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MINIMUM PASSING DISTANCE SUMMARY & FAQs

 

  1. INTRODUCTION

Currently Western Australian road rules require drivers to give ‘sufficient’ distance when overtaking cyclists.

‘Sufficient’ is vague and subjective.  It is determined by the driver’s discretion and provides drivers with no guidance about a minimum safe distance when passing cyclists.

A specified minimum passing distance is clear and objective.  It requires drivers to maintain distances between their vehicle and cyclists when overtaking or passing.

  1. WESTERN AUSTRALIA IMPLEMENTATION

The Western Australian road rules will be amended from 30th November 2017 to introduce specified minimum passing distance of:

  • At least 1m where speed limits are 60km/h or less
  • At least 1.5m where speed limits are over 60km/h

Where these minimum distances cannot be given, drivers must slow down and wait to overtake or pass.

Exemptions will also be given to other road rules for drivers overtaking or passing cyclists to assist in the implementation of the new regulation. Motorists will be permitted to cross-unbroken centerlines when safe to do so to overtake bike riders. This exemption will provide more opportunities for drivers to overtake or pass cyclists within the specified minimum distances.

The specified minimum passing distance amendment will be supported by a statewide education campaign to make drivers aware of the minimum distance to leave when passing cyclists.

Consideration also needs to be given regarding training and education to the Police force regarding the policing of the regulation change.

The combination of the rule change and education and awareness program is the most effective way to bring about behaviour change and increase cyclist safety.

 

  1. NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL PRECEDENTS

Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland have all implemented minimum passing distance.

Specified minimum passing distance rules have also been introduced overseas.  Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal and France, some parts of Canada and South Africa and 28 states in the USA all have specified minimum passing distance.

WAACTNSWQLDSATASVICNT
Overtaking/passing requires at least 1m where speed limits are 60km/h or less30th November 17××
Overtaking/passing requires at least 1.5m where speed limits are over 60km/h30th November 17××
Exemptions to other road rules allowed if overtaking/passing (e.g. crossing unbroken centre line)30th November 17××

 

Table 1. Comparison of Australian minimum passing distance rules

 

  1. BENEFITS OF SPECIFIED MINIMUM PASSING DISTANCE

Amending the Western Australian road rules to introduce minimum passing distance that requires drivers to leave specified gaps when overtaking or passing cyclists will impact positively on road safety:

  1. Reduce the number of cyclist fatalities and injuries

It will provide a buffer between motor vehicles and cyclists that should reduce the likelihood of fatalities and injuries to cyclists as a result of side-swipes and rear-ends by drivers overtaking or passing too close to cyclists.

  1. Clarify what a safe passing distance is

It will change driver behaviour by clarifying what a safe passing distance is.  Having a specified measurement is clear and objective. It is standard practice to use specified measurements in Western Australian road rules.

  1. Enable dangerous behaviour to be prosecuted

It will enable drivers to be prosecuted for dangerous behaviour by providing a measure for police and witnesses to evaluate a driver’s actions

  1. Increase recognition of cyclist vulnerability

Together with a publicity and education campaign, it will reinforce the message that drivers need to recognise the vulnerability of cyclists on the roads and to adjust their driving.

  1. Increase the perceived safety of cyclists

Feeling unsafe when cycling in proximity to motor vehicles is one of the major reasons why some people choose not to ride.

Minimum passing distance will increase the perceived safety of cycling and therefore encourage more people to ride. As such, more people and communities will benefit from the economic, health, social and environmental benefits that cycling can bring.

  1. Give cyclists space to avoid road hazards

Whilst cyclists are advised to keep a straight line, sometimes it is necessary for them to move sideways to avoid hazards in the road, such as drains, debris and parked cars.  Minimum passing distance will give more room for maneuvering around hazards.

  1. Give consistency with other states

It will bring Western Australia’s road rules inline with the majority of Australia and international best practice.

 

  1. INQUIRIES HELD INTO MINIMUM PASSING DISTANCE AND THEIR FINDINGS

Minimum Passing Distance legislation has been considered in 5 inquiries from different jurisdictions. All of which have recommended the legislation of minimum passing distances or a trial of it.

Federal

Senate Inquiry into Aspects of Road Safety in Australia – 2016

Recommendation 2:

The committee recommends that the National Transport Commission amend the model Australian Road Rules to mandate a safe passing distance for drivers overtaking cyclists of one metre where the speed limit is 60 kilometres per hour or lower and 1.5 metres where the speed limit is higher.

