COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Strong debate is continuing among cycling campaigners and people who cycle over the planned on-the-spot fines for cycling offences in Ireland. Details are due to be released today and as always the devil is in the detail, but there’s compelling reasons why on-the-spot fines are a good idea.
First, it’s worth repeating that there is no new offences to be created for cycling a bicycle — all of the offences covered to be covered by the fines are already against the law. Breaking red lights is already against the law and so is cycling on footpaths (even if the minister is not include the latter as a finable offence, as he said yesterday).
The minister is clearly wrong about one thing: He said yesterday on radio that is was tens of people being brought up to court on cycling offences. It’s actually in the thousands. Over 3,200 people were summoned to Irish courts for cycling road traffic offences between 2003 and 2013.
In 2013, over 350 were brought to court for cycling by red lights in Dublin alone. There are a number of cases where people have received court fines in excess of €300. The accused and the Garda who stopped them have to attend court. The process of bringing people to court drains resources from the Courts, and the Gardai when they could be more effective on the street.
If the current system with no on-the-spot fines and only court fines was allowed to continue it would keep the waste of Garda and court resources in place and people breaking red lights on bikes would contuine to be fined €300 or more for their illegal behavior. Meanwhile motorists in a car or large truck breaking a red light may get away with just an €80. The plan for on-the-spot fines for cycling offences fixes the issue of unfairness and a waste of resources.
People on bikes who break the law are also a source of danger for others on bikes. Red light runners often block and sometimes crash into other bicycles. Those cycling on the wrong side of the road try to play chicken with you when you’re carrying children on your bike — they nearly expect you to move out into traffic to let them use the cycle lane in the wrong direction and so on.
If — as media reports yeasterday indicated — the level of fine has come down from €50 to €40, that has to be welcomed. We think €30-€35 would be even fairer. If you can’t afford it, the fine might seem excessive but it’s much better than a €300 court fine.
How the fines will be imposed is another matter and it might be become an issue of concern. For example, there are now well documented cases of police in New York blocking cycle lanes with their cars and then ticketing cyclists for not using the cycle lane, which is blocked by a police car. Using a cycle lane is no longer a requirement (expect contra-flow cycle lanes and cycle lanes in pedestrian areas), but any system of fines may be open to abuses and there is not an openness around enforcement guideline in Ireland, so we don’t know if there are safeguards in place to advoid misuse of fines. There will be a general and genral fineable offence covering any acts which endanger others or yourself — that might be too broad.
Others say that condutions are not correct for fines — roads are too unsafe or that contra-flow cycling should be allowed. However, taking contra-flow as an example, fines will more likely get out cities and towns more legal contra-flow cycling because people who currently break the law will be turned into individual campainers. At the moment they are allowed to break the law and so they have no incentive to push for law changes or new contra-flow cycle lanes or paths.
Fines are needed to correct current unfairness in the court fine system and the waste of resources which goes along with that. We are supportive of the idea of fines, we are however unsure if there are enough safeguards in place to make sure the fines and systems around them are fair and balance.