(This pandemic article was last updated on April 28. For May 11 details, click here.)
Around the world, riders are biding their time in lockdown.
But Australia is performing well with a flattened curve on new infections, so there is scope to get out of the house and go for a ride.
New restriction rules came into force from 30 March 2020 that say leaving your residence is not permitted except for a range of essential reasons: Shopping; medical care or compassionate needs; exercise; and for work and education.
However, from Saturday 2 May, Queenslanders can ride for recreation up to 50km radius from their home.
Riders are advised that social distancing still applies which means no congregating at stops.
They must also ride in ones or twos so long or with several members of the same household.
You can also ride for compassionate reasons to visit a relative or close friend. No distance from home is stipulated.
Police have been ordered to use “compassion”, so make sure your reason for riding is legitimate.
The Health Department and Queensland Police say pillions are allowed just as passengers are in a car.
She says NSW Police have not booked anybody for riding a motorbike, “because that is akin to riding an exercise bike”.
However, NSW Police have further interpreted the rules to say people can leave their house for “brief exercise in your own neighbourhood”.
But you can ride to visit a “partner” with whom you don’t live.
So it’s not a free-for-all under the pretence of exercise.
Her claim that police have not fined riders is not correct.
On Thursday (9 April 2020), a motorcyclist was stopped by police on Oxford Street, Gateshead.
Officers spoke with the 36-year-old man, who allegedly provided “multiple conflicting reasons for not being home before stating he was on his way to help a friend fix a bike”.
The officers deemed his reasons for travel as non-essential and issued the man with a $1000 fine.
As for pillions, it might be difficult to prove a pillion is exercising, although “hanging on for your life” can be exhausting!
The Premier’s office confirmed to us that riding is exercise, so we also contacted Victoria Police who simply replied:
You have done the right thing in seeking clarification about this from the Premier’s office. These directions are set by the Chief Medical Office, and the Department of Health and Human Services is the lead agency. As such, they are best placed to respond to your enquiry.
So, that would indicate that motorcycling is exercise and still legal, within all the other guidelines.
As in NSW, you can also ride to visit a “partner” with whom you don’t live.
You can also leave home for “compassionate reasons”, but you better have a legitimate, essential reason such as a dying relative!
However, VicPol’s latest edict is that outdoor activity is limited to “basic exercise”.
They mentioned boating, golfing and camping, but not specifically motorcycling.
Victoria will update its restrictions on May 111.
Note that Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton has said “stop looking for loopholes”.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website says you can exercise by going for a “bike ride”, but doesn’t stipulate bicycles or motorcycles.
We’ve asked for clarification and they promised a reply before the end of last week … we are still waiting.
In Tasmania you can visit a family member and in the ACT you can visit anyone so long as there are not more than two of you visiting at the one time.
ACT Police are not yet issuing COVID-19 infringement notices as they are prioritising public education over coercive sanctions.
In South Australia and Northern Territory there are no fines for leaving the house for non-essential reasons, however unnecessary socialisation is discouraged.
South Australia and Western Australia now allow groups of up to 10 to meet so that means group riding is back on, within limits.
They must also maintain social distance of 1.5m.
Motorcycle Riders Association of WA representative and Ulysses Club National Committee member Dave Wright says the state has closed its borders and closed boundaries between the nine regional areas to all but essential services.
However, the regions are big and allow a lot of scope for great rides.
These are the official rules for your state or territory:
- Australian Capital Territory: ACT Government Health
- New South Wales: NSW Government Health
- Northern Territory: Northern Territory Government
- Queensland: Queensland Government
- South Australia: Government of South Australia SA Health
- Tasmania: Tasmanian Government Department of Health
- Victoria: Victoria State Government Health and Human Services
- Western Australia: Government of Western Australia Department of Health
Whether you get a fine or not will depend on how police interpret the Direction, and whether you can defend that fine or not will depend on how the court interprets the Direction says Brisbane lawyer Andrew Evans. This is not straightforward and believing it is could cost you a lot of money.
He says that a range of different views being expressed by different levels of government and the QPS has made the legality of leisure riding for exercise “as clear as mud”.
“It’s not clear and people are going to wear fines if they think it’s as easy as going for a ride and when pulled over saying ‘I’m exercising’,” he says. There might be a whole range of ways to defend a charge but there’s never a guarantee and unless a person represents themselves it would be an expensive process.
“In coming weeks I think the police will get a lot tougher too, particularly when testing methods change and we start to become more aware of community transmission.”
