New one-metre road rule a win for safety

Cyclist on road in bike lane amongst traffic.

Clare Barry

Posted April 23, 2021

A new road rule means drivers must allow a minimum distance when overtaking bikes.

Victorian motorists will be required to allow a minimum one-metre distance when passing a cyclist from Monday 26 April as the mandatory passing distance law comes into force.

The new law, which requires 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 Australian state and territory and introduce mandatory passing distance rules. 

RACV senior manager transport, planning and infrastructure, Peter Kartsidimas, has welcomed the introduction of the minimum passing law.  

“Many Victorians have told us they want to ride more, but they want to feel safe to do so,” Peter says. “The introduction of this rule will go a long way to ensuring all road users, including cyclists, are kept safe.”

Under the updated rule, drivers and motorcyclists can briefly cross painted lines to give cyclists the space they need, but only when they have a clear view ahead and it’s safe to do so (see below for more detail).

The Department of Transport’s deputy secretary network planning, Robyn Seymour, says: “The message is clear – when you see a cyclist, slow down. If you have a clear view ahead, choose a safe gap in traffic to pass at a metre or more. It can make all the difference in everyone making it home.”

Transport Accident Commission (TAC) figures show that serious accidents involving cyclists are on the rise. Between 2016 and 2020, 52 cyclists were killed on Victorian roads and 24, or almost half those fatalities, involved vehicles travelling parallel to their bike. Around 15 per cent of all hospitalisation claims also involved parallel vehicles. 

Two cyclists have been killed on Victorian roads so far this year, and last year 13 lost their lives, well up on the five-year average of 10 cyclist deaths annually.

Peter urges the Victorian government to continue its road-user education programs, and to encourage the uptake of bike riding for transport by prioritising suitable bike infrastructure such as the bike super-highways that were proposed by RACV and endorsed by Infrastructure Australia. 

The TAC will conduct a public campaign to educate Victorians about the new road rule, including reminders such as, ‘if it’s not safe to pass, wait’, and ‘drivers, give the space to ride safe’. 

How mandatory minimum passing distances will work 

Can drivers cross out of their lane to avoid bike riders?

Under the new law, drivers and motorcyclists can briefly cross painted lines to give bike riders the space they need – including solid lines, double lines, painted tram-lane lines and painted islands – but only when they have a clear view ahead and it’s safe to do so.

What are the penalties for breaking the new law?

The law will attract maximum court penalties of up to $1652 and on-the-spot fines of $330. Improper overtaking or passing offences incur two demerit points.  

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 to help avoid a tragedy.”  

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