Image: Daily Telegraph

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough. In Sydney and London, my two most recent home cities, cyclist deaths have been mounting up, and naturally nerves are wearing somewhat thin. For my part I’ve been alternating between despair and fury over the situation. I either want to stay at home and never ride again, or I want to go out and kick some wing mirrors off.

In the press and on the blogs, much ink has been expended on the fact that the Amy Gillett Foundation’s “A Metre Matters” campaign needs to be implemented here and it needs to be implemented now. With this I strongly agree – though I personally think more than a metre is needed.

Very few column inches, however, have been expended on the fact that we already have safe overtaking laws, right now.

In NSW, rule 15 defines vehicles. It is abundantly clear over the fact that a bicycle, for the purposes of the rules, is a vehicle.

We are not second class citizens on the road.

Many road users, cyclists included, seem to be entirely ignorant of this, so let me just underline it – because it’s important for what follows. A bicycle, for the purposes of road rules, is a vehicle, and therefore carries all the rights and responsibilities that any other vehicle carries – with some specific exceptions.

Further down the rules, you come to Division 3: Overtaking. Within this division, rule 140 forms a master template for safe overtaking between vehicles. It’s pretty clear and unequivocal

A driver must not overtake a vehicle unless:

(a)  the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic, and

(b)  the driver can safely overtake the vehicle.

Let’s just repeat that

A driver must not overtake a vehicle unless:

(a)  the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic, and

(b)  the driver can safely overtake the vehicle.

This rule, part B of rule 140, would cover every single one of the dangerous overtaking moves that I’ve experienced as a cyclist, and criminalise them with 20 penalty units. What we seem to lack is general knowledge of this rule, the fact that it applies to overtaking cyclists, and meaningful enforcement. Being inside a metre is emphatically not safe. A driver passing this close has breached rule 140.

NSW Police, and more broadly all jurisdictions in which similar laws exist – yes, they exist in the rest of Australia and in the UK too – could be enforcing this rule right now. But they never seem to bother. What we get is mealy-mouthed excuses and instead of being charged under rule 140,  drivers are sent on their merry way with a mere warning – or at best an incorrect charge – while at the side of the road, the ambulance service and the health system is left to pick up the pieces.

Enough is enough.

If, like me, you’ve over it, may I suggest you write to the NSW Police Commissioner and demand that rule 140 is enforced, in the absence of more specific one metre rules. Demand that his officers correctly handle collisions and near misses when reported. Write to your local politicians and press home the point that we need a metre or more, and mention that we already have unenforced laws which can handle this. And if you have driver friends who aren’t aware of these rules, tell them. Make sure they know that if they can’t get past a bike with a safe margin, then they must not overtake. Make sure they also know that bikes are vehicles and therefore they are treated as such – at junctions, roundabouts and when emerging from parking spaces. Give way, give space.

This needs to change. Enough people have died.

One Thought on “15/140

  1. The thing that gets me is that most of those opposed to the 1m or 1.5m rules say there’s already road rules in place to provide a safe passing distance, and that it removes the ability of police to use their judgement in cases where they feel more than the arbitrary 1m or 1.5m may have been required.

    Only the thing is, I am yet to hear of a single occasion where police didn’t have to be forced kicking and screaming to charge someone for forcing a cyclist to take aversive maneuvers to avoid an accident and being run over/killed. I am yet to hear of a single incident where cops didn’t say “Oh, he was within 2m” or anything like that.

    No, most of the time the police response is “Well, he didn’t hit you did he?” even when it’s clear the only reason the car didn’t hit the cyclist is because the cyclist altered their lines and went diving out of the way to avoid being hit.

    This is just pathetic. A 1m (or my preferred option of “1.5m if same lane, preferably next lane”) passing rule is required, nationally, NOW.

    The way things currently are, most drivers don’t see cyclists as vehicles. You’re not allowed to cross double unbroken lines to pass a vehicle. You must wait for a passing lane and adequate oncoming space. No, most drivers see cyclists as debris. You ARE allowed to cross double unbroken lines and provide fuck-all room to pass an obstacle or debris on the road, even run over it a little. The police response just backs this concept up.

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