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You shouldn’t be driving if you can’t stay clear of cyclists

By David Bonnici, 23 Jan 2020 Car Opinions

bike rider cars separation

If your reaction to maintaining a safe distance from cyclists is to demonise riders, you probably shouldn't be on the road

The RACV has called on the Victorian Government to trial a minimum passing distance rule for motorists when overtaking cyclists, which has attracted the usual self-pity from motorists.

The trial would legally require motorists to leave at least one metre of space between themselves and cyclists when overtaking on roads less than 60km/h and 1.5 metres when overtaking on roads with speeds over 60 km/h, reflecting similar legislation in other states.

Cyclist in traffic

The current law in Victoria states that motorists provide ‘sufficient distance’, which is open to interpretation.

Obviously some roads are too narrow to leave a 1.0- or 1.5-metre gap, so exemptions to other road rules would be granted such as being able to drive over solid or double lines to pass a cyclist as long as there is no approaching traffic.

READ MORE: Driver who heckled cycling cops while driving on bike lane charged

That said, if a road is too narrow to pass a cyclist you probably shouldn’t be travelling much faster than them anyway.

Victoria’s peak motoring body pointed to NSW which now has the rule in place, which according to Transport for NSW has shown:

  • A demonstrated improvement to cyclist safety.
  • While driver response to the trial was mixed it was generally positive.
  • No clear evidence of any negative unintended outcomes of the trial, despite initial concerns from police and some participants.
  • Widespread support for retaining the rule.

Typical selfish response

Despite the benefits, the RACV’s proposal attracted inevitable backlash from motorists who reckon their human rights are being breached simply for being asked to use their driving skills to protect their fellow man. 

As usual, there were those who look at a rule like this and pick out different scenarios where it might not be practical, but no road rule is immune to this.

READ MORE: Simple ways to protect cyclists most drivers don't know about

And then there are the strawman arguments like cyclists should have to pay their way to be on the roads, as though not paying rego means you deserve what you get.

I’d say I’m baffled that there even needs to be such a road rule. However, there are so any self-entitled drivers on our roads that sadly it’s totally necessary; like how people’s inability to politely merge with traffic has led to a need for traffic lights at freeway entrances.

Cyclist bike lane

I must confess I actually thought the 1.0 metre rule was in place in Victoria and have tried to maintain it where possible.

My daily commute often takes me through Exhibition Street in Melbourne’s CDB which is teeming with cyclists. There is a bike lane at the northern end but it’s often blocked by buses, delivery trucks and construction work, which means riders sometimes have to share the roadway - as they’re perfectly entitled to do under the law.

Where possible I change lanes to give the cyclist space or simply sit behind them until it’s safe to pass. It’s really not that difficult.  

‘But what about those cyclists who don’t obey the rules’, I hear you ask.

What about them? You’re not going to get booked because you didn’t leave a 1.0m gap from a courier who whizzed past the driver’s side of your car. It’s also not your fault if you leave a gap and the cyclist decides to unnecessarily breach it.

READ MORE: Five ways cyclists and drivers can get along better

And yes, occasionally you’ll be caught behind a peloton of MAMILs for a short time which can be frustrating (like many other things on the road) but is that worse than injuring or killing someone?

Stop making excuses. If you can’t cope or have the spatial perception to share the road with cyclists, and understand that you are responsible for their safety, you’re simply not up to the task of driving a motor vehicle.

David Bonnici doesn’t currently own or ride a bike and drives to work every day.