Just days before tragically losing his life after being hit by a car near his Sunshine Coast home, cycling safety advocate Cameron Frewer wrote this long and heartfelt open letter.
Bicycling Australia have been in close contact with Mr Frewer’s heartbroken wife Catherine and Anne Savage, CEO of Bicycle Queensland, over recent days. Catherine has decided to release his letter, and has vowed with Bicycle Queensland to continue fighting for the safety of cyclists on Australian roads.
An Open Letter to Hon Mark Ryan, Hon Mark Bailey, Hon Jarrod Bleijie, Commissioner Ian Stewart, CEO Bicycle Queensland Anne Savage, Board of We Ride Australia, Bicycling Australia, Amy Gillett Foundation, Bike SA, Bicycle NSW, Bicycle Victoria, Bicycle Network Australia, Cycling Australia, Westcycle, Pedal Power Canberra and other concerned parties.
I am writing this as an open letter, rather than just writing another email to an MP, the local Station Sargent, or some other person in a position of power.
Why? Because over the past 18 months, any letter I have sent to government departments either ends in silence, is handballed to someone else, or I receive the usual cut and paste reply telling me just how ‘committed’ the police/ government departments are towards my repeated concerns.
Much has been aired of late in regards to cycling safety around Australia. Even to the point of a recent petition by David Maywald of Dulwich Hill Cycling Club attempting to compel state police forces to actually start taking the close passing distance law seriously. There have also been a number of news items suggesting police are not supportive of the rule despite quotes like the following:
‘Queensland Police Service support the Section 144A Safe Distance Passing Rule. The QPS is committed to providing a safe environment for all road users and employ a variety of proactive and reactive strategies to target motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who engage in high risk road behaviour’
This quote (October 2018) was in response to a recent local news story that I featured in after talking about police attitudes towards rider safety and lack of enforcement of Section 144A on the Sunshine Coast. The story ran about a year after I first had suspicions that QPS were not supportive of cyclist entitlement to ride safely on the roads. It was this quote that has compelled me to detail my experiences with this ‘support’ that QPS apparently give towards people using bicycles in this state.
And who am I?
I am a father of three, a husband, someone who rides a bicycle on occasion, as well as a driver and motorcyclist. I work weekends, so I am not a cycling weekend warrior. I have joined no clubs, so I am not a bunch rider. I ride alone, and at times that avoid rush hour traffic. I stop at red lights, ride as far left as practicable, and do the best I can to keep myself safe on the roads. I don’t shave my legs, I use flashing front and rear lights and wear cycling gear that always carries a ‘safe passing’ message, and I do carry a few more kgs that I care to mention. I now mount forward and backward facing video cameras on my bike for every ride. I am hardly the ‘stereotypical’ lycra lout, but I do value my life and I value a law and process that encourages people to use bikes for whatever reason.
Bicycle Queensland have joined forces with other state cycling organisations to try to find a way forward in these matters as well, through driver education and engagement
Obviously, the QPS can’t be everywhere at all times. Cyclists who feel that their safety has been compromised by motorists not observing the MPDL are advised to submit a complaint and supporting evidence to the local station for consideration and action. But what happens then? We are advised that when submitting any evidence of close passing that there are two main criteria that need to be addressed: ‘Sufficiency of Evidence’ and Public Interest Test’
This is detailed here under 3.4.3 ‘.‘Factors to consider when deciding to prosecute (on page 8).
But what happens when you actually submit such complaints? Well, the first of these, ‘Sufficiency of Evidence’, is self explanatory. No one should submit a close pass that cannot be easily confirmed as being wholly in breach of the required distance. And all my evidence would pass the “pub test”; passes are close, dangerous and unnecessary. But to have ‘Sufficiency of my Evidence’ questioned by police is not unusual, and sometimes it’s just to be expected. So, unless I can gather enough evidence that a pass is measurable: use of road markings or lines, I (and many, many others) simply don’t bother bringing these forward.
