New research reveals safe passing laws are failing on higher speed roads

March 28th, 2018

Greater action on enforcement needed

Nearly one in four drivers who overtake cyclists on higher speed roads are breaking the law and passing too close, according to new research by QUT’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety.

The expert study of nearly 2000 overtaking occasions at 15 sites across Queensland found an overall non-compliance rate of about 16 per cent, with a higher rate of non-compliance, of about 23 per cent, on higher speed roads.

Bicycle Queensland CEO, Anne Savage, said more needed to be done to enforce safe passing laws.

“The consequences of unsafe passing can be catastrophic, resulting in death or serious injury.

“Crashes involving motor vehicles passing bike riders are a major concern for road safety in Queensland.

“Side-swipe collisions between cyclists and drivers account for 14 per cent of all fatal bike crashes in Australia, and motorists are at fault in the majority of these, with passing too closely the most common incident type, accounting for about 41 per cent of all collisions.

“Many crashes between cars and bikes happen when both vehicles are travelling in the same direction and often involve rear-end and side-swipe collisions.

“Notably, the results of this investigation found that compliance levels are influenced by the characteristics of motorists and the roadway, but not the rider.

“The likelihood of non-compliance was greater on roads with 70–80 km/h speed limits than 60 km/h roads, at curved road sections, and on roads with narrower traffic lanes.

“Larger overtaking vehicles were also found to be more commonly non-compliant than smaller vehicles.

“Rider characteristics, such as age, gender, type of clothing, type of bicycle, and individual or group riding, had no statistically significant association with compliance status.

“These findings suggest that efforts to improve road safety during overtaking events should focus on driver-related factors and improvements to roadway infrastructure, including stronger enforcement of the law by authorities.”

Only 39 infringements of safe passing laws were issued in Queensland last year, according to the Department of Transport and Main Roads.

“Greater action on enforcement is urgently needed to ensure the safety of all road users in Queensland,” Ms Savage said.

“Safe passing laws are not being adequately enforced and we are failing to provide sufficient protection for the hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders who ride bikes.”

The study, published in the journal of Accident and Analysis Prevention, is the first of its kind to examine overtaking behaviour without the knowledge of drivers or riders.

“Unlike earlier studies, which used volunteer riders to record passing events, this study used a natural study design to record passing events where none of the motorists or the cyclists were aware of being observed.

“As a result, this study captured the ‘true’ driving and riding behaviours during passing events.”


Click here to read the research paper in the International Journal of Accident Research & Prevention, “Factors influencing noncompliance with bicycle passing distance laws” (2018).
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