NOTHING elicits greater rage in the transport sphere that traffic fines - and pretty much anything to do with cycling.

So I was intrigued during a recent visit to Australia to discover that the policymakers for New South Wales had come up with new and innovative ways to combine both these factors into an apparently explosive public relations disaster.

As of March 1, NSW's existing - and long-standing - law on mandatory helmet wear was to be enforced by a jaw-dropping $319 fine (£167) while cyclists caught running a red light would be hit with a $425 penalty (£223) - in both cases up from the existing $71 charge (£37).

Riding "dangerously", holding on to a moving vehicle, failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing and cycling at night without lights are also now punishable by increased fines, with cyclists additionally required to carry valid government-issued photo ID.

The crackdown is not all one-sided, however. Motorists caught passing too close to a cyclist while overtaking - less one metre where the speed limit is around 40mph, and less than 1.5 metres (5ft) in higher speed zones - also face increased fines of $319 (£167) and two penalty points on their licence.

Considering how £30 bus lane and parking fines can send road users in Scotland into spasms of rage, it is not hard to grasp just how controversial the scale of these new penalties have been. Besides angering cycling campaigners, who warned it would make NSW "the laughing stock of the world", the debate over the rights and wrongs of the policy split cyclists and motorists along predictably acrimonious lines - both camps tending to blame the other for the sort of bad behaviour now culminating in tougher policing.

The bottom line, obviously, is whether it will achieve its objective: making cycling safer and more popular.

In the UK, in line with Europe generally, wearing a helmet has never been required by law and most cycling bodies favour this optional approach. When an Edinburgh Sheriff said in 2012 that 75-year-old cyclist Audrey Fyfe, who was struck by a motorist with a record for reckless driving, had "contributed significantly" to her own death he was roundly condemned.

But in Australia - the first country in the world to make bicycle helmets mandatory - the law dates back to 1990, though its benefits are still disputed.

NSW, with a population of 7.5 million and around one per cent of journeys made by bike, averages 11 cyclist fatalities per year. Scotland, with similar cycling rates, a population of 5.3m, and no helmet law, averages nine fatalities per year.

Research has also indicated that the helmet law initially led to a decrease in cycling - by as much as 90 per cent among some age groups - with one study estimating that repealing it would actually double bicycle journeys in Sydney.

Mexico City axed its helmet law in 2010, less than a year after it was introduced, amid fears that it portrayed cycling as "inherently dangerous" and could see cyclists without helmets blamed for crashes where motorists were actually at fault.

At the very least, the income from fines should be ring-fenced for better cycling infrastructure - surely that makes the roads safer for everyone?