Cycling campaigners have criticised the Road Safety Authority over not following its own Rules of the Road when dealing with an advertisement showing a motorist illegally entering a cycle lane.
The Rules of the Road state: “No vehicle (other than a motorised wheelchair) may cross into or over a mandatory cycle track unless the driver is entering or leaving a place or a side road.” A mandatory cycle track is the legal name for a cycle lane or cycle path which is marked with a solid white line.
Complainants have also criticised that the approach by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in contrast to the authority’s reaction to another advert of a family cycling in a park without helmets, which effectively led to the advert’s banning.
The RSA do not rule on adverts, but in relation to road safety they are consulted by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI). The ASAI, which is an non-statutory advertising complaints body, says that it has to rely on the RSA as it does not have expertise in the area of road safety and it cannot decide what is legal or not.
A number of members of the public complained to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland about a KBC Bank advertisement which depicts a taxi driving into a cycle lane on the busy Ranelagh Road in Dublin. The advert aired on TV and is still available on YouTube.
The complaints from the public were based around the fact that the Rules of the Road and the relevant 1997 regulations outlaws motorists from entering such cycle lanes, expect for accessing a place such as a driveway or side road. The complaints stretched back to 2012, but in at least one case the ASAI left a year’s gap before responding to a complainant.
IrishCycle.com has seen correspondence between the ASAI and complainants which includes the RSA’s advice on the issue.
The section of the correspondents quoting the RSA states: “We have sought legal advice on the use of cycle lanes by both cyclists and other road users. Please see below the response we have received. A cycle track is defined in the 1997 Regulations as:” [section 12 of relevant regulations quoted in full]… “It is our legal advice that unless the taxi is stopped for an extended period and causing an obstruction it is difficult to see how any prosecution could arise.”
According to the RSA’s website, driving on a cycle track comes with a fine of €60 to €90 and 1 penalty point, or 3 points if contested and convicted in court.
The section of the 1997 road traffic regulations which deals with motorists driving in cycle lanes states: “(5)(a) A mechanically propelled vehicle, other than a mechanically propelled wheelchair, shall not be driven along or across a cycle track on the right hand edge of which traffic sign number RRM 022 [solid white line] has been provided, save for the purposes of access to or egress from a place adjacent to the cycle track or from a roadway to such a place. (b) A reference in paragraph (a) to driving along or across a cycle track shall include a reference to driving wholly or partly along or across a cycle track.”
We asked the RSA to confirm what advice they had given the ASAI — the RSA first replied to IrishCycle.com only to say that they quoted the relevent legistation “to clarify the legality of what was depicted in the advert”.
Asked if the RSA had given advice that there is a low chance of prosecution for driving into a cycle track, Brian Farrell, communications manager at the RSA, said: “That is correct… our legal advice that that unless the taxi is stopped for an extended period and causing an obstruction it is difficult to see how any prosecution could arise.”
It then took four separate requests before the RSA responded as to the contradiction between its advice and the clear-cut nature of the Rules of the Road and the legislation which backs it.
At that point, Farrell said: “We gave the ASAI the regulations which clearly highlight the legal situation – so you are completely incorrect in your selective interpretation below. Whether you or like it or not there is a legal ambiguity around whether the law could be effectively enforced in such a situation as depicted in the advert. We are not saying that is right or wrong, they are just the facts, which we gave to the ASAI. They made the decision not us.”
The Department of Transport — the body which enacts and oversees road traffic law — said that there is no legal ambiguity over the law and confirmed that it is an offence for a motorist to enter a cycle track.
“There is no legal ambiguity with regards to this offence. The enforcement of the Regulations is a matter for An Garda Siochana. The Department is not aware of the legal advice given to the RSA,” said Helen O Reilly at the Road Safety Division of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
She added: “As you correctly state below, it is an offence to drive a vehicle in a cycle track marked with a solid white line, as per the Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997 (S.I. 182 of 1997), as amended by article 16(e) of the Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) (Amendment) (No. 2 ) Regulations 2012 (S.I. 332 of 2012).”
