by Elliot Constable
Flashbacks of being hurled from his bicycle in peak hour traffic race through cyclist Mitchell Cope’s mind as he prepares himself for the high-intensity section of his morning commute. His left arm twitches, a subconscious reminder of an aggressive sideswipe from a motorist that left him with a shattered arm.
“The driver didn’t stop. In fact, hardly anybody even noticed,” Mitchell says.
According to a 2013 report by the Australian Bicycle Council, the number of cyclists has doubled in the last three years alone with, not surprisingly, a surge in the number of deaths, 14 of those occurring in NSW, the highest toll since 2007.
Following a fatal collision between a bus and a male cyclist in Neutral Bay earlier this year, Duncan Gay, the NSW Minister for Roads and Freight, told 2UE that he was “increasingly persuaded” towards the introduction of a licensing system for cyclists to ensure riders’ safety.
However, Phil Latz, Director of Bicycling Australia, strongly opposes the idea. “The licensing of cyclists is a red herring for the issue of safety. It would be impossible to regulate and would be sending the public all the wrong messages,” he says.
Constable Sam Thompson, from the NSW Police, believes the licensing of cyclists is “an impractical means of regulation” and that “cyclists have as much right to be on the roads as cars do as long as they follow the same rules”.
Many motorists don’t understand the road rules when it comes to cyclists and their ignorance can cause them to drive recklessly, according to Phil Latz.
Mr Latz, who has been an active cyclist for over 40 years, says aggression and intolerance directed towards cyclists is common and the worst offenders are more often than not “tradies in utes, young male P platers or executives in Mercs”.
Mayuri Patel, a manager in customer services at the NRMA, respects the fact that people are using bikes as opposed to cars but says “they should have their own lane as opposed to sharing ours as it makes me uncomfortable having to overtake them”. She says she was not aware that a cyclist was entitled to one car space on the road. “I just assumed that we couldn’t get too close to them.”
According to Mr Latz, the conflict between cyclists and motorists seems to be fuelled by a level of ignorance and frustration. But while the reckless driving continues, Mitchell Cope refuses to be bullied off the roads and continues to demand respect for cyclists.