A proposal to make it legal for children to ride their bicycles on the footpath deserves consideration by the Government, the Children's Commissioner says.
Lower Hutt woman Joanne Clendon has submitted a petition to Parliament which says under-14-year-olds, their guardians, over-65-year-olds and disabled people should be able to cycle on footpaths without falling foul of the law.
A select committee has agreed to take a look at the petition, and is hearing submissions from the public.
It is illegal to ride on the footpath in New Zealand unless you are a delivering mail, or unless your wheels have a diameter of less than 355mm - a rule which effectively excludes nearly all bicycles.
Clendon says the road is not safe for younger children, because peripheral vision and response time do not develop until the age of 14 or 16. In her submission to Parliament, she notes that New Zealand has the second-worst fatality rate for child cyclists in the OECD.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft has given tentative support to the petition. Its research had found that many children already rode on the footpath, not knowing they were breaking the law. This showed that the law was ineffective and "out of touch with mainstream behaviour", the commissioner's office said.
It supported "further consideration" of the petition, "with particular consideration given to the safety implications of such a change".
The commissioner's office said a law change would raise safety concerns for both riders and pedestrians.
"However, it must be recognised that this behaviour is already common, and unlikely to change, given the inherent risks that the alternative of riding on often busy roads presents to young, novice cyclists."
Clendon said allowing young cyclists to use the footpath in Australia had not significantly reduced pedestrian safety.
It had, however, massively increased uptake of cycling. In Australia, up to 13 per cent of five to 12-year-olds cycled to school, compared to 4 per cent in New Zealand.
Cycling rates in New Zealand have plummeted from around 12 per cent for primary school students in the 1980s to 2 per cent in 2014, partly because of busier roads and safety concerns.
"Enabling legal use of the footpath by children on bikes can help address the dramatic decline in children biking to school and improve children's physical activity habits," Clendon said.
Cycling Action Network (CAN) said it would support a change which allowed 12 years old and their guardians to ride on footpaths.
The organisation recommended a speed limit on footpaths of 8km/h, or jogging pace.
CAN also said any rule change should not be at the expense of new cycleways in New Zealand.
Safekids Aotearoa said separated cycleways were the safest option for children.
But in the absence of bike lanes, it supported a rule change to allow riding on foorpaths in congested urban areas.
CYCLING ON FOOTPATHS
NOW: Illegal for cyclists to use footpaths, unless they are delivering mail or have a wheel diameter of less than 355mm.
PROPOSED: Legalise use of footpaths for cyclists under 14 year olds, their guardians, and people over 65 years old. Make bells mandatory for cyclists on the footpath. Allow councils to designate bicycle-free footpaths.