with a median strip is needed.

    Bicycles used to be pretty rare on cycle paths, but I’ve learned that I now have to give hand signals when turning, and be very careful around blind corners. It wasn’t necessary 20 years ago, because there were so few bikes. If cycle volumes increase even more, then rules may have to be enforced. However there is something self regulating about bike riding – when you do it wrong, you get hurt.

    And don’t generalise about cyclists. We come in all types, just like car drivers. There are dickheads among us, but most of us just want to live and let live.

  56. plaasmatron
    December 6th, 2013 at 22:23 | #56

    Having ridden in Sydney traffic for over 20 years I have many thoughts on this interesting discussion. The one that always riles me is the argument that cyclists should pay a registration because drivers pay for the roads with their taxes. This is wrong to the tune of $17 billion in the other direction. In fact the first tared roads in the UK were introduced after lobbying by cyclist groups. I have lived in Tokyo where the registration system works well, but that is Tokyo where other things work well that we can’t understand because we don’t adhere to the system the way they do.

    IMHO, many of the problems of this world are related to the excessive use of private cars. They are a massive false economy.

    I agree with the comments that in 50 years people will look back and say, “what? you drove yourself around? how primitive!”

    “the open sewers of our time”. I will remember that one!

  57. Sam
    December 6th, 2013 at 23:01 | #57

    @Tim Macknay
    Not at all irrational, and I certainly never pre-judged anyone. To the contrary, I started out enthusiastic about the lycra phenomenon, reasoning that the more general interest in cycling there was, the better. I have only come to dislike them after seeing them in action over many years.

    I’ll give you just two examples. They’re very particular about never going through red lights, even when the way is obviously clear of traffic. There’s no safety benefit to this; once you’ve determined that there is absolutely no danger (and no cops), the rational thing to do is to proceed cautiously through. It’s an unwritten rule followed by almost all commuters. Nothing so exemplifies the intellectual bankruptcy of rules-based utilitarianism than a self-important overweight middle aged man waiting for the lights to change on a deserted midnight street.

    On the other hand, lycra people generally make no attempt to stick to the left near the gutter. They take up a whole lane, forcing cars to go around or stick behind them at 35km/h. Granted it’s their legal right to do this, but it’s dangerous and/or annoying for drivers.

    If they showed less slavish formal care for rules, and more common sense and genuine regard for other people, their reputation might improve.

  58. stockingrate
    December 6th, 2013 at 23:46 | #58

    I like the “progressive” approach of Finland, higher fines for higher incomes. Though this depends on good information and might not be worthwhile in Australia.

    Two sets of people who should not have licences are those who corruptly purchase and those who corruptly sell licenses. It is reported as being quite common in South Australia and I do not have confidence (on zero knowledge admittedly) that it is uncommon elsewhere in Australia.

  59. December 7th, 2013 at 01:22 | #59


    Again, Sam, not all lycra cyclists are the same. Our group generally ride 2 abreast, but we call “car” and go single file when a car approaches from behind. Unless there are 2 lanes, in which case the car can just take the other lane.

    And we might stick closer to the edge of the road if it wasn’t the worst bit, where all the broken glass lives, and tree roots make dangerous bumps. One of our crew who made a habit of riding close to the curb in the end came a cropper and badly damaged his shoulder after he hit some debris. Its safer to sit out a bit wider.

  60. jrkrideau
    December 7th, 2013 at 06:56 | #60

    @Tim Macknay
    I believe this is known as a fashion accessory in the USA. However I believe some riders prefer a Colt.

  61. Moz of Yarramulla
    December 7th, 2013 at 08:08 | #61

    I find it interesting that some of the strongest opinions on “how cyclists should behave” come from people who claim to know nothing about the style of cycling they’re opining about.

    Feminists call this “mansplaining”, since when they encounter it it’s usually a man explaining how feminism should work for his convenience. As a rule, if you have someone who’s been doing something for 10 years, it’s likely that your thoughts on first encountering that activity are less informed.

