The potentially lifesaving road rule that most drivers ignore
September 12, 2019
In most parts of Australia, it’s a law that motorists are required to follow when passing a person on a bicycle.
However, experts and cycling advocates say many drivers either ignore the rule or aren’t aware it exists. And it could result in someone losing their life.
The 44-year-old father-of-three had lobbied authorities for more than a year to take seriously the safe pass rule and impose penalties on motorists who flouted it.
Bicycle Queensland chief executive officer Anne Savage said enforcing the law could prevent cyclist deaths.
“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,” Ms Savage said.
This week, news.com.au is highlighting Mr Frewer’s legacy, his efforts to enforce the 1m passing rule, and the contentious issue of road safety, from all sides, in a campaign inspired by his passion for harmony and fairness.
Across Queensland in 2017, just 39 infringements were issued to motorists for failing to leave a safe distance when passing cyclists.
In NSW, between March 2016 and May 2018, police issued just 65 fines to drivers who passed too close to bicycles.
Advocates believe these figures indicate the low priority authorities place on bike safety.
David Maywald of the Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club said there have been “thousands of victims of dangerous close calls” compared to the handful of infringements.
“You are four times more likely to win Lotto in NSW than to get fined for a dangerous close pass,” Mr Maywald said.
“How would you feel after an unsafe pass from a ute or van, to take the video evidence to your local police station, and be told by the officer that they won’t even make a record of your incident, let alone start an investigation?”
Lobby groups in other states have also expressed concern at authorities not taking the law seriously enough.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
Generally speaking, in most cases the law states that motorists must leave a gap of at least 1m when passing a person on a bicycle on the road.
In many jurisdictions, that space increased to 1.5m in speed limits higher than 60km/h. Motorists are permitted to cross double lines when obeying the rule provided it’s safe to do so.
The 1m rule is law in Queensland, NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.
The ACT took it a step further and added road safety competencies, including safe behaviour around cyclists, to its licencing tests.
The Northern Territory is trailing safe pass rules ahead of examining whether it should be legislated in the coming year. Western Australia is also conducting a trial.
Victoria has resisted a push to introduce a specific law, saying it would be too difficult to enforce, but has a 1m guideline.
Instead, the Government rolled out a year-long road safety campaign focusing on cyclists.
The lobby group Bicycling Western Australia said research showed education and awareness campaigns were ineffective in creating behavioural change.
“While campaigns designed to increase public knowledge can be effective in altering attitudes, they are unlikely to result in behavioural change as there is usually little or no relationship between attitudes or knowledge and a change in behaviour,” the group said.
WHY THE LAW MATTERS
The push for motorists to leave a metre gap when passing cyclists originated in 2009 and was spearheaded by the Amy Gillett Foundation.
“The genesis of this campaign arose from an Amy Gillett Foundation research project, and in particular, a report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau that found being hit from behind was the crash type that resulted in the highest number of cyclist fatalities,” it said.
The organisation was founded after the tragic death of elite cyclist Amy Gillett, who was killed while training in Germany in mid-2005.
“The minimum passing distance is a simple, commonsense measure to give cyclists a safe space,” the foundation said.
Ms Savage said the safe pass rules had been introduced for a reason and not enforcing them could have devastating consequences.
“Sideswipe 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 sideswipe collisions.”
Recent research by the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety at the Queensland University of Technology found nearly one in four motorists broke the safe pass law.
Analysis of 2000 overtaking occasions at 15 different sites across the state found a noncompliance rate of 16 per cent, which rose to 23 per cent on higher speed roads.
“Notably, the results of this investigation found that compliance levels are influenced by the characteristics of motorists and the roadway, but not the rider,” Ms Savage said.
“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.”
The findings suggest efforts to improve road safety, particularly when motorists are overtaking, should be focused on driver-related factors — not on cyclist behaviour.
‘NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY’
During his campaign for road safety, Mr Frewer never asked for new laws or regulations for cyclists. He simply wanted existing protections to be enforced.
Ms Savage said it was clear authorities in Queensland weren’t taking the safe pass law seriously. Anecdotally, interstate lobby groups say compliance rates are low across the country.
A spokesperson for Queensland Police said it was committed to road safety for all users and said officers conducted “proactive patrols”.
“These patrols can be focused towards specific breaches and or to all breaches of the road rules applicable to all road users,” they said.
Mr Frewer’s widow Catherine said her late husband was often told by authorities that he should avoid busy roads and buy an exercise bike instead of cycling.
At the start of the year, he launched the Drive Safe, Pass Wide campaign to raise awareness of the 1m gap rule.
He made repeated complaints about close calls with cars and provided video footage from front and rear-mounted cameras.
Chris Singleton is the executive chairman of Cycliq, the company that produces those cameras, and was familiar with Mr Frewer’s campaign.
As a cyclist himself, Mr Singleton is aware of the dangers faced by riders on the road.
“I got cleaned up last Thursday,” he said.
“I was going along a quiet street and a person in a four-wheel-drive pulled out suddenly without an indicator and turned straight across in front of me.
“I’ve got a pretty nice cut on my upper arm and kneecap. I took out the side mirror of the car. It was the same story — the guy said he didn’t see me. But it wasn’t that. He just didn’t look.”
Over the past few years, demand for the bicycle cameras, which boast long-life batteries and can accurately measure the distance left by a passing car, has gone through the roof.
It’s a sign of cyclists increasingly feeling like they have to police the roads themselves, Mr Singleton said.
“There’s a lot of animosity in this whole car versus bike business. Cyclists do some really dumb things, there’s no denying it. But on any given day, there are way more cars doing dumb things than cyclists,” he said.
“I don’t think a lot of drivers think about it — that they can cause some serious damage.”
A number of cyclists have used footage captured by their cameras to assist in the prosecution of motorists, he said.
Each day this week, news.com.au’s campaign will explore the impact of Cameron’s death, the 1m rule, dangers on the road and the battle between bike riders and drivers