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Safer cycling reforms – minimum overtaking distance

From 1 November 2015 motorists are required to provide minimum distance when overtaking bicycles as part of a trial of new safety laws in the ACT.

What is the minimum overtaking distance?

When overtaking a bicycle, motorists will be required to keep a minimum lateral distance of:

  • One metre when overtaking a bicycle where the speed limit applying to the length of road is 60km/h or below; and,
  • 1.5 metres when overtaking a bicycle where the speed limit applying to the length of road is over 60km/h.

How is the minimum distance measured?

The overtaking distance will be measured from the right most part of the bicycle, the rider, or the bicycle’s trailer, to the leftmost part of the motor vehicle, or anything projecting from the vehicle or trailer (eg. side mirror) at a height that could strike the rider or their bicycle or trailer.

How will motorists comply with the rule on narrow roads such as Northbourne Avenue?

On Northbourne Avenue, the lane widths range from 1.2m to 1.5m for the bicycle lane and 3m to 3.2m for the car lane. In this scenario, if both vehicles travel in the middle of their respective lanes, a minimum lateral distance of approximately 1 metre would be achieved where the motor vehicle is a Toyota Landcruiser.

To enable drivers to provide the minimum overtaking distances on narrow roads or roads with narrow lanes, the trial will allow motorists to cross centre lines, straddle lane-lines and drive on painted islands, provided the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic and that it is safe to do so. Where there is no clear view ahead or it is not safe to provide these distances, a driver will need to slow down behind the cyclist and wait until it is safe to pass.

In the ACT, lane widths are generally wide enough that even on narrow roads, motorists will only have to move fractionally to the right in order to provide the minimum overtaking distance.

What should I do if I can’t give the minimum overtaking distance because of oncoming traffic or other road conditions such as a pedestrian island or median strip?

You must slow down and wait until road conditions change, and it is safe to pass, then safely overtake the cyclist providing the minimum distance.

Why is a minimum overtaking distance being trialled?

Cyclists have less protection than motorists and are more likely to be injured or killed if a crash happens.

A 2006 report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that the most common type of crash in which cyclists were fatally injured occurs when the cyclist is hit from behind. In 2014, the ACT had 33 crashes involving cyclists hit either from behind or in the same direction side-swiped. During the period 2004-2013, the number of casualty crashes involving people on bicycles in the ACT has doubled to around 80 casualties per year.

The minimum overtaking rule will educate drivers about what constitutes a safe lateral distance when overtaking cyclists and assist in addressing the number of rear end and side swipe crashes involving cyclists.

Have the reforms been introduced in any other jurisdiction?

Minimum overtaking rules are currently being trialled in Queensland. Tasmania allows motorists to cross centre lines when overtaking cyclists to provide the minimum distances and other jurisdictions are currently considering the introduction of a minimum overtaking distance.

Aren’t marked bicycle lanes already providing enough protection for bicycle riders on roads?

There is research supporting the value of marked bicycle lanes as a road safety treatment which provides a defined space for the exclusive use of people on bicycles. However, limitations of marked bicycle lanes were shown in a Monash University naturalistic cycling study funded by the NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust.

The report notes that bicycle lanes contribute to a feeling of safety and predictability and both cyclists and drivers have reported feeling more comfortable sharing roads with a bicycle lane than roads without any cycling facility. No collisions or crashes were observed as part of the ACT study, but 25% of “events” or “near misses” occurred on roads with a marked bicycle lane. This is an unacceptable level of risk for a Government and an ACT community which is aspiring towards a road transport system which is free from deaths and serious injuries (the vision zero objective).

What happens if I need to pass two cyclists riding beside each other?

You will need to provide the minimum overtaking distance to the cyclist furthest to the right. Cyclists are not permitted to ride more than two abreast unless overtaking. Cyclists are being encouraged to ride single file on busy roads and narrow roads.

What are the penalties for not adhering to the one metre rule?

A $215 fine and two demerit points will apply to motorists who fail to comply with the rule.

How will the minimum distance be applied when a cyclist is moving faster than the vehicles, for example in congested traffic or if stopped at traffic lights?

The minimum overtaking distance applies to motorists overtaking a cyclist, not cyclists overtaking motorists. This is because of the greater risk faced by cyclists when motorists pass them too closely. Cyclists do not pose the same risk to motorists. However, cyclists are also expected to keep a safe distance when passing other traffic.

If you have stopped, for example at traffic lights or in a line of traffic, and a cyclist stops beside you within the minimum overtaking distance, you have not committed an offence. When the traffic starts moving, let the cyclist ride ahead, and only overtake when you can safely leave the minimum overtaking distance.

Won’t the rule be impossible to enforce?

There is an existing rule relating to overtaking which requires motorists to provide a ‘sufficient’ distance. The 1m and 1.5m rules will be more certain to enforce than the current rule as it provides a measure for what a ‘sufficient’ distance is.

Why not add a cycle way to the side of the footpaths, wouldn’t this be a lot safer for everyone?

Cyclists have the same rights to use the road as motorists and cycling is to be encouraged as it contributes to achieving objectives in the areas of sustainability, health and the environment.

The Government is working towards providing segregated facilities at certain locations. The Civic Cycle Loop is one example of this. However, due to the cost of these facilities, it is unlikely we will ever have a situation where all cycling facilities are separated from other traffic and pedestrians.

For many cyclists, the road is a more convenient and amenable environment as the routes are more direct and the roads are better maintained and easier to ride on than concrete suburban footpaths.

Why don’t cyclists pay registration and insurance and number plates if they are riding on the road?

Cycling is to be encouraged as it contributes to achieving objectives in the areas of sustainability, health and the environment.

Registration for cyclists has been considered and rejected in a number of jurisdictions. Factors mitigating against registration are that it would discourage cycling, reducing the health, environmental and other benefits of cycling, as well as being financially inequitable for many in the community and costly and inefficient to administer.

Why is the rule not being extended to cyclists? They should also provide a metre overtaking distance for pedestrians on shared paths.

The trial will not apply to cyclists when overtaking pedestrians on footpaths and other shared facilities. Footpaths in the ACT are generally no wider than 1.2m which means it would be difficult for a cyclist to comply with the rule while remaining on the footpath.

There are other road rules which apply to these areas to promote safe interactions between pedestrians and cyclists. On paths, cyclists must keep to the left of the path, unless it is impracticable to do so, and give way to any pedestrian on the path. There is also a requirement in the Australian Road Rules for cyclists to have a bell, horn or similar warning device fitted to their bicycle which is in working order.

Will the rule impact on congestion?

No. In the ACT, lane widths are generally wide enough that even on narrow roads, motorists will only have to move fractionally to the right in order to provide the minimum overtaking distance. There will not be many situations where a motorist has to wait for a significant period of time to safely overtake a cyclist.

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