Greens campaign to share the road is paying off

Greens campaign to share the road is paying off, cycling, metre matters, safe passing distance, bike riding, Lynn MacLaren

You won’t often read Greens’ praise for a decision by this Government on a matter relating to transport, health and the environment, so read on!

In a matter of weeks, I expect the Government to announce safe passing distance regulations that will require motorists to allow at least a one metre distance when approaching or overtaking cyclists (and 1.5 metres in 60kmh-plus zones).

Two years ago, I introduced a Bill for similar laws in the WA Upper House and with the help of cycling groups including Amy Gillett Foundation I have been advocating for their introduction ever since.

Now I have the champagne metaphorically on ice because I think the rule changes, provided they are implemented in tandem with a well-funded and targeted community education campaign, will make using the road in WA pleasanter and safer, whether you are on bike, or foot or in a car.

WA drivers are already required by law to allow a safe distance when approaching cyclists but the specific distance that constitutes ‘safe’ is not specified and the current legislation has not been effective at preventing the death and injury toll.

Provided they are introduced with a comprehensive awareness-raising campaign, I believe these new laws will therefore provide some much needed clarity for motorists who are genuinely uncertain about how much space a cyclist needs to be safe as well as those who are not aware that they should share the road with bike riders at all.

I believe that it is crucial that we also at this time raise awareness among cyclists about their obligations to share the road appropriately.

Peak body WestCycle recently developed a draft code for bike riders, including key points for how solo and group bike riders should ride safely and courteously. I look forward to it being promoted and widely adopted in coming months.

One of the positive consequences of bike-riders feeling safer under safe passing distance laws will be more people will leave their car at home for a healthier means to their destination, thus reducing congestion and pollution.

Surveys show that fear of traffic is the most common obstacle to Western Australians riding to work and school. Given 2014’s ‘horror’ year for WA cyclists in which eight were killed and another 18 critically injured, this is understandable.

These days, wearing a GoPro camera on your helmet or whipping out a mobile phone to video an imminent confrontation seems increasingly common among cycle commuters.

But extreme road rage is not confined to between bike riders and drivers – driver-on-driver rage incidents have surfaced in the media too.

Our roads are in general angry places.

While I don’t expect safe passing distance requirements will solve all road rage I do believe that introducing a rule that makes it clear that our roads are to be shared by vulnerable and less vulnerable users will provide leadership and clarity in a space that has clearly suffered from a leadership vacuum and lack of clarity.

I commend the Road Safety Minister for publicly signaling in April that she would bring in safe passing distance laws, after the Premier and Transport Minister both pooh-poohed the idea 18 months earlier.

If the Minister achieves this, WA will finally catch up to the six other Australian states and jurisdictions that have already passed safe passing distance legislation, or are carrying out trials, in the time since I introduced the Greens’ Road Traffic (Keeping Safe Distances from Bicycles) Amendment Bill during Bike Week in March 2014.

It took this Government a while, but they finally acknowledged the sense in these laws – and for that I am genuinely grateful.