Cycling and the Law

In an article published in the UNSW Law Journal, Dr Adam Webster (with Associate Professor Gabrielle Appleby, UNSW Law School) examine the way in which law regulates cycling. Click here to for a copy of the article.


There is a strong connection between those associated with the law and cycling. It is possible to find cycling enthusiasts in all three arms of government: former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s love of cycling is well documented; members of the Commonwealth Parliament who also share this passion for the sport have formed their own cycling group – Riders on the Hill; and cyclists can be found within the judiciary. A love of lycra exists more broadly within the legal profession. Presumably it is the love of the physical activity rather than the laws regulating it that attracts those associated with the law to cycling. This article examines the latter.

Few sports or recreational activities are regulated as directly and heavily by the law as cycling. Runners and swimmers go about their physical pursuits with relative legal freedom. It is the dual character of cycling as both a recreational activity and a form of transport undertaken, at least in part, on the road, that results in its greater legal regulation. The law regulates the conduct of cyclists by way of the rules of the road, and it sets standards for cycling products (such as bikes and helmets), as well as minimum requirements for the construction and maintenance of roads and paths along which cyclists travel.

Governments across Australia have undertaken to promote cycling as a desirable recreational activity and form of transport in recognition of its social, health (both physical and mental), environmental, economic and other community benefits. In doing so it has been necessary to address the inherent vulnerability of cyclists as road users. Governments have addressed this challenge through non-legal means, such as the building of dedicated cycle paths and public education campaigns, as well as legal means, including increased regulation of other road users who might pose a threat to cyclists. While the non-legal, infrastructure and culturally focused reforms are pivotal in promoting cycling safety, it is the legal means by which governments have addressed the issue of cyclists as vulnerable road users that is explored in detail in this article. Although, as we will demonstrate, the legal regulation and protection of cycling intersects in many ways with these other aspects of cycling protection and promotion.

Cyclists have different legal statuses, and thus rights and obligations, depending on where they ride. Predominantly through the Australian Road Rules, the law defines the rights and responsibilities of cyclists in different environments when they are either vulnerable or dangerous, and sometimes both. Cyclists are the primary users of a road or path only where there is a dedicated, separated cycle path. Cyclists ordinarily travel on roads designed primarily for motor vehicles. On roads, the cyclist is legally recognised as a legitimate road user, and their inherent vulnerability has meant that special laws have been passed to protect them in this environment. On shared paths, cyclists are legitimate users, but pedestrians are treated by the law as prioritised and vulnerable to cyclists. Footpaths are designed almost exclusively for pedestrians and cycling is highly regulated.

This article will examine in detail the impact of the law on cycling, considering the way in which the law regulates the user (that is, the cyclist or those whose conduct affects cyclists), the environment and the product. It will draw together the numerous and disparate areas of the law that regulate cycling. We demonstrate that there is a complex interrelationship between the legal treatment of cyclists and community treatment of them.

Click here to read the article.

This entry was posted in Government & Citizenship, Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.