    The “take the lane” question is one I encounter twice every day. I cross the Cooks River at Wardell Road, on a bridge just barely wide enough to count as two lanes. If I crawl along the extreme left of my lane almost every time at least one motorist squeezes past despite the double white lines. And they know, and I know, that if there is an oncoming car, they will jump back into “my” lane and apologise for any injury later. So there’s really no risk… to them. If, instead, I take the lane, very few motorists will try to pass. They may, and some do, sit a metre behind me leaning on the horn and screaming abuse, but they will only pass if they can see a clear space. And on that bridge, they can’t until nearly the end.

    So, people with opinions, am I wrong to take the lane? Should I instead be required to suffer serious injury for the momentary convenience of one or two motorists? Your call.

  62. Sam
    December 7th, 2013 at 08:44 | #62

    @Moz of Yarramulla
    If this was directed at me, it was certainly misdirected. I have been riding a bike for the last 25 of my 30 years, almost every day on busy roads, and I currently own the exact style of road bike used by the “lycra people” I am complaining about.

    @John Brookes
    My point is not that one should never “take the lane.” Sometimes doing so is the safest and best option. It’s a case by case thing, but a person who does it all the time even when the left side of the road is fine, is being annoying.

  63. Donald Oats
    December 7th, 2013 at 10:11 | #63

    I used to cycle along several stretches of road at close to car speed—car speed would have been above the actual speed limit—and my favourite near miss occurred on such an occasion. A lady was determined to overtake me. I was in the left side, i.e. almost in the gutter, of the left lane, and she sped up to overtake me in the same lane. Because of my speed, it took her quite a while to get past, which in itself was no concern to me: car drivers overtake me all the time.

    Once she got past me, however, she then flicks on the rear indicator for a left turn as she hits the brakes in order to pull into a small shopping centre’s car park entrance. As soon as she overtook me, I saw the indicator and hit the skids; I actually ended up having to put my hand on her car and to enter the carpark with her, barely avoiding a nasty collision. Of course, I was the one who copped the abuse.

    What on Earth is going through the mind of someone who feels it necessary to overtake a cyclist just before pulling into a shopping centre anyway? Lack of thought? Lack of awareness at how fast a bike can move on a good stretch of road? What was wrong with just slowing down behind me by a few kilometres per hour, then leisurely slowing and turning into the carpark? Before someone berates me for riding at speed, I’ll point out it was (legal and) safe—until the driver in the same lane created the danger out of thin air.

  64. Megan
    December 7th, 2013 at 10:14 | #64

    @Moz of Yarramulla

    They may, and some do, sit a metre behind me leaning on the horn and screaming abuse

    Interesting that very few drivers will do that behind a semi.

  65. Martin W
    December 7th, 2013 at 12:16 | #65

    No you are not wrong to take the lane. I cycle every day, unless there is a monsoon trough or cyclone alert going down. I prefer and choose the road over the bike path every time, for me it is safer given that I prefer to ride at speed, from 25 to 50 kph. A decent bike, well maintained with good brakes, the right hi vis gear and a helmet is a neccessity.

  66. may
    December 7th, 2013 at 12:33 | #66

    Martin W :@Moz.No you are not wrong to take the lane. I cycle every day, unless there is a monsoon trough or cyclone alert going down. I prefer and choose the road over the bike path every time, for me it is safer given that I prefer to ride at speed, from 25 to 50 kph. A decent bike, well maintained with good brakes, the right hi vis gear and a helmet is a neccessity.

    you can be in the right but one little mistake and it won’t make a blind bit of difference.

