HomeNews & FeaturesAustralian Cyclists Uniting and Pushing for Genuine Cycling Safety

Australian Cyclists Uniting and Pushing for Genuine Cycling Safety

The Minimum Passing Distance law was adopted by all Australian states, excluding Victoria and the Northern Territory, to remove the ambiguity and provided clearer rules for motorists. While these changes were welcomed by cycling groups and bike riders, the results have been underwhelming and it is quickly becoming another missed opportunity for genuine change in improve the safety of bike riders on Australia’s roads. As a result of the dissatisfaction it has spurned a wave of activity as cycling groups push state governments and the police to follow through.

Kickstarted by David Maywald from  Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club, a petition pushing for proactive police enforcement gathered the support of 40 cycling groups in Australia and gained over 9,000 signatures. This prompted a wave of newspaper articles, which particularly focussed on the imbalance in NSW with only 65 motorists issued with fines while the Operation Pedro continues to target bike riders and pedestrians for offences such as riding on footpaths or not wearing a helmet. The well publicised and ongoing policing of bike riders and pedestrians in Operation Pedro raises the question why so little attention appears to be directed to the publicity and enforcement of the minimum passing distance laws.


Cycling Advocates Unite

This may be music to the ears of many bike riders follow years of squabbles and power-plays within and between cycling advocacy and interest groups. Compounded by a car-centric society which threatens ‘balanced infrastructure’ solutions, the different road laws for each state and a ‘missing’ national cycling advocacy body has has further reduced the effectiveness to improve safety of bike riders.

In the past few years, the Australian cycling trade body, Bicycling Industries Australia has been gradually adapting its cycling advocacy ‘wing’ and activities. Presented under the banner of We Ride Australia, the national cycling interest body has gained the support of each of the main cycling advocacy bodies along with the Amy Gillet Foundation for a Call to Action.

“Australian cycling organisations have joined in a call to all states to conduct enforcement campaigns with the primary goal of education and raising awareness of the importance of leaving a safe distance when passing bicycle riders, supported by a visible demonstration by Police of the legitimacy of bicycle riders on roads.”

The supporting organisations are the Amy Gillett Foundation, Bicycle NSW, Bicycle Network, Bicycle Queensland, Bicycle SA, WestCycle as well as Cycling Australia who are the cycle sports governing body.


The Enforcement Challenge

Enforcement of the minimum passing distance is difficult. Either a police officer observes a dangerous ‘pass’ and is prepared to fine a driver or a cyclist can report but will only have a chance if there report is accepted by the police, if they have video documentation and provide all further evidence and if they patiently and persistently pursue the matter with the police.

In the case of drink driving, the deterrents are significant and visible for drivers. From massive television campaigns, large scale random breath testing and harsh penalties – most drivers are well aware of the risks of drink driving. The campaigns and enforcement have seen the drink driving death toll drop from 44% to 30% nationally over a period of 35 years along with a change in attitudes, it is not socially acceptable to drink and drive.

The Minimum Passing Distances laws are new and some transition time is expected however the level of education and enforcement to date are concerning for bike riders who wanted to see real change. Safe passing should common sense but the frequency of dangerous passing and injury and death of cyclists mean that neither (assumed) common sense or a law on its own are enough to fix this problem.

Transport for NSW declined questions regarding the role of the department in enforcing the laws and referred these to the NSW Police. With regard to driver behaviour, the Senior Public Affairs Advisor for Road Safety, Alistair Adams-Smith noted that $1 million was spent on the Go Together campaign “educating drivers about the minimum passing distance rule and urging both drivers and bicycle riders to do their part to reduce the risk of crashes.”

“Other promotional activities include ongoing social media engagement and support of events including Bicycle Week and the Spring Cycle, and local educational initiatives.”

In New South Wales, cycling advocates have been concerned about the NSW Police focus on Operation Pedro which targets bike riders and pedestrians. The police operation began in NSW after the (ex) Minister Duncan Gay introduced the new Minimum Passing Distance Law along with a hefty hike in fines for traffic infringements by bike riders. The severity of these traffic infringements are considered minor in comparison to motor vehicles who pass too close because of the risk of a collision and higher likelihood of serious injury or death.

When prompted whether the NSW Government or any ministers have any role in Operation Pedro, the NSW Police Force Spokesperson was succinct, “legislation was enacted which police continue to enforce.”

Similarly, the spokesperson shared a neutral response regarding the objectives of Operation Pedro and if there are measures of success, “Operation Pedro focusses on all forms of road user behaviour, the results of which are published in media releases after each operation. Measures of success are by way of providing a visible deterrent to poor road user behaviour.”

There is no suggestion that changes or improvements to NSW police enforcement are expected, “Police continue to enforce Minimum Passing Distance provisions by way of enforcement activities, or taking reports from those persons that wish to report such an issue.”

A pain point for cyclists is the difficulty reporting infringements, police officers who choose to accept a report then face a work-intensive chore to process and this can take months. Are there plans to improve the process for reporting violations, both for bike riders and for police officers processing the report? At this stage it appears there are not, the NSW Police Force Spokesperson says, “Police continue to take such reports and investigate such incidents.”


A New Hope

We Ride Australia are pushing law enforcement and the government for ‘Driver engagement and education’. This relies on continuing activity from the cycling advocacy groups to communicate with, and assist police and government organisations. Bicycle Queensland CEO Anne Savage has reports a continuing dialogue with the Queensland Police, “We’re looking at a comprehensive package of measures to assist both bicycle riders and Police improve the enforcement of safe passing laws in Queensland.”

Following the 2018 Australasian Road Safety Conference which was held in Sydney, Bicycle NSW General Manager for Public Affairs, Bastien Wallace noted, “On 2nd October we welcomed the chance to brief senior Police officers from every state and territory on our initiatives to address road safety issues for bicycle riders, which we did with We Ride Australia and the Amy Gillett Foundation.”

Part of the trend in cycling advocacy and cycling safety is a ‘slight’ shift away from infrastructure as a solution and towards a behavioural shift in Australian motorists. While road user education and infrastructure go hand-in-hand as solution to improve the safety of cyclists, the commitment cycling infrastructure in Australia leaves a lot to be desired.

For the average bike rider, the good news is that the advocacy groups are not letting this rest. Even better, a stronger and united front from the state cycling advocacy bodies provides more credibility and political power for positive change.


Christopher Jones
Christopher Joneshttps://www.bicycles.net.au
Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a design agency, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.
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