I came across a welcome piece of news recently: about 600 cyclists have been brought to book for breaking the law – the law of the road, that is – in the six months from July to January.
It is not that you would wish a brush with the law on any fellow citizen, but anyone who regularly uses the roads, in our cities in particular, will know the hazard of ignorant and selfish people who flaunt the rules most of us respect.
Many of these people drive cars or jaywalk in front of you when you are spinning around the busy streets on your bike, and there are also some on bicycles. May all those who break lights or walk out in front of us feel seven curses upon their kind for seven years. Or better still, may they be pulled up by the guards, slapped with a fine and not do it again.
Seven cycling offences began attracting fixed-penalty fines from the end of July 2015. The offences include cycling without due consideration, cycling on a footpath, not having a light in the dark and breaking red lights. My colleague Conor Pope reported that, in the first six months of this new regime, 577 people were issued with fixed-charge notices.
What red light?
Running red lights was the most common infraction: 330 cyclists were fined for this. Seventy cyclists were found to be riding without due care and consideration and were fined €40. And 125 were penalised for not having a front or back light after dark. Fines that remain unpaid after 28 days rise to €60, and if this is not paid, cyclists can end up in court and face a €2,000 fine.
Anyway, the cycling lobby was soon out complaining about the rules of the road being enforced upon them and calling for motorists to be clamped down upon with more vigour.
Asked about the new figures, Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party said cyclists should not break the law but emphasised that the imposition of fines on 600 cyclists in six months was “on the high side”. I don’t think so, considering that, in Dublin alone, some 10,000 people cycle in to the city each morning. Cuffe added that he would like to see more focus on the “vast number of cars routinely breaking speed limits” and on the ignoramuses who park in cycle lanes.
Off the hook
It is an old and tired argument that insists, essentially, that cyclists should be let off the hook; and it is no surprise, as they have been let off the hook for some time.
The other argument – and Cuffe used it – is that “99 times out of 100, it is the cyclist who is going to be hurt in an accident”. This, of course, is true, and all the more reason for cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road, for their own safety as well as the safety and sanity of others.
There were more than 20,000 fixed-charge notices issued to speeding motorists over the same six-month period in which fewer than 600 cyclists were penalised.
Irish motorists have played a very large part in slashing road deaths over the past decade, helped by Garda enforcement and high-profile campaigns by the Road Safety Authority. The motoring lobby, in the shape of Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland, insists that reasonable enforcement of the rules of the road is welcomed by reasonable motorists, as it protects all road users, including drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
The cycling lobby, on the other hand, does itself no favours by engaging in tribal finger-pointing in an effort to excuse bad cycling behaviour.
Cuffe further said that gardaí were parking on footpaths outside shops. “Far too often they park in cycle lanes so they can nip into a local Centra. I don’t say that lightly. It is a fact, and they should be leading by example,” he said. Cuffe is also chairman of Dublin City Council’s transport committee.
Maybe it is time for leaders in the cycling lobby to lead by example too, and welcome the fact that the minority of law-breakers among them are – finally – being brought to book for their own safety and the safety of all road users.
Peace and harmony between the rest of us cyclist-motorist-pedestrian types will surely follow such a move.
- Michael Harding returns next week