Queensland has passed a law legally requiring drivers leave at least one metre of space when overtaking cyclists.
The law, to be enacted within a month for an initial trial period of two years, will require motorists keep a distance of one metre from cyclists when overtaking in zones with a speed limit of 60km/h or below, and a distance of 1.5 metre in areas with a speed limit above 60km/h.
Previously, preferred distances between cyclists and drivers have been recommendations only, rather than enforceable laws.
Under the law, Queensland Transport Minister Scott Emerson says cars are allowed to cross a dividing line, if safe, to give the necessary amount of space to cyclists when overtaking.
While cycling advocates have praised the new law, saying it will create a safer space for all road users, Queensland’s major motoring body, the RACQ, has opposed the creation of a law for safe-distance overtaking.
“The RACQ strongly believes in motorists giving cyclists at least a metre space when overtaking, but good road rules should be practical, enforceable and improve the safety for all road users,” said RACQ safety policy manager Steve Spalding.
“Education around safe passing distances would be far more effective [than the law] and actually lead to a safer and more courteous road sharing environment.”
The law comes after a cycling advocacy group, the Queensland Transport, Housing and Local Government committee, put together a report consisting of 68 recommendations for law makers, which, as well as recommending the safe-distance law, would also penalise drivers who breached the one-metre rule with a maximum fine of $4400 and the loss of eight demerit points, and have cyclists be able to treat stop signs as give-way signs.
Spalding said the potential introduction of different road rules for cyclists and drivers would only serve to heighten tensions between the two groups of road users.
“Our members tell us they are constantly frustrated to see one rule for motorists, and another for cyclists, and this will only reinforce this conflict.”
“The fact is, in order for our transport system to work, we all have to share the road. Changing the laws and increasing fines make for good headlines, but without enforcement it’s a waste of time.”
Controversially, the report seeks to legislate for the abolition of compulsory-helmet laws. However, another cycling safety group, the Amy Gillett Foundation, rejected that proposal.
“While implementing the proposed [overtaking distance] safety measures we recommend the Queensland Government uphold current helmet laws to avoid taking one step backwards for safety at the same time we are taking a step forward,” said the foundation’s chief executive, Tracey Gaudry.
While the committee lobbied to introduce the one-metre overtaking distance law, not all cycling advocacy groups support the minimum distance law. Victoria-based Bicycle Network Australia, and Bicycle Queensland, both oppose the legislation of a minimum distance, sharing the RACQ’s opinion that it should be a recommendation only.