By Paul Hemsley
A rise in fatalities and serious injuries for cyclists on Queensland roads has prompted the Campbell Newman government to consider instigating a ‘one-metre rule’ to urgently curb the number of collisions as part of a review of the state’s cycling laws.
The change to the road rules would introduce a requirement for motor vehicles to leave a gap of at least one metre when passing cyclists, a measure that safety experts have believe creates enough room to prevent accidents.
Although the change is simple and commonsense, the pressing issue that many local and state government agencies are being forced to deal with is that there has been rapid growth in the number of cyclists using roads as commuters look for a healthier alternative to cars and crowded public transport.
One consequence of the movement to pedal power is that there are simply more cyclists at risk of, and being hit by cars and trucks that gravely misjudge how close they are to bikes when passing.
These risks have been underscored through statistics showing that cyclists made up 4.9 per cent of road fatalities and hospitalisations between 2008 and 2012 in Queensland. By comparison pedestrians made up 6.4 per cent and motorcyclists made up 14.1 per cent.
According to the Queensland government, there were nine cyclist fatalities on the state’s roads in 2011 and 11 in 2012.
The steepening numbers of fatalities for cyclists on the roads has been aggravated by a lack of protection for bike riders, which has stirred controversy among cycling groups and peak bodies such as Bicycle Queensand and the Amy Gillett Foundation, who have been pushing for action from state governments to create safer conditions for cyclists using the roads.
These demands have led Queensland Minister for Transport and Roads Scott Emerson to tackle the issue by ordering the Parliament’s Transport, Housing and Local Government committee to conduct a review into bike safety on roads.
In addition to reviewing the possibility for a one-metre rule, Mr Emerson addressed the hostility between motorists and cyclists as a potential catalyst for on-road accidents.
“I’m aware there is the potential for animosity between motorists and cyclists, which can lead to dangerous behaviour by both,” Mr Emerson said.
He said the committee will take public submissions and consult with key interest groups to see if the government can improve the present laws.
“We’ve already taken steps to reform the licensing for three of the most at-risk groups on our roads – younger drivers, older drivers and motorcyclists – and this will continue our commitment to making our roads safer,” Mr Emerson said.
Bicycle Queensland chief executive officer, Ben Wilson welcomed the review, saying that the best solution to continually improving safety for cyclists was to improve infrastructure such as cycle paths, dedicated cycle lanes and better road design.
"That gives as many people as possible the chance to ride off the road," he said.
The push for creating laws to make the roads safer for cyclists has been a hot button issue recently in New South Wales when state Greens MP Jamie Parker gave notice that he will introduce a bill to Parliament that would require at least one metre overtaking distance when passing cyclists.
Mr Parker said that the introduction of the bill to Parliament is in response to a recent study that named NSW as the “worst state for cyclist fatalities”.
He highlighted statistics that showed NSW has had an average of 11 deaths per year for the past decade, constituting 30 per cent of the country’s total fatalities.
According to the study, there were seven fatalities in 2012 and already eight fatalities in 2013 so far.
The rule of a passing distance of one metre between cyclists and motorists has been muddled in New South Wales because it is exists only as a “guideline” by the state government, which isn’t as strong a deterrent.
Although Mr Parker suggested that the state government agrees that a one-metre rule is an appropriate distance to protect cyclists by having the present guideline in place, it hasn’t been a sufficient protection for cyclists.
“The existing recommendation is failing because it doesn’t have the force of the law – we must have a legally enforceable minimum passing distance to protect cyclists and prevent further loss of life,” Mr Parker said.
This Roads and Transport Authority guideline on overtaking states: “If you’re overtaking a bicycle rider, give them at least one metre of space to the side in a 50 km/h zone. If the speed limit is higher, you need to give the cyclist more space.”
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