I’m seeking a law change to allow children under 14 years of age, and their accompanying adults, to cycle legally on the footpath. It also recommends that bells be mandatory for any bicycle used on footpaths or shared use paths. I’ve also requested that Seniors and other vulnerable persons be included. The petition will be tabled in parliament, then sent to a select committee who will request submissions.
The current law does not allow children to cycle legally on the footpath (unless they are delivering papers). It is generally accepted that police turn a blind eye to breaches unless a specific problem or complaint arises.
In Australia, most states allow children under the age of 12 years to cycle legally on the footpath. The following is an except from the NSW Road Rules:
Children under 12 years of age can ride on a footpath. An adult rider who is supervising a cyclist under 12 may also ride with the young cyclist on the footpath. Cyclists are allowed to ride on footpaths where indicated by signs.
In Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory it is legal for adults to ride a bicycle on the footpath. The Australian Bicycle Network are campaigning for the age limit to be raised to 16 in remaining states. Research shows students up to the age of 16 are much more likely to take risks which adults wouldn’t when riding on the roads, making footpaths the best place for younger riders.
“Their ability to assess risks on the road and their visual and perceptual skills aren’t fully developed, so allowing students to ride on footpaths – whether they’re doing it for the first time or they’ve done it before during their primary school years – means they can learn these skills in an environment with far less traffic.” Australia’s Bicycle Network
In Australia bells are mandatory on bicycles. This enables bicycle riders to courteously warn pedestrians of their approach.
Campaigns such as MovinMarch encourage children to use active transport to get to school. Ideally they would have access to dedicated infrastructure, but not every child can have a bike path leading seamlessly from their front door to their destination. In reality, for children who do cycle, most are using footpaths rather than cycling on road. They should be able to do so without breaking the law.
Allowing children to legally ride on the footpath will encourage riding by reducing perceived risk, as well as giving them access to pedestrian only routes (shortcuts). Research shows that teenagers who cycle make better drivers. Getting kids on their bikes is a win for health, congestion, environment and long term driver skills. And it is likely to help address the dramatic decline in children cycling to school:
In the late 1980s, 12 percent of primary school journeys and 19 percent of secondary school journeys were by bike, but by 2010–2014 this had fallen to 2 percent and 3 percent respectively. Source: NZTA 25 Years of Travel
What about safety?
Most crash studies focus on adults cycling on the road, so data is scant, but we do know that separating bike users from cars is a good thing overall. Although there is still potential for a cyclist to be injured by a motor vehicle whilst cycling on the footpath, the overall risk would be lower, as they are separated from the faster moving traffic.
Australian data from Queensland, based on cycling accident hospital admissions for kids under 14 in the 2005 – 2009 period showed that:
• A collision is three times more likely on the road than the footpath
• Two thirds of resuscitation cases (the most serious, after death) involved roads, and 75% of those involved motor vehicles
source: Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit response to Data Request Submitted to QISU’s Website. Reference # 1671
With regard to pedestrian safety:
“An Australian review of international evidence related to the safety of footpath cycling concluded that there is little evidence that footpath cycling contributes to serious injuries to pedestrians. Indeed, it may provide cyclists with an option to avoid collisions with motor vehicles. The challenge occurs when cyclists are riding on the footpath in the opposite direction to traffic and not being noticed by drivers when the cyclists leave the footpath to cross intersections. From a public health perspective, the opportunity to ride on the footpath may act to encourage cycling (particularly among new cyclists) because it is perceived to be less dangerous than riding on the road.“
In Queensland cycling on the footpath has been legal since 1993 for all age groups,
“There hasn’t been a high incidence of accidents or crashes between bikes and pedestrians,” and self-preservation plays a role: “Very often, the bike rider comes off second best”, Ben Wilson, CEO of Bicycle Queensland.
Fostering a culture of calm and tolerance, together with existing in-school cycle skills training, will help keep all footpath users safe. Bell use helps eliminate the surprise factor when approaching pedestrians from behind. Speed limits could also reduce potential for conflict and injury.
Driveway intersection collisions are a concern, especially where driveways have poor visibility. By increasing footpath use, the critical mass would require drivers to become more aware of footpath traffic when manoeuvring their vehicles. It would also give cyclists using footpaths legal protection to make complaints when motorists exiting driveways fail to give way.
“A driver entering or exiting a driveway must give way to a road user on a footpath, cycle path, or shared path” NZ Road Code.
All footpath users would also benefit from increased usage driving demand for good design, benefiting all users, as recommended by the NZTA:
“For all driveways crossing a footpath there should be a line of clear sight between pedestrians on the footpath and vehicles using the driveway so that collisions are avoided. The area occupied by the driveway should also be well defined so that pedestrians can anticipate vehicle paths across the footpath.”
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