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 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 that an arbitrary passing distance would bring the existing lane splitting regulations under legal pressure .
The right of cyclists to filter through traffic to the stop line at intersections is a well-proven safety measure.
But it is likely that a one metre passing law would precipitate a challenge to these regulations, with a chance that they would have to be ditched, thus resulting in a negative safety outcome.
Similarly, Queensland could lose its bike advisory zones, which in effect is a non-mandatory one metre bike lane that bikes use to overtake 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.