Victoria

Legislative Council Inquiry into the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Overtaking Bicycles Bill 2015) – 2016

Recommendation 4:

That the Legislative Council support changes to the Road Rules requiring motor vehicles to leave minimum passing distances when passing bicycles of:

  • 1 metre in areas with speed limits of 60 kilometres per hour or less
  • 5 meters in areas with higher speed limits

Queensland

Inquiry into Cycling Issues – November 2013

Recommendation 8:

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Transport and Main Roads amend Queensland road rule section 144 to introduce a minimum overtaking distance by inserting a new provision specifying that a sufficient distance for overtaking a bicycle means:

  1. a lateral distance of not less than 1 metre if the applicable speed limit does not exceed 60 km/h and
  2. a lateral distance of not less than 1.5 metres if the applicable speed limit exceeds 60 km/h.

Australian Capital Territory

Inquiry into Vulnerable Road Users – 2014

Recommendation 15

The Committee recommends that the ACT Government consider amending the ACT Road Rules to mandate a minimum overtaking distance of one metre in speed zones 60km/h and below.

Government Response: Agree

South Australia

Citizens Jury Report – Sharing the Roads Safely – 2014

The Jury recommends that current legislation be changed to define the overtaking space between a vehicle and a cyclist as a minimum of (1) metre.

 

  1. COMMON QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES

There is already a law in place to protect cyclists:

Yes. This is not a new law it’s an amendment to an existing one. The currently law states that a “sufficient” distance must be given when overtaking a cyclist. The problem with this is that this is subjective and we need an objective definition. How do you deem a “sufficient distance”? This law is inadequate and creates ambiguity for the driving public. This law will assist drivers to know what sufficient is.

You can’t police it:

There are currently 36 Australian Road Rules that use distance as a measure. For example you must turn off high beam lights within 200m of another vehicle. The way the current law is worded provides no definition making it even harder to police. There is currently technology internationally that allows Police to measure the distance and Queensland is also looking at this technology at present.

A Queensland police Sergeant said “The previous road rule was very difficult to enforce, there was no objective standard for what was ‘sufficient’. Now we have a clear cut definition”. The Queensland Police Commissioner believes it has made their job easier.

Cyclists need to fix their own behaviour before we change ours:

Respect and courtesy is something that needs to be shown by all road users. There is portion of cyclists that absolutely need to improve their etiquette and WestCycle have released a set of Best Practice guidelines to address this and try to improve the overall standard of rider behaviour. The vast majority of the riding community should not be punished for the behaviour of a few.

Why don’t cyclists just use the dedicated paths and get off the roads:

Bike riders have the same right to be on the road as other vehicles. It is also important to understand that there are different types of cyclists. For some riders the best place they can be is on shared paths, for others this creates a danger to other path users and the road is the most appropriate place for them.

Cyclists don’t pay road tax so they don’t deserve to be on the roads;

There is no such thing as a “Road Tax”. Roads are paid for from the revenue that the State generates from general taxes and local Government rates. Cyclists pay these taxes in the same way that non-riders do. They just choose to use a bike rather than a car. Motorists should be grateful for this as they are paying for the infrastructure yet the impact they have on it is far less than a car – they are actually subsidizing the roads for motorists.

Cyclists should all be registered;

There are no countries in the world where this has been implemented and maintained and there is no evidence that it actually changes behaviour. The more people on bikes the better for Western Australia. For every kilometer a cyclist rides they saves $1.43 for the economy. We should be encouraging people to get on bikes, not putting in place barriers. Should pedestrians be licensed? Should kids be licensed?

Two abreast:

Riders are legally allowed to ride two-abreast as long as they are no more than 1.5 meters apart. Riders often use it as a safety measure so they are more visible and it reduces the distance a driver needs to travel to overtake a group.

A group of riders is considered as a vehicle, therefore it is permitted that one group can overtake another.

Etiquette is important in this case though and we encourage large groups to consider traffic they may be holding up and move to single file to allow traffic to pass when it is safe and appropriate to do so.

What if there isn’t enough distance, do you want me to have a head on with an oncoming car:

This is no different to overtaking another vehicle. You have to wait for a time to be able to overtake safely.

Isn’t an education campaign enough?

Education is certainly a large part of changing behaviour but we believe that alone it will not create a change in behaviour that will lead to a safer environment for cyclists. By amending the road rules it sends a clear message from Government that the vulnerability of cyclists is something that they take seriously and riders are legitimate road users.

Labor Committed to the introduction in March. Why has it taken so long?

We appreciate that amending the Traffic Code is not a simple process and in addition to that there were many considerations to take into account. We only have one chance to implement this rule so it was vital that it was done in the right way, with a considered education campaign supporting it. WestCycle fully supports the time it has taken  to get it right and we support the implementation date of the 30th November 2017.

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