Media: ABC News 24 Breakfast
Date: 7th May 2012
Headline: Drivers who open doors on cyclists facing increased fines: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-05-07/car-door-bikie-hits-increase-in-melbourne/3995038
Presenters: Karina Carvalho and Michael Rowland
Reporter: Simon Lauder
Cyclists in Melbourne would no doubt welcome the increased interest in dooring from the mainstream press, however they would have been left rather perplexed by this question from ABC News 24’s Simon Lauder to Bicycle Network Victoria spokesperson Garry Brennan:
Are you worried that by increasing [the penalty for dooring] it might be sending a message that it’s always the motorist’s fault?
The issue of fault was then discussed by the live news channel’s breakfast presenters, Karina Carvalho and Michael Rowland:
Rowland: Now just to even the ledger up a tiny wincy bit, did I hear [Brennan] say it’s always the motorist’s fault or is my hearing failing me?
Carvalho: No, we both heard that, and I would say that you would probably need to take that comment with a little bit of caution, because it’s not always the driver’s fault.
Rowland: …a sack of salt, not just a grain of salt, because without pillorying cyclists….I have seen my fair share of reckless cyclists so I think it’s very unfair to purely blame motorists 100% of the time.
Carvalho: …and more education and more awareness on both sides is what’s needed.
Pointing the finger at reckless cyclists is a regular tactic in trying to deflect motorist responsibility for car/bicycle collisions. No one denies that such cyclists exist and should be held accountable for their actions, but the issue of fault in a dooring incident is not debatable: it is always the motorist’s fault. This underpins the current proposal to increase penalties for car dooring, which aims to deter motorists from committing this serious offence.
Carvahlo’s suggestion that both sides need more education also needs to be examined. Cyclists are legally required,* and expected by motorists, to ride in poorly designed bike lanes that present a serious dooring risk, so they are regularly advised by cycling groups to stick to the right side of the lane away from the dooring zone. Motorists, on the other hand, are mostly uninformed about the serious danger they present when exiting a vehicle without checking behind them. Education and awareness are definitely required on both sides, but it’s on the motorist side where it’s seriously lacking. Hence the new penalties.
It would be possible to take these comments with (to borrow Rowland’s phrase) a sack of salt, but cyclists who have been involved in or witnessed a dooring incident would perhaps beg to disagree. Rowland and Carvalho were wrong on this issue and made light of an extremely serious concern for regular bike commuters.
*s247 of the Road Rules 2009 requires cyclists to stay in the bike lane ‘unless impracticable.’ Arguably this could extend to unsafe bike lanes, but it needs to be clarified.