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Debate Room: We need a minimum passing distance law or more cyclists will die on our roads

Can we ensure that motorists and cyclists are safely sharing our roads with a 1.5 metre minimum distance law?

Various

Under the proposed new legislation, motorists would be obliged by law to pass cyclists no closer than 1.5 metres on roads with a speed limit of 50km/h or higher. On roads where the speed limit is under 50km/h, the safe passing distance would be set at one metre.

France, Belgium, Portugal and Australia, 26 US states and several provinces in Canada have already introduced the 1.5 metre minimum distance law. We asked a cyclist and a motorist to debate whether we should introduce it here.

YES. Firstly we need to understand that we have a problem with the dangerous overtaking of bicycle riders in Ireland. We are not unique in that but we are becoming unique in doing very little about it, by not adding this layer of extra protection for a vulnerable road user class.

The aim is to create an environment where all road users can utilise a healthier, cleaner and sustainable form of transport without feeling threatened by a badly planned and dangerous overtaking manoeuvre.

The creation of a virtual safety zone is not just for middle age men in lycra, this is aimed at all people who ride bicycles, and especially those who are currently too scared to do so.

This obligation on motorists is aimed at making that critical interaction on the road a safe one.

Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign

The Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign, has made use of social media, various awareness videos, vehicle signage, safety campaigns and press releases to ask motorists to “give space” to bicycle riders.

The RSA has been active in this area too by adding a 1.5 metre recommendation to the rules of the road and creating awareness ads.

But this has been ongoing with cyclists for some time now and and although has some positive effect, it doesn’t reach the target audience we need to engage, those who might view people on bicycles as road furniture, as an inconvenience, that needs to be overtaken hastily and at the first opportunity, irrespective of the danger.

Enforcing the minimum passing distance

Introducing a law like this would be a significant and progressive step in changing the focus on sharing the road. It is enforceable by Garda eyewitnesses, third party camera footage and the use of an ultrasonic speed gun type of device.

It would mean very little to the vast majority of drivers who already heed the advice currently given by the RSA.

Queensland, Australia witnessed a 50% drop in cyclist related injuries and a 35% reduction of cyclist fatalities since the introduction of MPDL there. These results are possible to achieve too in an Irish context with MPDL legislation in place and associated awareness campaigns.

Now is the time for Ireland to step up. Failure to do so will certainly lead to unnecessary and wholly preventable deaths of bicycle riders and a lifetime of heartache not just for their family, friends and communities, but also for the uninformed motorist.

Phil Skelton of Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 has spearheaded the MPDL Bill.

9042 Dublin Cycling Campaign_90503598 Cyclists gathered outside Leinster House to protest for more of the transport budget be allocated to cycling infrastructure in Dublin recently. Source: Leah Farrell

NO. There is definitely a problem here. There is a minority of motorists who are obnoxious to the point of being dangerous when they pass cyclists. The AA has no problem with those individuals being fined and given penalty points.

The best way to do that though is to use existing laws. It is already an offence to drive a car “without reasonable consideration” and you get two penalty points on the spot or four if you go to court.

Absolute rules cause absolute problems

There is a big difference between a good idea and a practical change to the law. When you put absolute rules onto the statute books, it very often causes more problems than it solves and leads to legal challenges.

Imagine a congested narrow street where there is a cyclist with his foot on the kerb, looking at his phone. Each car inching past at 3kmh would theoretically incur penalty points.

You have to draft so many caveats and stipulations into the regulations that it becomes unworkable.

You can’t write everything into law

There are so many silly, rude and dangerous things a driver could do: shaving, applying make-up, holding a coffee cup between the knees, frightening an old lady trying to cross the road, passing too close to a baby’s buggy.

You could not possibly write them all into law and you don’t need to. You enforce the provision that is already there which effectively means that if you behave like a pig on the road then you get penalty points and a fine.

10% of AA members are regular cyclists and the number is growing. Everyone wants to encourage that and to keep people safe. What is really needed is more Gardaí, not new laws.

The Government should concentrate on providing the resources, not making simplistic and unnecessary changes to primary legislation.

Conor Faughnan is AA Director of Consumer Affairs.

What do you think? Would an MPDL law work here and do we need it to keep cyclists safe? Let us know in the comments below.

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