There are some unbelievable comments in made in the “New Zealand Herald” about the recent tragic spate of fatal accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles. Some suggest licensing and WOFs for bicycles, as if that would make cycling less hazardous! Another comment says there is “no space for cyclists on the road – they need their own lane they are the biggest hazard, they put themselves in a lot of danger by being on the road.” The cyclists didn’t die on motorways that are restricted to motorised traffic – they were killed on ordinary roads.
Sadly, the comments above were representative of the tone of a significant proportion of the comments about the Herlad reports. Comments that illustrate what is wrong with the attitude of too many NZ motorists.
One comment from a man named Rhys has it right – NZ should use the Dutch approach.
The Dutch approach is twofold – it addresses the safety of the roads, and it addresses the attitudes and behaviour of motorists. The Netherlands invests heavily in bike lanes to reduce the likelihood of accidents. Real bike lanes – not a half-share of a footpath. These run parallel to all major roads, and cross the countryside.
But of course, even in the Netherlands, not all roads have bike lanes. Dutch road laws and behaviours are based on the premise that roads are for all users – pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. The only roads on which motor vehicles “rule” are motorways. On all other roads, cyclists and pedestrians rule. Motor vehicles use them as a convenience, not as an unfettered right. The legal onus is on the motorist to avoid collisions with people and cyclists, without exception.
That does not mean that there are no road rules for cyclists. Of course there are. Cyclists can be prosecuted for dangerous behaviour or for failing to give way, and police will act when cyclists break the rules. But being in the right does not prevent prosecution of a motorist who collides with a bicycle. It is extremely rare for a motorist to be cleared after a collision with a bicycle. If the motorist does not have incontrovertible proof that he/she could not have possibly avoided the accident, even when the cyclist was flagrantly in the wrong, the motorist will be found guilty, and the punishment is severe. The same goes for accidents with pedestrians. The result is that motorists are very careful of cyclists and pedestrians, very patient when cyclists are on the road (even two or three abreast), and very courteous toward pedestrians.
The Netherlands is the safest place in the world for a cyclist or pedestrian. And traffic still flows, quite happily.