Regulations and cycling


The approach to cycling safety in Australia seems to be based on rule making. Two examples are in todays press:

  1. A call for cyclists to use wider tyres to avoid Melbourne’s tram tracks; and
  2. A call for a mandatory ‘minimum passing distance’ for cars passing cyclists.

As a cyclist I have had numerous experiences of drivers passing too close for comfort. But I am not sure that poor driving or a lack of respect for cyclists can be legislated away. And I have also ‘gone over’ on the Swanston St tram tracks. It taught me to keep clear of the tram tracks, not to change to mountain bike tyres (which wouldnt fit my bike anyway).

The real problem for cyclists and motorists, I suspect, is attitude. Driving around France earlier this year two things stood out. First, there were a large number of cyclists ‘touring’ Southern France. Second, drivers treated them with caution and respect. Even though the roads were significantly narrower than in Australia, there was an attitude that drivers waited until it was safe to pass before they passed a cyclist. They did not squeeze through hoping for the best.

Now we can’t regulate for ‘respect’. But I also suspect that a minimum passing distance would be unenforceable.

13 Responses to "Regulations and cycling"
  1. My twenty or so years have taught me many things and my key understanding of driver behaviour modification is that no matter what you do you can’t account for idiots.
    It is unfortunate that too many people consider a drivers licence as a right not a privilege and many fail to understand that when they are behind the wheel they are in charge of a lethal weapon.
    While better driver training would help in the end my rights will trump commen decency and courtesy for too many.
    And don’t get me started on Toorak Tractors and mobile phones

  2. I’m sorry, I’m not usually one to quibble, but where in the first article does the Coroner ‘call’ for cyclists to use wider tires?

    The article quotes the coroner as saying that the death “…highlights that, due to their dimensions, tram tracks are an inherent danger to cyclists who could enhance their own safety by riding on wider tyres…”

    All the coroner did was highlight that cyclists could enhance their own safety…surely that’s a long way from ‘calling’ for them to use wider tyres.

    Maybe I am splitting hairs though.

  3. Well, I disagree with the assertion that you can’t regulate “respect”. If you come up with a rule that is enforceable, with severe enough fines, people will start “respecting” each other. Surely, it will take a while before people forget why they started respecting the cyclists.

  4. Stephen, I agree that our approach to cycling is below par.

    The issues are many and varied, particularly the way of thinking that dominates in Australia, that cycling is not a legitimate form of urban transport.  That is is one lucky bonus, and second in priority to cars.  

    One issue often overlooked is Australia’s helmet law.  This had a few effects that led our cycling culture to evolve very differently from other countries.

    First, it made cycling appear dangerous and discourage riding.  With fewer cyclist is made each remaining cyclist less safe.  Drivers simply never had the practice negotiating cyclists in the road before.  

    Second, helmets made drivers feel that cyclists are now safe, so there is no need to give them space.  Experiments have shown that cars pass helmeted cyclists more closely than non-helmeted.  Indeed, the unhelmeted cyclist with long blonde hair will be given the most space of all.

    My take on this aspect of the cycling debate is here

  5. Last year we cycled 4000 kilometres around France and Switzerland.  I can confirm that French drivers are several orders of magnitude more considerate than the average Australian driver.  And it is a beautiful way to travel.  If only I dared to do the same kind of trip in Oz.

    A high profile competitive cycling event could help change attitudes (providing that Australians were winning of course).  Tour de L’Oz anyone? 

  6. I would have thought that existing laws would be sufficient to prosecute dangerously close passing – failure to maintain sufficient separation from other traffic, or the catch-all dangerous driving perhaps.

