New one-metre road rule a win for safety

Moving Well | Words: Clare Barry | Posted on 07 October 2020

Government announces law change and 100km of bike paths to protect cyclists.

Victorian motorists will be required to allow a minimum one-metre distance when passing a cyclist under a new law due to come into force early next year. 

The new law, which will require drivers to leave at least one metre when passing a cyclist in speed zones 60kmh or lower, and 1.5 metres when passing at speed limits over 60kmh, comes after campaigning by RACV, the Amy Gillett Foundation and other cycling safety bodies for Victoria to follow every other state and territory in Australia and introduce mandatory passing distance rules.

Cyclist on two-lane road with cars driving past

Victorian motorists will be required by law to allow a minimum one-metre distance when passing a cyclist from early next year.

The government announced the new law at the same time it revealed plans for 100 kilometres of new and upgraded cycling routes across inner-Melbourne suburbs including Footscray, Northcote and St Kilda. The $13 million project will build pop-up bike lanes to help relieve congestion and provide commuters with an alternative to public transport as COVID-19 restrictions ease. 

“The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we move around Melbourne,” says roads minister Ben Carroll. “That’s why we’re building over 100 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes, providing an alternative for shorter trips and making it easier and safer to get to and from the CBD.”  

He says the routes will be developed in consultation with councils and community groups and would employ signage, road markings and barriers to improve cycle lanes, off-road paths and crossing points. 

RACV’s senior manager transport, Peter Kartsidimas, says many more Victorians have already taken up cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic and numbers are expected to soar as people choose private instead of public transport as restrictions ease. 

He says the new bike lanes will help relieve pressure on Melbourne’s transport network in coming months. “We have been championing for safer bicycle infrastructure for many years, but now more than ever is the time to provide commuters with genuine choice in how they get around the city,” says Peter. 

This formalises for motorists that you should be doing everything you can to keep cyclists in a safe zone.

“Making more room for cyclists will make our roads safer, as well as encourage more people to cycle as many avoid public transport or congested roads.” 

RACV has proposed a network of 17 cycling ‘superhighways’ designed to connect Melburnians to major activity centres including the CBD. The network was endorsed by Infrastructure Australia, the nation’s independent infrastructure adviser, in its 2020 priority list. 

Peter also welcomes the introduction of the minimum passing law, saying that mandatory passing distances are a win for both motorists and cyclists, by making clear what a safe distance is, and how important it is to maintain it. 

“This formalises for motorists that you should be doing everything you can to keep cyclists in a safe zone. Cyclists will feel safer and like more legitimate road users, too.” 

The Victorian government launched a Share the Road education campaign in 2017, including a five-month Give the Space advertisement run, saying it would trial minimum passing if the campaign did not improve cyclist safety. Results of the campaign have not been publicly released, but TAC figures show an increase in the rate of cycling fatalities and injuries requiring hospitalisation over the past six years. Twelve cyclists have been killed on Victorian roads so far this year, despite a 21 per cent drop in the road toll. 

Between 2015 and 2019, 13 cyclists were killed on Victorian roads when vehicles were travelling parallel to their bikes – representing more than 27 per cent of all cycling fatalities. Ten per cent of all serious cyclist injuries also involved parallel vehicles. 

Cyclist riding on suburban street
Cas driving past group of cyclists on road

If a driver comes across a bike rider and there’s no safe way to overtake they should be patient and follow the cyclist until they can pass safely.

How mandatory minimum passing distances will work 

Why the one metre and 1.5 metres’ distance?  

“Cyclists need their space around them,” says RACV’s Peter Kartsidimas. Broken glass, debris or potholes can mean that cyclists may have to veer quickly from a straight line at times. Strong winds can blow a cyclist sideways, while passing articulated vehicles can cause a cyclist to temporarily lose control.  

How can people accurately judge the distance?  

Motorists can get out a tape measure to grasp what one metre and 1.5 metres actually look like. “If it doesn’t feel safe it probably isn’t,” says Peter, “and if you think it’s close – it’s too close. That’s the best way to judge it.” 

How will this rule work on narrow roads?  

Motorists are required by law to slow down and give way to avoid a crash, explains Peter. “If a driver comes across a bike rider and there’s no safe way to overtake they should be patient and follow the cyclist until they can pass safely.”  

Should motorists swerve to avoid bike riders?  

Drivers should never swerve around cyclists and should always make every attempt to avoid a collision. “Both motorists and cyclists should act responsibly with clear intent,” says Peter, and neither should suddenly change lanes without properly indicating.   

What about winding country roads? 

“Motorists will have to wait for the right opportunity to pass cyclists safely, just as they do now,” says Peter. “Everyone can think of a situation where they’ll be frustrated, but how often does it really happen and how much time do you really lose? It’s a few seconds of your life as opposed to taking a life.”  

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