  67. may
    December 7th, 2013 at 12:55 | #67

    irrational prdjudice?

    foul mouthed abuse from speedsters on public bike paths is a given.

    maybe it is just a few, who knows?

    being knocked off ones bike ( from behind in my case) and copping foul mouthed abuse is not as rare as one would think.

    maybe it is just a few, who knows?

    finding oneself in a line of crawling traffic (on a hill)behind a three abreast “peloton” ain’t
    just sour grapes from the envious.

    maybe it is just a few, who knows?

    ill feeling engendered will not be dispelled by PR or special pleading.
    maybe in their own interest, the ones who do not carry on as above let it be known that copping the flak is not on.
    and those who do carry on like that need to pull their head in.

    is that irrational?

  68. sunshine
    December 7th, 2013 at 14:28 | #68

    I ride everyday in Melb and drive about once a week . Most cyclists pay rego on a car or two. I dont always follow the road rules when I ride .I find it hard not to cheat knowing that a large proportion of car (and especially truck) drivers think bikes shouldnt be allowed on the road and treat me accordingly. Its hard to give respect when you dont get much. My life is at risk -their car only risks minor damage .If I dont take up a full lane thru a a narrow bit that is an invitation for someone to make a risky overtaking move -if I do take up the lane I feel like a nuisance.

    Car culture is a good metaphor for modern life – its independent and individualistic in a mass consumption sort of way, and, aggressive, selfish ,and impatient.

    I thought the roads were set up badly for bikes in Melb until I saw Sydney -its pathetic there. Lord Mayor Clover Moore talked of doing something about it and the next days front page was “Clovers War on Cars” -,ha ,ha .

  69. Hal9000
    December 7th, 2013 at 15:16 | #69

    Moz, Donald, Megan…

    Some drivers, as Prof Q pointed out in the OP, simply should not be on the road. Short of Tim Macknay’s proposal (I’d go a Browning Hi-Power btw), the law should help to redress the imbalance of power by strict liability and reversed onus of proof provisions where a cyclist is injured or killed. The law recognises power imbalance in criminal cases, where it counts as circumstances of aggravation for sentencing, such as when a child or a frail person is violently assaulted by a fit adult.

    The recent Queensland case where a cyclist was killed by a cement truck driver – who then got off because the prosecution could not prove the (experienced) cyclist did not ride under his wheels – is a case in point. Reversed onus of proof and strict liability provisions would have seen the truck driver suitably punished and the grieving family compensated. The spot where the young man was killed is only 100m or so from an intersection where traffic invariably has to stop for a red light. There was no reason to overtake, other than to express contempt. As it is, the message from the legal system is that motorists can kill cyclists with impunity.

  70. Jim Rose
    December 7th, 2013 at 15:17 | #70

    Norway has the strictest drink driving laws in Europe.
    • The maximum blood alcohol content is equal to a small glass of a weak drink and heavy punishments with few second chances.
    • Driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable by at least 1 day in jail, a heavy fine and the loss of the driver’s license for a year.

    far fewer drink and drive in norway.

  71. Tim Macknay
    December 7th, 2013 at 23:31 | #71

    Sam, I’ll give you a hint why it’s obviously irrational – your repeated use of variations of the pronoun “them”. The generalisation itself is irrational. Your personal irritation at some Lycra-clad cyclists who apparently stop at red lights is also irrational – I’d go so far as to call it ridiculous. Seriously – it pisses you off that people stop at red lights? Honestly, if something like that pisses you off, I’d gently suggest a program of meditation, or at least an anger management course.

  72. Tim Macknay
    December 7th, 2013 at 23:45 | #72

    Classifying cyclists into two “types” and then attributing all manner of bad behaviour exclusively to one “type” is undoubtedly irrational. It requires selectively ignoring all bad behaviour from the preferred “type” and from other road or path users, and selectively ignoring all inoffensive, normal and courteous behaviour from the detested “type”. “Irrational prejudice” is perhaps the most succinct and accurate way to describe it. It’s the equivalent of assuming that all Aboriginal people are drunks.