  7. The comment I posted on Sunrise’s Soapbox in response to their story this morning:

    I won’t bother reading the usual “pay rego”/”get off our roads” comments that normally abound.I will say that we are talking about protecting the lives of Aussies, Aussies who deserve to ride on our roads without fear. We are talking about husbands, mothers, our chilren, work collegues and mates, and they are only wanting our current laws strengthened to provide the certainty that our current laws do not provide. They also want better enforcement and a heck of alot more spent on road safety education, as many of the motoring public are genuinely none the wiser regarding their obligations and cannot be blamed for the situation we all find ourselves in.The biggest issue we face is our governments spending rediculous ammounts on cycling specific infrastrucure in a desperate attempt to play catch up with the rest of the world. The end result of this is that cyclists are being forced off our roads and onto paths where pedestrians then have to deal with us instead. No ammount of cycling infrastructure is going to negate the NEED for all cyclists to still ride on the road at some point every time they ride, ergo the issue of cyclists interacting with motorists will always exist. This must be taken into account! The tax payers hard earned would be better spent on upgrading our existing road network and educating ALL road users on how to share those roads.As for the signage shown from NZ, we believe that due in part to pressure from us here at Safe Cycling Australia in Queensland, Brisbane inner city suburbs are now seeing “share the road” signage popping up alerting them to the presence of bike riders. Brisbane City Council is also looking at the most effective ways it can find to educate motorists in an part of the world where we recently lost 8 cyclists to collisions from behind or beside, 9 Qld riders including Carly Hibberd – in similar circumstances to a driver in Europe, and including 3 members of the Ipswich Cycling Club all in less than 3 months.We will be attending a round table forum in Brisbane this month along with the AGF and others including the Qld Transport Minister and her advisors, for the express purpose of finding workable solutions to a rapidly worsening problem.We are urgently calling for motorists to show more concideration of their mates on the road, and we’d ask all cyclists to bear in mind that while two abreast is legal, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to give a little.And to our State cyling ‘advocates – BNV, BQ, BNSW etc – start listening to your members for a change and actrually try advocating rather than sprooking (insert State Govt here) policy and doing nothing constructive for the cyclists you all claim to represent. Your members are as sick of the current situation as the rest of us who you certainly do not represent!Dave SharpSafe Cycling Australia

  8. “The approach to cycling safety in Australia seems to be based on rule making.”

    Poor driving can and is indeed legislated, as we know.  The laws relating to cyclists is a little bit unclear, although there have been one or two prosections in recent years, one of which involved a death of an elderly person.

    Norway, Sweden or someone clever in one of those countries like that created seatbelts, and did not take out a patent out on them and offered the design for free.

    Americans rejected this initiative for many years, as it was something of a breach of civil liberties.  In the meantime, thousands of people got dead behind poorly designed cars.

    I thank seatbelts for me still being alive from a very ugly altercation with another car..  So I dunno, use common sense I think.

    Adapt to the environment/infrastructure around you.  Don’t complain, get used to it. 

    Especially, don’t tempt trams.  They are rather big, and the drivers cannot be blamed for their physical limitations..

  9. Sorry Mr Sharp – I did not read your comment before posting mine as I have a great deal of difficultly in reading blocks/slabs of words.

    I always look out for cyclists (and women in short skirts) when I am driving, but geez, sometimes you cyclists are like ghosts. 

    I was looking to do do a left hand turn onto Brunswick St in daylight from a small street, looking to my right and left for traffic to clear and nudging forward (my car was obviously visable to all), and suddenly a cyclist screamed up to me on my right and shouted words I cannot reproduce here.

    I was visible, being a white car.  She was not, being all black..

    Off topic, but I have noticed a remarkable increase in black cars these days.  I know it is probably “cool” or something, but I wonder waht insurance companies make of this trend?

  10. “First, there were a large number of cyclists ‘touring’ Southern France. Second, drivers treated them with caution and respect”

    Drivers treat cyclists with respect apart from that idiot driver from French TV that stupidly took out two of the Tour de France drivers. Oops.

  11. Sephen

    As a keen cyclist and a regular observer of poor road manners (generally on the part of car driivers) and the occasional breach of road rules (generally cyclists) ther eis obviously work on both sides to improve the cycling expereince and road saftey generally.   It is amazing how a breach of road rules by 1 or 2 cyclists seems to be used by many drivers to behave aggressively and without regard for all cyclists.
    My undestanding of the  “One  meter makes a difference” (Amy Gillet) campaign is not to establish an enforceable distance (heck we cant enforce more obvious rule breaches like mobile telephone use). The purpose it to raise awareness of the general need to give cyclist space and the legitimacy of cyclist claims on the road. The One Meter campaign attempt to deal with only one risk issue.. but there are others, like right turning cars that barrel into oncoming riders (twice in 2 weeks on Beach Road).  The awareness campaing will be generalised to try to humanise riders and to highlight the unequality between car andf rider.
    Lets hope we can adopt the greater harmony between all road users as is evident overseas.. I have just returned from cycling in Italy and enjoyed the courtesy of Italian drivers.  Remarkable change from here, when many drivers would simply prefer cyclists off the roads … its ironic.. its seems that  road use extinguishes other claims to share this resource… bigger and faster (sometimes) seesm to the basis for these oft claimed rights and privileges..



  12. Safe Cycling Aus is actively pushing for the 1 metre rule to be introduced into legislation, and we believe what we’re doing has given the Amy Gillett Foundation the kick up the arse it needed to do more than just talk about it.
    I do agree though that there is a heck of alot more that we all need to do to make our roads safer for everyone

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