But the second criterion, the (so-called) ‘Public Interest test’ is another thing entirely. And this is exactly the reason that leads me to showcase just some of the incidents that I have dealt with at the hands of QPS over a period of 18 months. One of the many factors that are listed in the ‘public interest test’ – as found in the police Operational Procedures hand book – is ‘Officers Discretion’. However, police are also required to look at each submission objectively and impartially. In the hand book. ‘impartiality’ is defined:
When officers are making a decision to prosecute they are not to be influenced by matters such as . . .
(ii) personal feelings concerning the offender or the victim; . . .
Unfortunately, it is clear from reading of my experiences in QLD that there are a large number of police who have the same views towards people riding bikes on public roads as you will find in the comments section on social media. They appear to be influenced by their personal feelings concerning the offender (fellow motorists), or the victim (nuisance cyclists). In other words, they do not (consciously, or perhaps, subconsciously) decide whether they prosecute or not, objectively and impartially. Moreover, these views and comments are also often signed off by Station Sergeants, are also excused by officers at Inspector level, and fly in the face of the supposed ‘supportive quotes’ that the police routinely run out when questioned about their role in education, and deterrents surrounding the safe passing rule.
The examples that follow include case numbers with direct quotes from officers, or feature in email correspondence in relation to my close passing submissions; I have linked video footage to each, and note the station which was tasked to the investigation.
They will make you wonder where the “officer’s discretion” lies in respect of a law that was promoted to help give VRUs (Vulnerable Road Users) the space they need in order to avoid being killed while cycling on roads, i.e., doing something that is ‘supposedly legal’.
These are not just ‘one-offs’ but an array of evidence showing just how much QPS ‘supports’ cycling on Queensland roads.
Video Ford Ranger “A magistrate would probably throw it out, looks like he did the best he could, he avoided a head on collision, how long did you expect him to sit behind you, I asked around and there is nothing I can do”
This matter was referred to Police Complaints where the two officers involved were cleared of unprofessional conduct. The matter failed and Police ‘discretion’ was used.(Documented)
QP1702157740 9th Dec 2017 No Infringement. Beerwah Police. Officer discretion
Forced to leave the roadway. Truck carrying valuable horses, driver had previous accident, oncoming car made it hard, driver did not know the rule, driver thought they gave enough room. “This is a dangerous road and the rider should exercise extreme caution”. (Documented)
QP1702275954. 22nd Dec 2017 No Infringement. Palmwoods Police. Officer discretion.
First reason given by Officer ‘Case Law’. Months later advised because not in list of ‘life threatening offences’. FOI request into investigation notes driver did not know the 4 year old law. (Documented)
QP1800192941 31st October 2017 No Infringement. Beerwah Police. Officer discretion
“Maybe the rider could use the footpath?, Maybe the rider should keep to bike lanes?, Maybe the rider could use roads with green paint?, Maybe the rider should choose an alternative form of transport?, The rider is not to be a hazard”
The police report mentions my other submissions and calls these ‘surrounding circumstances’
‘Surrounding circumstances’ was mentioned when giving their ‘discretion’
This was taken to police complaints in response to the Officers attitude and victim blaming. Report was tasked to Inspector John Van Egmond that found the Officer had acted professionally and had no case to answer. Video footage was deemed not acceptable to QPS by Snr Sgt David Bradley. (Documented)
QP1702275954 27th Dec 2018 No Infringement. Palmwoods Police. Officer discretion
The closest I have come to being hit. 80km/h zone. Still footage shows the wing mirror bends in due to wind deflecting off my hand. FOI into police report merely says, ‘Driver was cautioned in relation to this matter’ No further information was given.(Documented)
QP1800192941 20th Jan 2018 No Infringement. Beerwah Police. Officer discretion
“Looks like the driver has done the best he could” The officer had not spoken to the driver as could not id driver at the time. FOI into report says Officer DID speak with driver yet officer made no mention of this in any emails.(Documented)
QP1800192941 29th Jan 2018 No Infringement. Beerwah Police. Officer discretion
This matter was reinvestigated after I questioned what criteria the police used to determine passing distance. The response was one of,moving my position the trucks position and omitting my right side, removing truck mirrors which brought the pass just over the legal distance. From a start of 69cm. Less than 80cm of the minimum 150cm legal distance. A ‘full’ investigation that did not include speaking with me or confirming my bike measurements.