Mike McKillen of the cycling campaign umbrella group Cyclists.ie, said: “I am at a loss to understand the RSA’s approach to this advert and its advice to the ASAI. I was around when the legislature drafted and then passed the ‘mandatory use’ cycle track SI. I was involved in lobbying for this protection.”
He added: “The legislative intent was to permit road authorities to create a safe reservoir for cyclists where riders could feel safe and comfortable in the clear understanding that motorised vehicles were excluded from crossing the continuous white line delineating and marking this infrastructure save in an emergency and to enter/exit premises, ie in contrast to the cycle lane delineated by a broken white line. That means no parking, waiting or standing by vehicles in such tracks with solid white lines. Unless in an emergency.”
McKillen said: “The intent could not be clearer – no ifs, buts or ands.”
“If the RSA has legal opinion — and legal opinions differ, let’s not forget — then it has a duty to appraise the Department of Transport about an alternative interpretation. Has it done so?”
He said the Gardai need to be more proactive in keeping cycle lanes clear of cars driving in or parking in cycle lanes. He said a lack of enforcement is “why taxi drivers assume that they can pull into such tracks at will, stand in them while waiting for a pre-booked fare to appear, etc. It is why goods vehicles drivers assume that they can park up in these tracks willy-nilly.”
McKillen said: “If we are to attain the NCPF [National Cycle Policy] goal of 10% of everyday trips made by bike by 2020 then there has to be a paradigm-shift in how we managed traffic. The RSA and the Garda have a case to answer. Are they managing road safety using a windscreen-view of the road and traffic or are they genuinely going to deal with the real safety needs of cyclists?”
“This country has to de-carbonise the transport system due to greenhouse gas emissions and climate-change imperatives. The car cannot be king any longer,” he added.
Up to the time of publishing this article, the RSA would not reveal the source of its claimed “legal advice” which contradicts both its own Rules of the Road and Department of Transport.
IrishCycle.com has held off publiching this article a number of times to give the RSA a number of opportunities to respond to the issues. After continued delays in responding from the RSA, this website logged a joint Freedom of Information and Access to Information on the Environment request for the source of the claimed legal advice.
Shortly after the request was sent, the Brian Farrell, said he was following up on the issue. Farrell said last Tuesday: “The colleague I need to speak to on this is not in the office at the moment.” However, when it was asked last Thursday if the colleague would be returning this week, he then said that the RSA would only be dealing with the issue within the process of the FOI request.
Cycling campaigners have said that if such advice existed last year that the RSA should have informed the Department of Transport last year.
Complainants to the KBC advert, made a comparison the banning of a newspaper advert for Flora which was printed in the Irish Daily Mail. It depicted a family cycling without helmets in what appears to be a relaxed and quiet park setting, which the RSA took issue with because it contradicts its policy on helmet promotion.
Unlike the law regarding no driving in mandatory cycle lanes, there is no helmet law in Ireland. At least two complaints we know of took issue with the RSA and the ASAI for acting stronger on the subjective issue of helmets, while not acting on what the Department of Transport has confirmed is illegal driving.
The RSA detailed its reasoning for helmet promotion (an approach which is disputed by campaigners, academics and Europe’s top cycling country), but it did not comment on the question asked about its contrary approaches to its own policy and the law.
The RSA was also keen to highlight its other work in road safety, Farrell said: “Don’t forget to highlight the fact that the RSA has prioritised cycle safety above all other road safety issues for the last number of years. This includes the production and airing of a 60 second advert focusing on cycle safety and in particular the need for drivers to take extra care when sharing the road with cyclists. We have been very clear on the fact that cyclists are entitled to road space as much as cars, vans, goods vehicles or indeed any other vehicle on the road.”
The RSA also said: “We have also publicly called for more reduced speed limits, in particular 30km limits in our towns and cities.” However, as we reported recently, Freedom of Information requests by campaigners have shown that the RSA failed to act on its 2010 plan to work with councils for lower speed limits, and that lower speed limits of 30km/h was only been mentioned once in the last 10 years in correspondence from the Department of Transport to the RSA.