Cycling in the news 18 Jan – 24 Jan 2020

The RACV has publicly called on the Victorian Government to trial minimum passing distance rules for motorists overtaking cyclists. In a media release they stated that Victoria was behind other states in introducing such laws and the “increasing number of bike rider deaths and injuries” needed to be addressed.

The announcement came after an incident on the 17th in which Torquay cyclist Claire Breed was seriously injured after being hit by an overtaking truck near Ocean Grove. Breed—a local teacher who earlier in January rescued two young boys in Barwon Heads from drowning—spoke to the Geelong Advertiser to call for the introduction of new laws.

“If there was a mandatory distance the truck driver would have had to wait behind me before he could overtake and I would not have got clipped by the tray” she said.

The Age reported on the RACV announcement, highlighting the case of cyclist Matt Atherton who was struck by an overtaking motorist while riding along Fullarton Road in Airport West. Atherton was hit with such force by the driver he was thrown into the air and dragged along the road.  

“Victoria is the only state or territory in the country that has not trialled or legislated a minimum passing distance, despite proposed laws being tabled in State Parliament nearly five years ago” The Age reported.

Melbourne 3AW presenter Tom Elliot argued that minimum passing laws were “unworkable” in the city because “There isn’t one metre to spare […] we just don’t have the room on many of these roads”. 3AW also cited an interview with Assistant Commissioner of road policing Libby Murphy who stated that the laws could be problematic as “the slightest movement of a cyclist would cause an offense for the driver”. Murphy was reportedly concerned that “the driver would not be in control of the situation.”

ABC Melbourne interviewed a number of local drivers and cyclists to hear their thoughts on the possible trial. One interviewee commented that while passing laws were a good idea, the lack of cycling infrastructure was a key reason he felt unsafe on the road.

“There’s no bike lane and there’s no footpath […] I had a close call last week when a car was about a foot away, which was quite hairy, and travelling at about 50kph.”

Social media commentary on the announcement has been strongly polarised. Many commenters voiced their concerns that without better bike paths and cycling infrastructure the introduction of minimum passing laws would be ineffective. Other commentators argued that cyclists were at fault for riding too close to cars, not riding single file and using roads when footpaths were available.

In other news, The Courier Mail reported that police were still seeking a female cyclist in relation to a crash in Coolangatta in December in which a toddler was severely injured. The Courier Mail published CCTV footage of the cyclist given to them by QLD Police and urged the public to contact Crime Stoppers if they had any information on the woman.

A 32-year-old man fronted Ballarat Magistrates Court on Friday charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a cyclist riding along Creswick Road in March of 2019. The Courier reported that the victim was a “dedicated CFA member” and was “involved in the Creswick Football Club.”

In the ACT, the government moved to exempt cyclists who wear headwear for religious reasons from mandatory helmet laws. Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury said that the change in laws was prompted by a letter he had received from a local Sikh man, Jagdeep Singh, who told him the inability to fit a standard bicycle helmet over his turban meant he had given up cycling since moving to Canberra.

Minister Rattenbury told The Canberra Times that “The Territory supports individuals practising their religion or belief and this regulation ensures that sections of the community are not excluded from active forms of transport”.

As The Daily Mail Australia and the SBS reported, the passage of religious headwear exemptions brings the ACT in line with similar legislation passed in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. New South Wales currently has no laws exempting cyclists from mandatory helmet laws for religious reasons.

Some commenters on The Daily Mail’s article were supportive of the new laws, calling them “respectful” and “inclusive”. Others argued that the laws were unfair and that cyclists not wearing helmets should be held financially responsible if they were injured while riding.

Minister Rattenbury discussed the legislation further on Facebook. Commenters on Facebook were divided on whether the exemptions could be extended to other social, cultural or religious groups. One commenter argued that if he wished to “wear a pasta strainer” on his head for religious reasons, he should be exempt as well.

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