“On reviewing the footage and the ongoing offences reported by the complainant bicycle rider it is concerning that he feels the necessity to continue to ride on roads that are unsafe for bicycles and perhaps should consider his own safety if he feels in danger on these particular roads and move to safe roads with constructed bike lanes or much larger shoulders and open views”
“A 23 ton truck slamming its breaks (sic) on after coming around a corner with a bike rider on the roadway is not safe for any road user” (Documented)
QP1800628153 4th April 2018. No Infringement. Beerwah Police. Officer Discretion
Extremely close pass at speed. This road is a signed 70km/h zone.
Footage not admissible for Police Prosecutor Snr Sgt David Bradley. After being given this reason by the officer. He felt the need to add this ‘advice’,
“These roads were not designed for two vehicles, You could be charged for marking the road” (Which I did not in any way)
QP1800729556 20th April 2018. No Infringement. Beerwah Police. Officer Discretion
By far the most blatant refusal to look at this matter with anything but bias and prejudice.
This matter had been referred to Police ethics. Registered mail says letter and disc delivered on the 25th September 2018. As of completing this letter I have had no response to complaint.
“It’s hard to side with cyclists when they ride on narrow twisty roads, The fine is extreme, I am not going to slug a driver with a fine, I don’t agree with the law, You cyclists expect drivers to change lanes, What are the community expectations, The driver made an overt effort to pass at a safe distance, Expecting drivers to cross into the other lane is going to cause an accident’ I would not sleep at night after giving a driver an infringement’ Do you expect drivers to have a tape measure”? (Documented)
QP1800748077 23rd April 2018 Palmwoods Police. No Infringement. Officer Discretion
Complaint centered on a driver who not only changed lanes unnecessarily to intimidate, but also had a German Shepherd in the rear of a ute that barked loudly as he close passed. The driver looking directly at me. The driver was cautioned on close passing although this was not the complaint. After repeated requests for information as to why no infringement for intimidation or harassment had been issued. On the 17th July I was informed that because it was not under the ‘Life threatening Offences list’ It was deemed only worthy of a caution.
QP180130397216th July 2018 Caloundra Police. (As of 1st Nov 2018) Ignored despite emails to station requesting status.
QP180130399916th July 2018 Caloundra Police. (As of 1st Nov 2018) Ignored despite emails to station requesting status.
QP1801547555 27th July 2018 Beerwah Police. No Infringement. Officer Discretion.
Age of driver was a factor, she thought I was waving. Did not know the safe passing law.
QP180158838324th August 2018. Beerwah Police. Ongoing. Officer requested disc with footage on the 13th September 2018. As of 30th October and despite emails to officer and OIC Snr Sgt Tully Anderson I have had no response at all. In fact. Over the past 3-4 months I have had no response to any requests for information from the Officer in Charge at Beerwah Station.
QP1801785758 21st August 2018. Beerwah Police. No response from station. Ignored. (as of 1st Nov 2018)
QP1800783459 25th April 2018 (Anzac Day) Beerwah Police. No Infringement. Officer discretion. Despite the two owners admitting it was their car. Neither would admit to driving it. Police did not apply the law for owner onus. The reply I received after questioning owner onus and Section 55 compelling owners to release information on who was driving. ‘The matter has been finalized and there will be nothing further from me in relation to this matter’
4451946 8th December 2018. Beerwah Police. No Infringement. Officer discretion.
Owner would not say who was driving. Nothing police could do. “Because the owner does not know who was driving, there is nothing I can do”.
QP1801784377 21st August 2018. Beerwah Police. Removal truck on main road. I was on hard shoulder. Passenger screams out of window, driver uses horn and cuts into hard shoulder. Ignored.