  73. Tim Macknay
    December 7th, 2013 at 23:53 | #73

    BTW jrkrideau and Hal9000, the (semi) joke about the Glock 9mm was Hermit’s, not mine. I just endorsed the sentiment.

  74. Sam
    December 8th, 2013 at 09:06 | #74

    Tim Macknay :
    The generalisation itself is irrational…. Classifying cyclists into two “types” and then attributing all manner of bad behaviour exclusively to one “type” is undoubtedly irrational.

    I’ve often heard statements like this. I couldn’t disagree more. Generalisation is a wonderfully rational mental tendency. If group A tends to do action X more often than group B, there is probably some underlying cause which applies to A but not B. It doesn’t have to be total, but to outright ignore the frequency differences and actively discard data seems to me to be deeply irrational. It would be like saying that since alcoholics occur in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities to some extent, alcoholism is no more of a problem in one than the other.

    May and I aren’t saying every single Lycra cyclist is a terrible person (correct me if I’m wrong there May, I don’t want to put words in your mouth). We’re saying there’s a general tendency for Lycras to be more discourteous than others, and we’re saying our opinion is based on personal experience.

    As for the traffic light thing, you can’t take that one part of my comment in isolation. I was using that case to contrast another; Slavish obedience to a situationally irrelevant rule (and I’ll add a fair bit of personal abuse towards others who take a more acts-based utilitarian approach), vs standing on their legal rights in spite of the increased danger and annoyance.

  75. Ernestine Gross
    December 8th, 2013 at 09:23 | #75

    I have only one little suggestion for who should be licensed to use the road. It concerns motor cyclists. Their licence should prohibit the wearing of black or dark jackets and helmets and require them to wear a bright orange or yellow jackets and helmets. Bright colours would give car drivers a better chance of seeing a swerving motor cyclist in the rear vision mirror, particularly on a rainy day.

    And a suggestion for bicycle riders. Please do have a reflector at the rear of the vehicle when riding at dask or at night.

  76. Julie Thomas
    December 8th, 2013 at 09:43 | #76

    @Tim Macknay

    There is an argument that ‘prejudices’ can actually be ‘rational’ or perhaps ‘effecient’ in terms of cognitive processing time and effort. And thinking apparently uses up lots of energy. So using prejudices as a heuristic is a quick and dirty way of assessing people on the basis of prior ‘knowledge’ that has created a ‘reputation’ for a particular group of people and so we can predict how they are likely to behave.

    I got over my irrational prejudice against lycra wearing cyclists before I even knew I was able to have one. When I was doing my PhD very early this century, we had a new post-doc come to our regional university from a very cosmopolitan part of the world and even way back then he wore lycra! He must have imported his gear because 10 years ago I’m sure no shop in town sold that sort of stuff.

    It was a shock for the traditionalists in the town. Good grief a man who rode a push bike right across the town and then carried his bike up to the 5th floor and then went running at lunch time! He even roller bladed to work a couple of times.

    I had never met anyone like him before – and he probably hadn’t met anyone like me either – but he turned out to be ok.

  77. December 8th, 2013 at 17:49 | #77

    The advent of driverless cars, regulated by an AI grid road traffic control, give this discussion of road civil rights & duties a naive & threadbare air.

    Pr Qs censorious authoritarianism (which I officially sympathise with although sneakingly despise) will be implemented by techno-instrumental, rather than socio-institutional, means. Robot cars are the ultimate in courteous drivers, respectful of authority and would never hurt a fly.

    Moreover the robotic suppression of human vehicular whimsically will occur long before another generation of nanny-statism can effect the necessary feminization of road cultural attitudes. So at least we will be spared an endless bout of finger-wagging by the kill-joys. not that joyfull killers deserve our sympathy.

    Although the coming of, what I call, “The End of Economics”* means that the notion of a daily commute to a “job”, whether by driven or driverless cars, also seems quaint and old-fashioned.

