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Queensland cycling group and motoring association unconvinced by laws to be introduced in NSW

Sydney Morning Herald, 23 December 2015
Cyclist Richard Bean was riding to work early one morning when he felt a rush of wind as a white van zoomed closely past him. He was certain that the van driver had not left the minimum distance of 1.5 metres that is compulsory for motorists in Queensland when overtaking a cyclist in a speed zone of more than 60 km/h.

Dr Bean, who is co-covenor of the Brisbane CBD Bicycle User Group, captured the incident on a camera attached to the back of his bike, supplied it to police, and the driver was fined.

The fine was one of 63 infringements that have been issued between the start of Queensland’s trial of passing distance laws, in April 2014, and August 31 this year.

That works out to about four fines a month, a rate that has left some saying the laws are largely unenforceable.

​In NSW, the requirement for motorists to leave at least one metre when overtaking drivers when travelling under 60km/h, or 1.5 metres in over 65km/h zones, will come into force from March 1 as part of a slew of reforms that include forcing bike riders to carry photo identification and boosting fines for riders caught breaking road rules.

Drivers will be fined $319 and lose two demerit points for breaking the distance rule.

Motorists overtaking cyclists will be exempt from certain rules, including crossing a centre dividing line, if it is safe to do so.

In Canberra, where a trial of the laws started on November 1, one person has been issued with a fine.

South Australia adopted minimum passing distance laws in October but a police spokesperson said they will not release any data until an education campaign has finished.

While cyclist groups in Sydney and NSW have broadly welcomed the introduction of the law, one of Queensland’s cycling advocacy groups and the state’s motoring body remain unconvinced.

Ben Wilson, from Bicycle Queensland, said the law had been “strongly symbolic” and a good way to boost awareness of cyclists, but was largely unenforceable and might not actually boost safety for riders.

“There is absolutely rock-solid evidence that building better bike ways works but there is no firm evidence that this works, though it is something that politicians beat their chest on,” Mr Wilson said.

“If the NSW government really wanted to put some skin in the game, that’s when you’re spending money and building bike ways.”

Steve Spalding of Queensland’s motoring association RACQ, said the organisation was cautious about the introduction of the law and remained unconvinced that it was necessary. Mr Spalding said many motorists did not understand the road rule changes.

​”I think what would like to see, firstly, is the result of the evaluations as to just what difference it has made in real terms to safety of cyclists,” he said.

But the NRMA, NSW’s peak motoring association, and Bicycle NSW have both welcomed the introduction of the law and the road safety campaign that will accompany it.

The Amy Gillett Foundation, which launched the “A Metre Matters” campaign, said behaviour change rather than issuing fines was the aim of the reforms.

“The vast majority of people actually leave the appropriate distance, so this isn’t actually making a huge difference to motorists – but it is raising awareness of the importance of leaving enough space for vulnerable road users,” the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman said it was a good sign if motorists were not being fined in large numbers as it showed the message had been received.

In announcing the changes on Monday, Roads Minister Duncan Gay said the law was working in other states and if the government needed to adjust their new rules and penalties, they would.

“If there are enforcement officers there, then yes, you will be picked up,” Mr Gay said. “The same as speeding or any other fine across the state.”