Victorian cyclists miss out on minimum passing distance law

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The Victorian government has announced that it has no immediate plans to introduce a minimum passing distance law for vehicles overtaking cyclists.

In a reported tabled in state parliament today, the Daniel Andrews Labor government revealed its two-stage approach to the issue of rider safety, after considering recommendations made by an Economy and Infrastructure Committee inquiry last year.

While the inquiry recommended introducing a minimum passing distance trial — following in the footsteps of other Australian states and territories — the government will instead develop a “year long community education campaign designed to change motorists’ behaviours towards cyclists”. The government report reveals that a mandated minimum passing distance for motorists will only be trialled “if the community education campaign is ineffective in achieving safety benefits for cyclists.”

The government has expressed “in principle” support for many of the recommendations made by the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, including that of a minimum passing distance of 1 metre on roads with a speed limit up to and including 60km/h, and 1.5m on faster roads. The report added that support for the recommendations “is dependant on the outcome of Stage One, the community education campaign.”

Should a passing distance trial eventually go ahead, it will do so under the auspices of a “Technical Working Group”. This group, convened by the government’s “road safety partners”, will help draft the trial rules, “to minimise unintended negative consequences, and maximise safety outcomes for cyclists.” The group will consider the potential challenges that come with an overtaking law trial, such as: whether to allow drivers to cross continuous centre lines; how to manage traffic on narrow roads; and the impact of a minimum passing distance on intersections in the Melbourne CBD and other inner urban environments.

The Amy Gillett Foundation, a key player in the push for what it calls “a metre matters” legislation, has reacted to today’s news with frustration.

“Today’s announcement by the Andrews Government not to legislate a metre matters in Victoria is extremely disappointing, and goes against the clear recommendations of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry,” said Amy Gillett Foundation CEO, Phoebe Dunn. “While disappointed in the decision not to legislate, we are committed to working closely with Government and relevant agencies to implement the education campaign and make it as effective as it can be in the absence of legislation.

“We will work tirelessly to ensure this campaign is both appropriately resourced and independently evaluated in the interests of cycling safety.”

Cycling advocacy group Bicycle Network also expressed its disappointment with the government’s decision.

“We are disappointed that the Victorian Government isn’t following the lead of other states turning MPDL [minimum passing distance law] into legislation,” said Bicycle Network Chief Executive Officer Craig Richards. “It’s clear that bike riders want a MPDL and today’s announcement is a huge missed opportunity to bring Victoria into line and further reduce the risk to bike riders on our roads.”

Mr Richards said that while an education campaign is important, it could be a case of wasted time if not approached correctly.

“At the end of the day, we want the best outcome for all road users and we hope that the government’s new education campaign is strongly tied to behaviour change methodology,” he said. “Studies show that in isolation, mass education/awareness campaign are not an effective way to create real behavioural change.”

It’s not clear what form the government’s community education campaign will take, how it will be spread and when it will begin. For now, the only detail provided by the government is a list of steps that will comprise Stage One of its response:

– Development of a community education campaign with messages for motorists regarding the vulnerability of cyclists and the promotion of safe overtaking distances

– Collection of baseline data including passing distances, road user attitudes and crash statistics

– Review of outcomes from community education campaign

– Review of trial results from international and national jurisdictions that have trialled mandatory passing distances

– Assessment of combined outcomes from the above and decision on whether or not to implement Stage Two

As it stands, Victoria is the only state in Australia without a minimum passing distance law either in place permanently, being trialled, or pledged.

Follow the link for the Victorian government’s full response to the overtaking distance law inquiry.

Further reactions

Cycling Australia

“The announcement by the Andrews’ Government not to pass this legislation in Victoria is extremely concerning for cyclists’ safety, and goes against the recommendations of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry,” said Cycling Australia CEO Nicholas Green OAM. “Passing distance laws that keep cyclists safe need to be a priority for all State and Territory governments.

“With more people cycling every day, it’s important that we protect all road users with laws to ensure avoidable accidents and deaths do not happen,” said new Cycling Australia Chair the Hon Steve Bracks AC. “We need effective driver and rider education to promote road harmony and encourage all forms of transport to work together and make sure everyone gets to where they’re going safely.”

The Australian Greens Party

“The government is blocking laws which would make cyclists safer,” said Samantha Dunn MP, Greens Spokesperson for Cycling and Road Safety. “We’re confident the Greens bill will pass the upper house. We will work with Victoria’s massive cycling community to force the government to rethink this irresponsible decision.

“Dan Andrews should explain why Victorian cyclists don’t deserve protections afforded to those in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and overseas. The government has ignored successful interstate trials and a September 2016 inquiry report endorsing a one metre passing distance, that its own MPs supported” she said.

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