    * Paper delivered to Humanity+ Singularity Conference Bejing 27 July 2013

  78. Chris Lloyd
    December 8th, 2013 at 22:43 | #78

    This blog was reasonably thoughtful and scholarly until you pulled this crap out of nowhere: “60/50 speed limits for suburban streets and sub-arterial roads respectively to 50/40.” Where did this come from JQ? Why not 40/30, 30/20?? Please don’t tell me you are hostage to this odious “target zero” nonsense.

    Every single day, thousands of us get in cars, voluntarily and rationally risking our own lives because we value the convenience higher than the small risk of death. I vote for higher speed limits. It is not a moral issue. It is a trade off. But JQ has “zero tolerance” for this.

  79. December 9th, 2013 at 01:23 | #79

    @Moz of Yarramulla

    I heartily agree. There are times that cyclists need to take the decisions out of motorists hands. I do that in roundabouts. The key is being decisive. Some drivers might not like it, but its just better to force them to do the sensible thing. But you need to be assertive. Indicate that you are pulling out, and do it.

    A funny thing I’ve noticed about drivers is that if you turn your head and look at them when they are behind you, their behaviour suddenly changes. As if seeing your face makes them suddenly realise that you are human.

    @Donald Oats

    There is a class of drivers who believe that they must overtake cyclists, no matter what the circumstances. However I’ve gotten so used to the “pass and then turn left” that it hardly registers when I suddenly find myself taking an enforced left turn. Mind you, probably not at the speed you were doing!

  80. December 9th, 2013 at 01:32 | #80

    @Chris Lloyd

    Sure its a trade off. But in any trade off you decide where you draw the line. JQ just wants it drawn in a different place to you. That doesn’t make him wrong.

  81. Fran Barlow
    December 9th, 2013 at 08:28 | #81

    @Chris Lloyd

    John Brookes is rioght when he says:

    It’s a trade off. But in any trade off you decide where you draw the line. JQ just wants it drawn in a different place to you. That doesn’t make him wrong.

    Your attempt to defeat his claim through invocation of reductio ad absurdum was silly.

    Personally, if I could have in-vehicle monitoring and communication (see above) I’d be happy with variable speed limits so that on a fine day on the motorway in light traffic with a vehicle being driven by someone with an excellent driving record (near perfect or perfect compliance) there might be no speed limit at all — or perhaps one of about 160km/h (with the proviso that if you are involved in a collision regardless of fault you lose the privilege).

    In some conditions I’d lower the speed limit to 50km/h where it is 60km/h or even 80km/h but really, IMO, the general speed limits as they stand are a function of the inability to secure compliance and thus to pick a happy medium that seems reasonable to most and yet minimises risk. Some drivers need lower speed limits (we already do this with provisional drivers) . There are some drivers who should not be permitted to drive over 60km/h in any conditions. This latter is one of the range of lesser sanctions than suspension/DQ that we could consider in cases where people had shown low level non-compliance — (e.g. being warned but not infringed for going over the speed limit 3 times in a year) or for being infringed and losing more than half of one’s points but not all of them.

  82. Jim Birch
    December 9th, 2013 at 08:54 | #82

    Every single day, thousands of us get in cars, voluntarily and rationally risking our own lives because we value the convenience higher than the small risk of death.

    That’s not how it works. People do what is normalised and permissible. The bulk of normal human activity arises from habits. Then they make up hubristic stories about rational choices. People don’t do a cost benefit calculation. The psychological evidence suggest that people don’t and couldn’t make a reliable calculation like this.

    There are big differences in the road habits between individuals. I’ve noticed big differences between inner and outer areas of Australian cities and big differences between cities. There are massive differences between countries. If the law changes a chunk of the population will whinge about it but people adjust and a new normality evolves. People are wired to notice the impact of change more absolute effects and to notice the immediate impacts on themselves more than the effect on general welfare.

