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Opinion

As the road toll rises and road users are angered and frustrated by the actions of others, it’s time to calm down, take a deep breath and reacquaint ourselves with the road rules, says Morry Bailes.

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Call me a grumpy old man, or perhaps it is that inner-city urban design seems to have the hidden objective of slowing drivers as at least a secondary objective, but I am fast running out of patience with road users who flout the rules.

Worse still, I wonder whether they know them in the first place.

So… In the interest of public safety and sanity of my fellow motorists, here are a few of my pet hates; road offences committed by drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who either don’t know or don’t care.

Inevitably, tragically, some will lead to accidents, injury and death.

The Australian Road Rules first tried to loosely codify the road laws of the different states and territories in Australia in 1999.

They are model rules, and each state or territory adopts as much as it chooses.

So the first thing to know is that road rules frustratingly differ between Australian jurisdictions; from the Victorian (really Melbourne) bizarre ‘hook’ u-turn, to when you can legally turn left on a red light, to when it is lawful to cross a double line.

In New South Wales, for instance, you may cross a double line to leave a roadway. In South Australia, you may only do so on an unbroken single line.

In South Australia, the Australian Road Rules and our peculiar traffic rules are contained in the Road Traffic Act.

Let’s start with indication. In short, you must indicate if you intend to change direction. Yes, that includes pulling off the road into a kerb and stopping – SCREAM! How else is another motorist or pedestrian to know what you intend otherwise? You may be lining up a U-turn.

Take care with this particular breed of road rule breaker, because they are as like to take off again without indicating, and likely to remain oblivious to the impact of both actions.

On the subject of indication, a comment on the current trend of not indicating when changing lanes. That is most obviously an offence. It is not optional, and not excused by travelling faster than other road users, nor by seeing an opportunity in traffic, nor, unsurprisingly, because of sheer laziness.

It is, in fact, very frustrating for others, and dangerous when your intentions on the road are a matter of guess work.

The only thing worse is the motorist who decides they want your spot – coming, ready or not. Yes, that’d be illegal too.

Which takes me to the definition of a road. The law defines roads to include public carparks, so please indicate in carparks. Otherwise, again, other road users have to guess what you’re up to. Highly inconsiderate, and for pedestrians and cyclists, just plain dangerous.

Not that pedestrians are exactly the innocents in all this, particularly when under a certain age the act of walking or running seems only possible with the aid of an outrageously expensive set of alien-esque headphones or less-than-subtle ear plugs. Oh, if only they knew of the many near-death experiences.

Anyway, jaywalking is often thought of as crossing against a red light. That offence is actually crossing against a red light. Well, ‘failing to cross with pedestrian lights’, to be precise.

Jaywalking is actually a term of art to describe crossing a road with traffic against given road rules. For instance not crossing as directly as you can, but crossing diagonally.

From the moment you commence your passage you have your back turned to one lane of traffic. Unless therefore your head phones have the added ability of rear sightedness, you won’t actually know you are about to be run down.

 There is no specific offence for jaywalking, but there is an offence for walking without due care. Given the tragically high number of pedestrians who are killed and injured on our roads, albeit in the throes of listening to their favourite music, it is a major concern, and entirely avoidable.

A couple of others involving motor vehicles.

It is often unlawful to change lane in an intersection, because insufficient warning is given to other motorists. There may be a tempting traffic opportunity in the lane next to you that may save you 15 seconds on your journey into work, but it’s best to wait until you’re out of the intersection, because it’s often dangerous and illegal.

Pulling into traffic and making everyone slow down is not just discourteous, it’s failing to give way.

And an amendment in law has now made legal what I detest, the motorcyclist who ‘lane filters’. Yes, that is the wobbling leather-clad rider who impatiently manoeuvres their usually unnecessarily overpowered motorcycle between your car and the person in your companion lane, whilst you break into beads of sweat worrying about your duco. It is legal, so suck it up.

Now, cyclists.

I have written before about the imbalance between the attention given by cyclists to the sins of motorists, whilst some remain seemingly impervious to an understanding of their own road responsibilities and frequent transgressions.

These include the sub-species that I define as ‘the yellers’. The best of these may be found, complete with a fair dose of suicidal intent, not in fact in Adelaide, but the City of London.

 Equally one must remember how very vulnerable cyclists are on our road, and that the vast majority are thoughtful and lawful road users.

Vulnerability aside, some inconsiderate cyclists are in breach of our road rules. Even if cycling lawfully, it can be an exasperating experience for motorists.

As I have written before, whilst we can provide laws to protect cyclists, the simple fact is that in most cases, unlike Europe, Australian roads were simply not designed with cyclists in mind.

As to the recurrent habit of cyclists becoming substitute decision makers for unfortunate motorists caught behind them as they laboriously ascend winding, unbroken double lined hills roads, by waving them on in order to get them off their tail, thanks, but we all must make our own judgements as to when it is safe to over take. It’s just one of those pesky things required by law.

I don’t drive a truck, and whilst there has been plenty of criticism of truck drivers, particularly on the lower reaches of the South Eastern Freeway, can we remember a truck is not a car and doesn’t have the same ability to brake as a car, so respect truck drivers when you pull in front of them and leave plenty of room.

I won’t remark on mobile phone usage in cars, except to say our laws are woefully out of date and in desperate need of reform. Frankly they don’t begin to make sense anymore, with the proliferation of mobile devices many of which are voice activated.

Texting and driving? Well, see you in heaven.

So now I have unloaded, let’s remind ourselves that being on the road is the most life-threatening thing we will do on a daily basis. How cyclists even have the courage to get on our roads remains a mystery to me.

With 90% of drivers frighteningly rating themselves as above average, and whilst self-driving cars may be a way away and have some profound legal, ethical, and insurance challenges, hail the day we can all leave transport to the machine.

The sad truth of the matter is we are losing people on our roads in tragic but completely avoidable circumstances, and it’s showing in our road toll.

We have lost 86 people this year compared with 57 last year. Mistakes on the roads are inevitable but speeding dangerously, and drink and drug driving, are just idiotic.

Meantime, there is a recurring theme in civil law jurisprudence when it comes to determining civil liability, even when you are not the primary wrongdoer. It is the obligation to drive defensively.

We must anticipate the fools of the road, accept that road users can be emotional, tired and impatient – particularly given the Mr Crowley-like approach employed by our urban road planners – and factor those things into our road user experience.

For the preservation of us all, practise safe defensive driving, riding and walking.

Morry Bailes is the managing partner at Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers, immediate past president of the Law Council of Australia and a past president of the Law Society of South Australia.

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