Driving negligently or drink driving in a motor vehicle can lead to harsh penalties, especially if someone is injured as a result.
But many cyclists may not be aware that they can also be liable for criminal charges and severe penalties if they are found to be riding their bicycles dangerously or while drunk.
Usually when we think about accidents involving cyclists, they are the ones being injured.
But with increasing numbers of cyclists choosing to commute to work, and the widespread use of shared cycle and pedestrian paths, other cyclists and pedestrians may now be more at risk of negligent bike riders.
What does the law say about cyclists?
There are a number of rules in place governing how cyclists should ride. Breaching these rules can come with penalties, including fines and even the possibility of prison sentences in some cases.
Many of the road rules for cyclists are the same Australia-wide, but NSW does have an additional stipulation that riders should not ride recklessly, furiously or negligently.
Much like reckless driving cases in motor vehicles, there are legal ramifications to riding dangerously on a bicycle, although the penalties are not as severe as for motor vehicles. If a cyclist is found guilty of riding recklessly, furiously or negligently, they could be liable for a fine of up to 20 penalty units.
Cyclists who are detected riding under the influence of alcohol can face severe penalties, from a fine up to a term in prison.
Riders who break the law by not obeying road rules like stop signs and traffic lights can also be given a traffic infringement notice. This could mean they face fines or may even have to go to court.
The laws governing cyclists are not as stringent or as clear as those which are applied to drivers of motor vehicles, who can have their licence taken away or even face a prison sentence for negligent driving which causes injury.
Should cyclists face the same laws as drivers?
Currently, because there is no system of bicycle registration or licensing, it is very difficult to penalise a rider for breaking the rules unless a police officer is on the spot and sees the breach occur.
Recently there have been a number of cases where pedestrians have been injured by cyclists and have incurred significant medical bills.
The publicity surrounding these cases has led to calls for stronger penalties for cyclists who are found to be riding negligently, as well as a system of mandatory third party insurance to be implemented.
Should it be the law for cyclists to have insurance?
As third party insurance isn’t mandatory for cyclists in the same way as for car drivers, it can be difficult for those injured by cyclists to get compensation and recoup the costs and loss of income that can result from injuries caused by a cyclist.
There have been calls for cyclists to have compulsory third party insurance in the same manner that car drivers have them, for the protection of other people.
Bringing in mandatory insurance for cyclists would mean that it would be an offence to ride without insurance, in the same way that it is currently against the law to drive a car without insurance.
Most cycling associations do encourage their members to take out insurance. All members of cycling association Bicycle NSW for example receive personal accident insurance and third party liability insurance with their membership. But those who are not members of these types of associations have no obligation to take out insurance, and could themselves be vulnerable to damage and injury, as well as potentially being liable for damages claims.
A case in point
Last year in the ACT, a cyclist was ordered to pay nearly $1.7 million in damages after the supreme court ruled that he had been riding negligently.
The cyclist had been riding with another person when his bicycle hit a piece of wood in the road, causing him to lose control and hit the other cyclist, which in turn led him to fall into the road where he was hit by a car.
The cyclist had insurance, but had he not had insurance as part of his membership of a cycling organisation, it would have been very difficult for the complainant to gain access to any financial compensation for his injuries.
The link between regulation and the law
It would be difficult to apply the same criminal laws to cyclists as to motor vehicles without some form of bicycle registration and licensing.
A system of third party insurance would also help by providing those who had been involved in an accident with a cyclist an avenue to seek compensation, and cyclists who were found to be riding negligently some protection from claims.