    Reduced travel time is a great reason for higher speed limits. Death, injury and associated costs are great reasons for lower speed limits. It would be smarter to do a real analysis of these effects across the population rather than rely on individual intuitions of risk calculations.

  83. Michael
    December 9th, 2013 at 09:24 | #83

    @Chris Lloyd
    How about a trade off like this – you can go as fast as you want on a motorbike, sans helmet and protective leathers – and if you crash you can take care of yourself without the help of paramedics. That way you can take a bit more the responsibility for your behaviour. The problem with cars is the risk and the other externalities are placed on other road users.
    Or perhaps you can buy your own race track and drive as fast as you want.

  84. Donald Oats
    December 9th, 2013 at 11:29 | #84

    @Chris Lloyd
    The trade-off also involves the risk you pose to other road users, whenever you go for a drive. That includes pedestrians and people crossing the road, cyclists, scooter riders, and right up to articulated semi-trailers.

    We know the physics of an impact upon someone else, given their general category (i.e. pedestrian, car driver, truck driver), more or less, and from that, we can establish likely damage and injury from a variety of collisions at given speeds. From that, and from knowledge of basic reaction times, a reasonable guess at a safe speed limit can be made. Near schools and areas where children are present in an exuberant abundance, it makes sense to have relatively low speed limits.

    Personal freedom trades off against your responsibility for others, as is always the case in a fair society. Personally, I’ve always viewed driving as a privilege rather than as a right.

  85. Fran Barlow
    December 9th, 2013 at 11:46 | #85

    @Donald Oats

    Personal freedom trades off against your responsibility for others, as is always the case in a fair society. Personally, I’ve always viewed driving as a privilege rather than as a right.

    Exactly. Hardly anyone who gets into a car reckons seriously with the prospect of having a collision, much less injuring anyone. Those who do have been surprised and I don’t doubt their regret, but it would be far better if they could bring that sentiment to their driving practice before they harmed others rather than seeing driving as some sort of expression of their identity — and thus a kind of human right.

    If you want to do that sort of driving, get trained and hire a space on a suitable race track where you can express yourself in concert with others of similar disposition who are willing to take the risks you are taking. At least in such circumstances, all the traffic will be heading in the same direction and there should be an absence of pedestrians, cyclists and non-car-related debris on the road. You can hope that everyone will be sober, skilled, and wearing apt safety equipment.

  86. Socrates
    December 9th, 2013 at 12:37 | #86

    Economics treats the decision to drive and cause congestion as a classic case of market failure, where the marginal driver fails to consider adequately the impact of their driving on congestion for everyone else. It is a fair bet they equally fail to give adequate weight to the risk they pose to others.

    I think this logic can even be applied to car type purchase choice. Some cars, notably large heavy 4WDs, do far more damage to other vehicles than average sedans, or even large sedans. Their “aggressivity” in terms of risk of injuring others, is rated at more than 50% worse than for light vehicles. They are the weapon of choice if you want to kill your fellow motorist. See Ch 5.2 of http://www.monash.edu.au/miri/research/reports/muarc222.pdf

    As for cyclists, another reason for different safety outcomes lies in the nature of the infrastructure. I do not assume that Danish or Dutch motorists are any more caring than we are, but the physical separation of Dutch and Danish roads from cycle paths gives their motorists little opportunity to kill their cyclists. So cycling there is much safer. No wonder they are less worried about helmet laws. No wonder so many more people cycle there. It is safe and easy.

  87. Fran Barlow
    December 9th, 2013 at 12:45 | #87


    One might also add that those large 4WDs and “people movers” are also much better at obscuring the vision of drivers immediately adjacent to them. The driver of said vehicle may see more, but that’s at the expense of everyone near them making critical judgements about how to drive. In effect, they demand proportionally more road space than that implied by the dimensions/mass of the vehicle.

  88. may
    December 9th, 2013 at 13:05 | #88

    @Tim Macknay

    please see comment 17.

