“One metre” is not enough

December 13th, 2011

Australia’s safe distance passing law is under pressure from a group who want to replace it with a fixed distance law. Such a move would be a backward step and leave riders more vulnerable than before. The safe distance passing law is actually more powerful and more protective than the proposed arbitrary 1m or 1.5m fixed distance regulation. The proposal, modelled on that used in some international jurisdictions, is opposed by Australia’s major bike organisations, including Bicycle Network Victoria, Bicycle NSW and Bicycle Queensland.

Where the fixed distance law has been introduced there is no evidence of any change in driver behaviour or in the incidence of related crashes. An arbitrary rule of 1m or 1.5m is inferior because is restricts police discretion to charge people for passing dangerously at a greater distance than 1m. And, legal experts say it would be difficult to prove exact measurements in court.

With the safe distance law, police may take a range of matters into consideration-speed, size of the passing vehicle, width of the road and so on.

Especially concerning, is an arbitrary passing distance would bring under legal pressure the existing lane splitting regulations.

The right of cyclists to filter around stopped general traffic to the stop line at intersections is a well-proven safety measure.

It is quite possible that a one metre passing law would precipitate a challenge to these regulations, with a chance that they would have to be reduced or removed, resulting in a negative safety outcome.

For Queensland with our narrow roads, we could lose bike advisory zones, which have the benefit of improving safety when overtaking cars positioned to their right, often queued in stationary traffic.

Riders would be required to wait at the tail of the stopped traffic, taking away the huge benefit of bikes to move forward and cross the lights in one phase in full visibility of other traffic.

The idea of a fixed distance law has appeal at first glance, but after detailed analysis the drawbacks are evident. It has been favoured by the Amy Gillett Foundation in the past.

But with Australia’s various bike organisations looking to work more closely on important issues, it is expected that bike safety policies will become more focused and evidence-based in the future.

So while sharing the road safely and responsibly with traffic is still an extremely high priority of Bicycle Queensland, a ‘legislation’ approach has too many pitfalls and is not our preferred way forward. Better roads and more education and awareness is.

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