Victoria inches ever closer to a minimum passing distance law

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The Australian state of Victoria appears to be one step closer to introducing a minimum overtaking distance law after a parliamentary committee today indicated its support of such legislation.

Following its seven-month public inquiry into cycling safety, the Victorian Parliament’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee today announced its support for a bill that would amend the state’s road laws to require drivers to maintain a minimum of 1 metre or 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists.

“Overall, the Committee concluded that the rule changes proposed in the Bill are likely to have a positive impact on road safety and should be supported, though with some modifications,” said Committee Chair Joshua Morris. “The provisions in the Bill would be one step towards making the roads safer for cyclists.”

The Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s report included 17 recommendations, including the following:

– “That the government should undertake a communication campaign to remind motorists that cyclists are permitted to ride two abreast and to encourage cyclists to be courteous in riding two abreast by not doing so where it will slow traffic down unnecessarily”

– “That, if specified minimum passing distance rules are introduced, the Government amend learner driver materials and tests to reflect the new rules”

– That motorists should be allowed to cross centre-line markings (including continuous double lines) in order to safely overtake cyclists

– “That the government erects signs on key cycling routes and higher-risk locations to remind motorists of the rules.”

In presenting the committee’s report to Victoria’s Legislative Council today, Mr Morris said that regardless of whether the Bill is passed, governments need to pay attention to the issue of cyclist safety.

“The Committee has recommended that, even if the Bill is not passed, an education campaign about safe passing distances be run, that a stakeholder group be established to advise and assist with cyclist safety initiatives and that mandatory standards be considered for the width of traffic and bicycle lanes.”

The bipartisan committee began its inquiry in February this year by calling for public submissions regarding the proposed introduction of a minimum overtaking distance law. Some 172 submissions were received, the majority of them in support of the bill.

In writing its report, the Committee also considered the situation in other states and territories of Australia. Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, the ACT and Tasmania have all made changes to their road laws in order to address cyclist safety. Victoria continues to lag behind.

“Preliminary data from Queensland and surveys of road users from a number of jurisdictions suggest that the rules have increased cyclist safety,” the Committee said in its report. “However, limited objective data about the impact on driver behaviour and road safety are available at this time.”

The Amy Gillett Foundation has long campaigned for the introduction of so-called “a metre matters” laws around Australia and the cycling safety charity today threw its support behind the Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s findings.

“This is a welcome development in Victoria, and we urge the Victorian Government to take heed of these recommendations and implement a metre matters laws in Victoria without further delay”, Amy Gillett Foundation CEO Phoebe Dunn said in a press release. “The majority of Australian states and territories have a metre matters laws or their equivalent in place.

“Victorian cyclists have long been calling for these laws, and there is now nowhere for the Victorian Government to hide.”

As the law current stands in Victoria, “A driver overtaking a vehicle [including a bicycle] … must pass the vehicle at a sufficient distance to avoid a collision with the vehicle or obstructing the path of the vehicle”. The proposed legislation would see this “sufficient distance” clause replaced with a fixed minimum overtaking distance of 1 metre on roads with speed limits up to and including 60km/h, and 1.5 metres on roads with higher speed limits.

Victoria’s Legislative Council, the state parliament’s upper house, will now consider the proposed bill and the recommendations made by the Economy and Infrastructure Committee.

The Victorian Parliament’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee’s full report is publicly available at the Parliament of Victoria website.

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