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There has been a lot of media attention this week given to the implementation of Safe Passing Distance here in Western Australia. WestCycle, along with the vast majority of our Member organisations, have long been supporters of the introduction of Safe Passing Distance in Western Australia and we have been working in the background to try to achieve this change.

The Queensland Government has announced that they will keep the law that defines Safe Passing Distance and sets the minimum space that motorists must leave when overtaking bike riders.  This follows the conclusion of a two-year trial.

“It’s led to safer outcomes, and I think this is a positive step forward for road safety in Queensland” – Queensland Main Roads and Road Safety Minister Mark Bailey. 

We are very pleased to see the attention Safe Passing Distance has received this week.  The media has reported that the Government has soften it’s view on Safe Passing Distance and the dialogue from the Government is positive in it’s intent and we are optimistic about its introduction.

This update is to provide you with the latest of information about Safe Passing Distance, how WestCycle is progressing the discussions and what we can expect next.

What is Safe Passing Distance?
“Safe Passing Distance is amending an existing law to change it from a subjective to an objective view with a practical measurement for drivers stated”

Western Australian legislation currently states that a driver must give “a sufficient distance” when passing a bike rider.  The problem is that this is entirely subjective and to our knowledge has rarely been used to prosecute people who pass unsafely. That’s why we believe the legislation needs to change.

Rather than keeping “a sufficient distance”, the law should require drivers to leave at least 1 metre between themselves and bike riders in 60km/hr or less zones and at least 1.5 metres in areas above 60km/hr.

This provides a clear definition and leaves no ambiguity.

Who has Safe Passing Distance?
Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT all have implemented some form of Safe Passing Distance.  Victoria is currently undertaking a Parliamentary review into it. New Zealand is also currently reviewing it, more than half the states in America and most of Europe already have implemented it.

Why is Safe Passing Distance important?
Bike riders are incredibly vulnerable road users and are over represented in the road toll statistics. In Western Australia, 25% of the bike riders killed in 2014 were hit from behind by cars1.

Every death should be preventable and we need to consider any options that can achieve this.

It is important to note that Safe Passing Distance is just one of many measures to reduce the rate of death and serious injury for bike riders.  Investment is still required in infrastructure, education and creating a more harmonious environment between all road users.  Safe Passing Distance alone will only partly address the statistics.

What is the Western Australian Government’s stance on Safe Passing Distance? 
The State Government has inaccurately been accused of being against Safe Passing Distance.  This is not the case.  Rather their position has been that they were awaiting the results from the Queensland trial before making a decision.

This week they have they have simply reiterated that they want to see the results of the Queensland trial before making a decision but they are open to making the change. These results are now becoming available and we are actively engaging with the Government around the matter.

Results from the Queensland Trial
Results from the Queensland trial have started to filter through and they are very positive.

A report from Queensland University of Technology states observations have shown 88% of drivers left 1 metre or more in 60km/hr or less speed zones and 79% left 1.5 metres or more in higher speed zones.

Importantly, three-quarters of Queenslanders support the amended law2.

Another positive benefit of the change is that overall awareness of bike riders on the road has increased.  In Queensland over half of all road users reported more awareness of bike riders following the introduction of the trial2.

Common Objections and Responses to Safe Passing Distance
It’s too difficult to police!
The current legislation simply states ‘sufficient distance’ which is entirely subjective.  Defining this distance will make it a more objective measure to police.  There are at least 36 different Australian Road Rules that use measurements as standard practice.

What if there is not enough room to leave 1 metre or more?
Then you shouldn’t be passing. This is common sense regardless if there is a law or not – you should not overtake unless it’s safe to do so.  Other states have amended laws to allow motorists to go over double white lines to pass a bike rider if it’s safe to do so.  This would need to be considered in the context of Western Australia as part of any potential change.

Until riders pay road tax or vehicle registration we won’t support anything that protects them
Money for building roads is not derived from the registration of vehicles or a ‘road tax’.  The money all comes from general revenue, so anyone that works and pays tax helps funds for our roads. Bike riders are doing everyone a favour by choosing a bike over a car which reduces congestion, creates less ware and tear on the roads and leads to healthier communities.

Bike riders ‘hog’ the road. 
Yes it is legal to ride two abreast, however we strongly encourage all bike riders to show common courtesy.   If you notice traffic building up behind you move into single file and let the traffic pass.

Should you wish to provide any feedback please don’t hesitate –info@westcycle.org.au

1. 2014 Preliminary Fatal and Critical Injuries on WA Roads – Road Safety Commission

2. Crosby & Textor, Public opinion research into the Queensland Government’s trial of the minimum overtaking distance legislation commissioned by the Amy Gillet Foundation, October 2015