A man responsible for killing a cyclist in November 2018 has failed to appear in court on Monday and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. As News.com.au reported, cycling safety campaigner Cameron Frewer was killed when he was hit by the driver of a utility while riding near his home in Sunshine Coast. Frewer was a prominent campaigner and helped launch the Safe Pass, Drive Wide campaign that urged motorists to give a metre clearance to cyclists when overtaking.
On Tuesday a cyclist was struck by a car in Ocean Grove near Geelong. The Geelong Advertiser reported that the cyclist sustained serious injuries and had to be air-lifted to hospital. The crash comes after weeks of debate in Victoria over minimum passing laws that proponents argue could protect cyclists from drivers who pass too close when overtaking.
On the same day News.com.au reported the death of a cyclist near Woolongong. The 16-year-old boy was hit while riding his bike near Shellharbour City Centre. He sustained serious head and chest injuries and was flown to Sydney Children’s Hospital where he later died.
7News Sydney reported that a teenage driver faced court last week charged with dangerous driving following an incident late last year in which he ran down and killed two cyclists in Richmond. According to The Daily Telegraph, the two were riding along Kurrajong Road when the 19 year old drove into them head-on while “driving dangerously and negligently”.
According to statistics collected by the Australian Automobile Association 39 cyclists and 259 pedestrians were killed on Australian roads in 2019.
On Sunday, The Age published an opinion piece by Federal politician Kevin Andrews, who called on the Victorian Labor government to follow other states in introducing minimum passing distances for cars overtaking cyclists.
Andrews related a story of how he had also been hit and knocked from his bike while cycling along a country road north of Melbourne.
“Many drivers seem unaware of how close they are, but a few seem to delight in being so near. Often cars speed past cyclists, only to stop at the lights a few hundred metres ahead. Passing too close to cyclists is dangerous and should be stopped” Andrews wrote.
“How many more cyclists have to be killed or injured before Victoria catches up with the rest of Australia?”
Earlier this month four children were killed and three others were injured when a driver mounted a footpath in Sydney’s north-west and hit the group as they walked along Bettington Road in Oatlands. One of the children was reportedly riding a bicycle. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that after striking the group of children “the driver continued to travel up the road for about 80 metres, before coming to a halt.”
The Oatlands tragedy has sparked a public outpouring of grief in the local community. At the same time, debate in the media has centred on calls for public accountability for the perpetrator, and for politicians to take action to address the ongoing spate of deaths on Australian roads.
The Daily Mail Australia for example focused their reporting on the exceptional nature of the driver’s drunkenness, highlighting the fact that he “had allegedly been on a drinking binge since 7am that day” and that he had recorded a blood alcohol reading that was three times the legal limit.
The Daily Telegraph ran an article about the deaths alongside a number of photos of the accused showing him at parties and drinking alcohol, implying a clear link between the man’s lifestyle and the tragic incident. In one photo the accused is seen sitting next to three empty beer bottles.
As SBS News reported, Dr John Crozier of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons used the incident to argue that state parliaments needed to consider lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers from 0.05% to 0.02% blood alcohol concentration.
The Today Show even interviewed Pauline Hanson to ask whether she agreed it was time for Australia to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit to 0.00%. Hanson disagreed, but argued that tougher sentences needed to be applied to those convicted for drink driving offenses.
Some journalists and public commentators reframed the Oatlands tragedy to argue that Australians simply needed to take more personal responsibility for their own actions.
In an interview with Radio Hunter Valley, HVPD Commander Superintendent Chad Gillies argued that “there are things we can do individually that can assist and intervene when friends or family members or work colleagues or anyone that you may suspect is drinking alcohol or having drugs and then wanting to get behind the wheel—there are opportunities to either intervene or call the police”. Gillies encouraged listeners to “take some ownership” of road tragedies.
Eliza Barr took to The Daily Telegraph to write that “if you decide to get behind the wheel of a two-ton metal weapon while you’re impaired and drive among us on our public roads at 60,70, 80km/h—it’s our business. You are not entitled to privacy when you’re risking other people’s lives.”
And on Mamamia, Belinda Jepsen argued that the lesson from the Oatlands tragedy was not that there was a lack of awareness or education around the risks of drink driving. Rather “we as individuals, can actively choose to consider the lesson in tragedies like that in Oakland […] we can choose to consider the potential real-life consequences of recklessly endangering other people’s lives for the sake of our own convenience.”
As the media’s coverage of the Oatlands tragedy demonstrates, blame and accountability can become an unhelpful preoccupation.
People die on Australian roads every day. The causes of these deaths are many and are deeply interlinked with our dependence on cars as the dominant mode of transportation. Alcohol is a factor. But it is one of many factors. Some of these factors include poor urban planning, a lack of public transportation, and a failure to provide safer infrastructure for alternatives to car travel. Some factors are political and ideological.
Solutions that focus on individual responsibility have no hope of addressing problems that are systemic in nature.
This week a man responsible for killing a cyclist in Sunshine Coast failed to attend his sentencing hearing. A 16-year-old boy riding his bike was hit by a car in Woolongong and died in hospital. And a man cycling in Ocean Grove had to be airlifted to hospital after being struck by a car.
As tragic as the Oatlands incident is, it must be viewed in the context of Australia’s road fatalities as a whole. Solutions can only come from fundamentally reconsidering the way we think about our cities and how we move people within them.