    “just a few”

  89. Tim Macknay
    December 9th, 2013 at 13:20 | #89

    So you admit that your “two categories” stuff at comment 46 was nonsense, then.

  90. may
    December 9th, 2013 at 14:04 | #90


  91. Paul Norton
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:19 | #91

    I’ve missed this discussion because I’ve been away on a cycling trip!

    One point that needs to be made about the one-metre rule is that in Queensland the government prohibits cycling on the very roads where this rule is most easily implemented, most notable the Bruce Highway between Bald Hills and Cooroy, where the alternatives are all roads on which the one-metre rule can’t practicably be observed.

  92. Chris Lloyd
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:24 | #92

    Donald @ 32. Regarding your argument about pedestrians and physics, I am reminded of a Vicroads advert where we see a pedestrian steps in front of a vehicle at 60km and gets creamed. They then rewind and she gets hit a 55km and is hardly hurt. The message for me was: why the hell doesn’t this idiot woman look before she steps in front of me? Do I really have to drive at a snail’s pace because some suicidal maniac might throw herself in front of me? Don’t cars have right of way on streets? If the car were driving on the footpath that would be another matter.

    and you also say “Personal freedom trades off against your responsibility for others”. This is pretty trite. What speed limit does it imply? And your comment led Fran onto a tangent about speed racing. Who is absurdly reducting now Fran?

  93. Paul Norton
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:25 | #93

    As for registration for cyclists, if registration charges were:

    (a) set at a level commensurate with recovering the marginal costs of provision of cycling facilities, the impacts of cycling on road wear and tear, etc.; and

    (b) calibrated to factor in the positive externalities of cycling;

    we would almost certainly find the road and transport authorities paying money to cyclists rather than the other way around.

  94. Chris Lloyd
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:25 | #94

    Glad to see a thread develop from my earlier comment, even though not a single commenter here seems to worry about speed limit deflation.

    John and Fran. I was saying that JQ provided no evidence for a reduction in speed limits to 50/40 and that it did not follow from previous arguments. None of the other commenters (Michael,Don) have presented evidence that limits should be lowered. They have just pointed out some of the well known costs of faster driving. Absent a quantitative analysis of the delicate trade-offs involved in their arguments, I think I am justified in reductio absurdum.

    In the past, traffic planners optimised journey times with death risk being a constraint. Have a look at the Vicroads website. The Target Zero philosophy makes the objective of road management zero deaths. This again justified reductio absurdum.

  95. Chris Lloyd
    December 9th, 2013 at 18:29 | #95

    Jim @ 30:

    If the law changes a chunk of the population will whinge about it but people adjust and a new normality evolves.

    This sounds straight out of Orwell. Well this slowly boiling frog notices the impost, every time I hit a ridiculous 70km speed limit on an open country road and know there could be a radar being the next bush.

    Since the post was largely about cycling which is a city activity, commenters have ignored country speed limits which are systematically reducing. All Victorian 90km and 70km limits will, in the next two years, change to 80km and 60km. There is much less chance of injuring others on a country road. Most accidents are single vehicle. Any quantitative assessment of the tradeoff would imply much higher limits in the country than currently pertain.

  96. Hal9000
    December 9th, 2013 at 19:20 | #96

    @Chris Lloyd
    The death/serious injury statistics for pedestrians and cyclists show a curve where at 60km/h death or serious injury is almost certain and at 20km/h the likelihood is very low. A 30km/h limit on roads where there are a significant number of cyclists would see motor vehicles and bicycles travelling at the same speed and would more than halve the likelihood of death/serious injury over the 40km/h limit now in force around schools and in the Brisbane CBD. I haven’t got the time to do the research again, but I teach a course where the students had to do an assignment on this issue about 3 years ago. The statistics were unequivocal – there is a significant drop in deaths/serious injuries between 60km/h and 50km/h, a large drop between 50km/h and 40km/h to the point where the likelihood of death/serious injury is merely 50/50, and a huge drop between 40km/h and 30km/h. This is all well known to governments. Those actually concerned about reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths, such as many in Europe, have acted appropriately.