“Welcome to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. To use a technical legal term what we have at the moment is a clusterfuck because laws that normally go through a long process to ensure as much clarity as possible, are being made on the fly to keep up with the medical emergency.”
Police are becoming stricter in their interpretation of what is “essential”, even fining one Victorian learner for having his mum supervise him in the car.
Queensland Barrister Levente Jurth has advised that if anyone has been fined, they need to challenge it in the usual way on the grounds that they were not acting contrary to the directive, despite the police officer’s view.
However, he is not sure what “usual” is in the present circumstances as courts are effectively closed for all but serious matters.
“If someone is obviously doing the wrong thing and is being deliberately disobedient, then they will be punished if they get caught,” he advises.
“On the other hand, anyone who is conscientiously trying to do the right thing and is doing their best to act in compliance with the applicable directives will likely be treated with some flexibility (eg. a warning), even if they have technically contravened a specific rule.”
Police in all states have said they will assess all fines and police will use their “judgement”.
Queensland State Disaster Coordinator Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski explains how they will approach the issue:
Where police will take action is if there are blatant or wilful breaches happening in the community.
Exemption for exercise?
Given the confusion over what constituted exercise and the fact that riding is good for mental and physical health as per this article, we have sought clarification on this issue on several occasions.
When the rules came in, we contacted the PM’s office, each Premier’s office, state health departments, the national coronavirus hotline and police.
The PM’s office referred us to the national hotline as the definitive source of information. The operator referred to the supervisor who sought confirmation from a manager.
They agreed that leisure riding is classed as exercise and therefore exempt from the travel restrictions. Not once, but twice on two separate days!
The Queensland, South Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian Premiers’ offices and NT Chief Minister’s office all concurred with that judgement. Gladys now agrees.
Most of those who replied pointed out that riders should act responsibly and “within reason”.
However, it is the attitude of police that riders need to bear in mind. Here are police attitudes across the nation:
In Queensland, police say the rules allowing physical exercise need to be considered within your local area (now 50km), “not travelling on a motorbike through the mountains, and adding up all those extra unnecessary interactions like stopping for fuel”.
There have been several contradictory claims on motorcycle Facebook pages saying riders have been stopped by police and advised to go home as it is illegal. Others say police have advised them it’s ok.
The Prime Minister’s office also gave “strong advice” that people aged 70, anybody over 60 with a chronic illness and Indigenous people over 50 should stay home and self-isolate.
That could rule out many riders as a growing number are “mature-aged”.
The mature-aged riding club, Ulysses, has not directed members to stop riding.
In an open letter to members, Road Safety Committee spokesman Terry McCarthy says riding helps de-stress:
Staying indoors or around our property may drive some of us stir crazy. We also are worrying about family and friends and how they may be coping in these difficult times. A coping mechanism may be going for a ride. Riding a motorcycle/scooter allows us to socially distance ourselves and comply with requirements presently in force. It may be the best way to relive your anxiety and stress in a safe manner.
The Ulysses Club recommends that if you do go riding, you practise good hygiene and social distancing, carry hand cleaner and your own food and drink, avoid public gatherings, and self-isolate if you are sick.
Just because it’s not yet law and riders may not yet have been fined doesn’t mean we should be heading out for a ride as often as we would like, nor for big distances or multiple days.
That not only gives a bad public impression of riders, but it’s not in the spirit of the recommendations and suggestions.
We note that police say crime is down, but domestic violence is on the rise, because, as one psychologist told us, partners are “in each other’s faces 24/7”.
Getting away for a short leisure solo ride could be an important “release valve”, they suggested.
If you do decide to run the risk of a fine for riding, you should probably avoid the usual places where riders congregate as that will attract police attention.
Police in several states say they are particularly patrolling borders and “areas where people congregate” which could include riders gathering at scenic spots and cafes.
Sadly, many of our favourite cafes have closed, although the Mt Glorious Cafe will reopen on Saturday and Sunday to gauge support.
As we have seen, restrictions are ramped up every few days in response to a lack of compliance in the population.
The slower we are to obey directions, the more restrictive the rules become. We may soon even see riding totally ruled out!
It also prolongs the duration that many riding brothers and sisters are out of work.
The good news is that a McCrindle Research online study of 1015 Australians has found that 86% are adhering to government advice to stop the spread of Coronavirus.
Hopefully, 86% of riders are also doing the responsible thing and limiting their riding or hibernating their bike.
Pandemic info resources
If you need health advice or information on the pandemic restrictions and recommendations, try these resources:
To check out the latest infection and death statistics, clickhere.