We might not have a Bat-Signal to shine into the night sky, but it’s comforting to know the law is putting an increased focus on bringing vile criminals to justice.
The NSW Police Force conducted a one-day operation this week, aimed at cracking down on one of the biggest threats to the citizens of Sydney.
You could be forgiven for thinking this meant police were kicking down the doors of makeshift ice labs or working overtime to close unsolved cold cases.
No, they were performing a blitz on cyclists and pedestrians in the inner-city.
These reckless criminals are so problematic a number of officers from the Traffic and Highway Patrol — along with Surry Hills, Sydney City, Redfern, Leichhardt, Newtown, and Harbour side Local Area Commands — united for “Operation Pedro 5” on Tuesday.
News.com.au has tried to find out the exact number of police used in this very serious crackdown, but is waiting for a reply.
This makes you wonder just how many police resources were used to focus on those highly dangerous outlaw bicycle riders and pedestrians, most likely commuting to their jobs.
According to the NSW Police, the infringements were aimed at “educating riders and promoting awareness within the Sydney CBD and surroundings suburbs”.
So what did the crackdown achieve?
There were 238 infringements and 53 cautions/warnings issued, with cyclists targeted for disobeying traffic lights, riding on the footpath and not wearing helmets.
There was one more serious case of a 42-year-old man charged with assaulting police and not wearing a bicycle helmet.
Chief executive officer of advocacy group Bicycle NSW Ray Rice suggested if education and awareness was the goal of this operation, there was no need for all of the fines.
“Bicycle NSW believes that compliance of the road rules is best achieved through education and publicity. We would much rather see more effort put into these components,” he told news.com.au.
A further breakdown of the infringements issued during the one-day operation are as follows:
• Cyclists disobey traffic control lights — 24
• Cyclists ride on footpath — 28
• Cyclists not wear helmets — 103
• Cyclists other offences — 38
• Pedestrian offences — 43
Again, if education and awareness was really the key message here, 291 warnings could have been issued.
Assistant Commissioner John Hartley remains vocal, suggesting the operation was about educating the public and raising awareness of all road users, and saving lives.
“So far this year, two cyclists have died on our roads, compared with three at the same time last year,” he said.
“Still, that means we’ve lost two lives too many. This operation, and others we will conduct, will continue to focus on safety for everyone.”
When Bicycle NSW used its Facebook page to advise riders the blitz would be carried out, a number of users suggested the operation was a waste of tax payer money and police were going after the easy target to raise revenue.
“Honestly? So when will the operation focusing on the driver behaviour in relation to cyclists happen? This unequal operation is a disgrace and wastes tax payer money. (Roads Minister Duncan) Gay and his Govt continue to ignore the voice and safety of cyclists,” wrote one user.
“Because, when the world is measured in the metrics of motoring, one is convinced that cycling actually presents a genuine menace to others and must be controlled. Forget that travelling by human-powered and space-saving mobility more than adequately meets the social contract of our current context,” wrote another.
Mr Rice shared similar sentiments, highlighting the heavy increase to fines for cyclists introduced in March this year.
“The 56 per cent increase in fine numbers combined with the massive increases in some penalties is really concerning,” he said.
“Again, we would much rather see better education and publicity so that all road users share the road safely.”
Let’s delve a little deeper into the infringements, firstly looking at helmet laws.
The fine for that offence jumped from $71 to $319, meaning the 104 fines issued generated a whopping $33,175.
Before you get too outraged, let’s remember this is about education and saving lives.
As you can see by the map above, Australia is one of the few countries in the world to have mandatory helmet dictatorships.
However, there is strong evidence to suggest these laws do very little to protect riders from serious head injuries.
Most famously, leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh last year claimed he does not wear a helmet because he has witnessed they do very little to protect cyclists.
“I ride a bike and I never wear a helmet. In the countries where bike helmets are compulsory there has been no reduction in bike injuries whatsoever,” he toldThe Telegraph.
“I see lots of people in bike accidents and these flimsy little helmets don’t help.”
Another study from the University of Bath found helmet wearing actually increased risk taking and sensation seeking, which is the opposite of what Operation Pedro wanted to achieve.
Lead author Ian Walker said his research used a computer simulation, in which half of the participants wore a bicycle helmet and half wore a baseball cap.
“The helmet could make zero difference to the outcome, but people wearing one seemed to take more risks in what was essentially a gambling task,” he wrote.
“Replicated in real-life settings, this could mean that people using protective equipment might take risks against which that protective equipment cannot reasonably be expected to help.”
Another Canadian-based study examining data from jurisdictions with mandatory helmet laws and those without discovered no connection between the laws and bike-related hospitalisation rates.
It suggested, policymakers wanting to improve safety should focus on infrastructure.
“Bicycling routes designed to be physically separated from traffic or along quiet streets fit both these criteria and are associated with lower relative risks of injury,” they wrote.
The next infringement criteria we can look at is the 28 fines for cyclists riding on the footpath.
Locating the actual fine for this offence was hard, but it’s $106, which means a sneaky $2968 will be collected.
It should be noted that NSW and Victoria are the only states that do not allow riding on the footpath with care.
The law stipulates that children under 12 years of age can ride on a footpath and an adult rider supervising a cyclist under 12 can also ride with the young cyclist on the footpath.
Mr Rice questioned if this was a responsible law.
“At present in NSW, 12-year-old kids are forced out onto to the road. Is that safe?” he asked.
“Allowing riders to use the footpaths would encourage less confident riders onto their bikes, and to get to their destinations safely.”
This isn’t even to mention the fact there are no bikeways for cyclists to use for their entire commute.
If they cannot ride on the footpath and have to use a busy road, will police enforce the rule saying motorists must keep a distance of 1m?
Additionally is this distance even possible on some roads?
With the fine for running a red light or stop sign jumping from $71 to $425, it is now the equivalent to the penalty given to car drivers for the same offence.
Again, if this operation was about safety and not the $10,200 from fines, why is the government not attempting to trial a number of different options.
Instead of performing a blitz on cyclists running red lights, the government could implement a law used in some American states called the Idaho stop.
Essentially, the law means cyclists have to apply common sense when approaching a red light or stop sign.
If other vehicles or pedestrians are using the crossing or if they do not have a clear view of the intersection, they must come to a complete stop and give way.
Alternatively, if the road is clear, they are free to cautiously continue through the intersection after performing what is known as a “rolling stop”.
A report from public health researcher Jason Meggs found injuries resulting from bicycle accidents dropped with the introduction of the law.
News.com.au has attempted to seek clarification on the 38 “other cycling offences” and 43 “pedestrian offences”, but is yet to receive a reply.
One can only assume the pedestrians were those pesky jaywalkers and the other cycling offences were $108 fines for people not having a bell on their bike.
Then again, maybe we should all be a little less cynical because the blitz was “educating riders and promoting awareness”. *insert sarcastic winking emoji*