Bicycle wars on Hunter roads

THEY get fast food thrown at them, are physically and verbally assaulted, are run off the road and have car doors opened in their paths.

But the Hunter’s growing community of cyclists is fighting back with helmet cameras to record the near-misses and collisions.

‘‘It’s become necessary to gather evidence against those motorists who are endangering our lives,’’ cyclist Josh Stephenson said.

‘‘I’ve recorded all sorts of things like drivers pulling out in front of me.’’

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Video by Darren Pateman and Jonathan Carroll

Although helmet-cam footage is yet to be used as evidence in a local court case, cyclists believe it is only a matter of time due to the increasing aggression on the region’s roads.

NSW Motor Accident Authority figures issued late last year showed Newcastle had the third-highest number of cycling-related accidents in the state recorded under its Lifetime Care and Support Scheme.

Hunter New England Local Health District statistics show 786 cyclists and pedestrians were treated at Lower Hunter hospital emergency departments between 2007 and 2011.

‘‘There is an intolerance to cyclists, particularly in Newcastle,’’ John Hunter Director of Emergency and cycling enthusiast Dr Mark Lee said.

‘‘Certainly riding in other parts of the state and around the country and talking to guys who have ridden overseas ... they all say it’s good in Europe because they respect riders on the road whereas you don’t always see that in Newcastle.’’

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A detailed study of cycling accidents in the Hunter has not been compiled.

However, a 2010 Monash University study of footage collected by 13 cyclists over 127 hours found there were two crashes, six near-crashes and 46 instances where riders had to take evasive action.

Vehicle drivers were found to be fault in 87per cent of cases.

Side-swiping was the most common incident (40.7per cent), and most accidents occurred at an intersection (70.3per cent).

Cyclists who spoke to The Herald said most motorists tried to do the right thing in relation to cyclists.

Dr Lee agreed, adding that cyclists needed to share responsibility for road safety.

‘‘I think sometimes cyclists are their own worst enemies in terms of taking too much of the road and things like that,’’ he said.

Josh Stephenson, co-owner of Drift Bikes, rides from Maitland to his Kotara store about twice a week.

‘‘In a daily commute you are bound to get at least one incident. The New England Highway is just a nightmare,’’ he said.

One of the worst spots on the route, which he now avoids, is the intersection of Industrial Drive and Maitland Road, Warabrook.

‘‘There’s no way for a cyclist to go straight ahead [east, towards Newcastle] and abide by the rules, which you are entitled to do,’’ he said.

‘‘You get abused by truck drivers and motorists who push past you because they are in too big a rush to get around the corner.’’

A 2011 council survey of 784 Newcastle cyclists found 42 per cent felt unsafe on major roads, with abusive and careless motorists and a lack of dedicated bike lanes mostly to blame.

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