QP1801857867 2nd October 2018. Kawana Police. No response as of 1st Nov 2018.
QP1801857827 6th October 2018. Palmwoods Police. No response as of 1st Nov 2018
There is no doubt there are a number of officers that can look at submissions with objectivity and within the letter and the spirit of the law. I have had 5 submissions result in infringement as was the purpose of the law. In none of these five had I been subjected to ridiculous deflection arguments, false equivalency or victim blaming. At no stage in these following submissions was I asked to ‘use safer roads’, ‘use a bike path’, ‘use a different mode of transport’ or any other reason for me to justify why I was using a public road with a ‘supposedly legal vehicle’
The question I often ask myself is, ‘Will bicycles ever be considered vehicles by those entrusted with upholding the states road laws?’ Or will the excuses for poor driving, victim blaming and irrelevant comments continue?
And more particularly, why are officers with little or no understanding of what it feels like to have a motor vehicle come within an arm’s length of you on a bicycle (often at high speeds) seen as qualified to make an important decision using their ‘discretion’?
Objectivity and impartiality, require the officer to be disposed to seeing a MPDL complaint from the perspective of the motorist and the cyclist equally.
It is beyond reasonable doubt that a majority of police are using their ‘discretion’ as a smoke screen for their own anti cyclist prejudice and ignorance of the very laws they are entrusted to uphold. Not just once, but many times over. Each of these submissions were tasked to different officers. This is then contained within the excuse, “Does not meet the Public Interest Test”
The main issues are.
- Officers own personal views of cyclists (everyone has a story) trumping the written law.
- The fact that Rule 144A DOES NOT fall into the list of ‘Life Threatening Offences’ which means more scope for an ‘Officer’s discretion’ to be used without any first hand personal experience on a bicycle.
- Owner onus seems to be largely ignored. It appears to be that there is no pressure from police to investigate and discover who was actually driving the vehicle at the time. Even when a submission DOES meet ‘Sufficiency of Evidence’
- Communication failure from lower ranked Officers to Station Sergeants who simply do not acknowledge any emails however simple the requests are.
- Is cycle camera footage admissible? I (along with many others) have been told by police that they will not accept camera footage as ‘compelling evidence’; yet there are five of my own cases where they have. In fact, recently a truck driver was infringed for close passing after another matter went to court. The footage WAS accepted by the police and courts (P18001836O3 Southport Magistrates Court 7 13/08/2018) The video was shown 20 times during the hearing.
There is little doubt I am now being ignored as a ‘pest’, or submitting very close overtaking in a frivolous manner (as noted in the ‘public interest test’ criteria in the police handbook). There is also no doubt I have submitted many close passing complaints over the past 18 months. This should illustrate just how much I feel this law is being ignored and also show how I view my safety as a legitimate road user. I am now at the stage where I am no longer following up every complaint. It is incredibly demoralizing and disheartening listening to such excuses from those that should be held to a higher standard by all members of the public.
Looking through the linked submissions and responses to those calls for help. You will understand that quotes like this from QPS (Serve with Honor) could be considered lip service:
Queensland Police Service support the Section 144A Safe Distance Passing Rule. The QPS is committed to providing a safe environment for all road users and employ a variety of proactive and reactive strategies to target motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who engage in high risk road behaviour’
In Conclusion, the above is clear indication that there is a very real need for
- Officer education through first hand experiences;
- An evaluation system that is considered fair and impartial to individuals, all involved and,
- Clarifies objective and impartial practice;
- Clarifies the required and acceptable treatment of offences; and,
- It is my hope that I can connect with all of you to help propel the message to the relevant authorities in each of your jurisdictions so that we can make a difference and our roads safe.
Without a strong and cohesive system that helps acknowledge vulnerable road users as such.
There is very little incentive for the average person to take up riding for whatever reason.
More people riding, more often will only be encouraged when those entrusted with upholding the laws start doing so.
I thank you for your time in reading of my experiences.