  97. Donald Oats
    December 9th, 2013 at 19:28 | #97

    @Chris Lloyd
    I would agree with you on the means of conveying the message about the potential damage of an impact as rather ill-conceived, for the reason you mention. On the other hand, the sword cuts both ways: what is the upper limit speed at which drivers should be allowed to drive along busy areas of town, areas with a lot of different kinds of road users, including people needing to cross over? 10kph? 40kph? 60kph? 100kph? 200kph? 300kph? 0.999c?

    As others have said, we might all have different ideas as to what is a good trade-off, but that doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up and say ditch speed limits entirely. Besides, in answer to your question as to how to figure out a reasonable speed limit, I have already provided in my previous response a list of factors that should be taken into account, and you simply reiterate the question. If you want me to give you a mathematical algorithm which gives an unambiguous and optimal answer, well that is both risible and impossible. You highlight that speed limits have decreased in some areas: perhaps that is because of updated knowledge on one or more factors that need to be taken into account; I don’t personally know the answer one way or the other on that. You bring up country driving, in your response (to my response), but I wasn’t addressing that in the first place.

    Still, if you have a better idea on how to deal with the issue of setting speed limits, perhaps how to avoid the need for speed limits altogether, then I’m listening.

  98. Julie Thomas
    December 10th, 2013 at 07:02 | #98

    @Chris Lloyd

    That is wrong about driving in the country. There just are not that many police people out here in the country and everyone knows where they park the van.

    Just drive past the police station and see if the 2 cars are there and then no worries. Although in some rural areas you need to watch out for cows but where I live the farmers are very responsible and keep their cows under control and so are we non-farmers. We let somebody know when a cow is on the road.

    But as we become more citified, with more people moving out here, the cyclists have become more numerous and the roads just do not accommodate the 1 metre rule. If one comes up behind a cyclist on a part of the road where there is only bitumen wide enough for a car, one just has to brake and slow down behind the cyclist. I really worry for them; it looks so dangerous.

    And about pedestrians; there are silly old people who somehow need to be protected from their lack of awareness of the danger of the road. I do know someone who killed an old man who just stepped out in front of him. No fault on his part but still he would have preferred to have been driving more slowly and not have had to deal with the – irrational for sure – guilt and grief he felt.

  99. Jim Birch
    December 11th, 2013 at 11:05 | #99

    @Chris Lloyd

    This sounds straight out of Orwell.

    Perhaps it might sound Orwellian but that’s how things work to a large degree. Social norms make the world intelligible and workable. Choose your own speed limit is gone. At one time drunk driving was the norm. At one time driving without seat belts was the norm. At one time public executions were normal. Things change, positively and negatively, and people’s ideas of what is normal change. Acceptable levels of road trauma are quite different in different countries, as are attitudes to enforcement. (The past is a strange country.)

    Well this slowly boiling frog notices the impost, every time I hit a ridiculous 70km speed limit on an open country road and know there could be a radar being the next bush.

    Your open country road might be someone else’s township. They might not want to dice with death coming out their front drive. By historical accident, a lot of people find they live on what have become highways. I don’t think the road management authorities actually place 70 kph zones randomly.

    I’m in fully favour of analysis and rational choices but I doubt the destination-focussed driver is actually making a full appraisal that takes all risks, costs and stakeholders into account. They just want to get there. Road death and debilitating trauma have significant social and financial costs. Try six months in a rehab ward – either as a client or a provider – and your weightings might change.

    My recommendation would be to use your car’s cruise control: less stress, less fines. Less angst about road authorities. It worked for me.

  100. Jim Rose
    December 11th, 2013 at 15:58 | #100

    What about skateboarders on busy inner city streets weaving between buses? Especially those listening to iPods!

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