Friday, December 04, 2009

Bicycles: The free ride must end

Bicycles are very efficient personal transport but they're also extremely dangerous, hence compulsory helmet laws. Bicycles are especially dangerous for children, hundreds of whom are surely injured in crashes weekly - my oldest boy once snapped (and I mean SNAPPED) both bones in his lower leg while riding. He wasn't hit by a car or even another bike, he simply miscalculated (as adolescent males frequently do), lost control and mangled his leg. He was treated at a public hospital so tax-payers footed what must have been a big bill. The ongoing medical costs for treating bicycle accident victims must be huge.

According to ABC News only the most serious 2 percent of bicycling injuries are reflected in official accident statistics, with bicycle accidents accounting for between 10 - 20 percent of all road trauma. With the release of these numbers comes a call for dedicated bicycle roads:

I'm talking about solid infrastructure. I would much rather see segregation of cyclists from motor vehicles. I think that that'd be in the interests of both of them.

Segregating cars and bicycles would reduce injuries but would also be very expensive. And it's doubtful that segregation would greatly reduce the total number of bicycle related injuries - since bicycle accidents occur at relatively slow speeds this tells me riding is inherently dangerous.

There is no mention of bicyclists paying for improved infrastructure so it's safe to assume tax-payers will again get slugged. Why do bicyclists get a free ride, so to speak? Driving isn't free: there's the license, yearly vehicle registration, fuel taxes and possibly parking charges and the occasional fine. It seems only fair that similar charges should apply to bicyclists but currently all one need do is buy a bicycle and a helmet and ride - the helmet is optional with many riders not bothering and police not bothering to enforce.

And why are cyclists allowed to flout road laws? Stop at a stop sign or indicate a turn? Never. It's not like cyclists are Hells Angels or anything but run afoul of a pack of fluoro-lycra sheathed pedalers and see what happens. Shouted abuse, shaking fists and one finger salutes will fill the air.

Then there are the death wish types who insist on riding in the confined space of dual carriageways during rush hour, greatly disrupting traffic flow . There are also the non-lycra types riding bicycles illegally-powered by cheap imported two-stroke motors, thus adding fire to the injury risk list.

It's about time the government intervened to get this bicycle madness under control: make riders obey the law and charge them for the privilege of using the roads. Exactly why the government hasn't tapped into this potentially huge source of cash is a mystery.

By the way, why are the Chinese abdandoning bicycles for cars while Australians are taking up cycling in record numbers?  I mean, don't the Chinese understand that bicycling is both environmentally friendly and fun?

Update: Just pushing a bicycle is dangerous:

A 44-year-old woman is being treated in hospital after falling over the edge of Darwin's Dripstone Cliffs this morning.

Superintendent Rob Farmer says the woman was heavily intoxicated and slipped while she was pushing her bicycle.

The alcohol might have played a minor role, however.


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