Road safety for cyclists in Australia – a few steps forward

A_metre_matters_logoEvery time I read a survey of female bike riders, they say that one of the greatest barriers for women to ride is road safety, and as a woman who’s been riding a road bike for seven years in Sydney I don’t really blame them.

I was lucky enough to spend 10 weeks in Europe on holidays this year and spent some of that time riding my road bike on the country and city roads in Holland, France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. I can honestly say that I was not abused once by an impatient driver. Every one was courteous and welcoming of cyclists. I felt safe every time I rode my bike.

Back home in Sydney I regularly feel unsafe and quite often get abused by impatient drivers who think they are the only road users allowed on our suburban streets.

But there are changes afoot in Australia thanks to some fantastic advocacy groups like The Amy Gillett Foundation, Bicycle Network, Bicycle NSW and others.

On Sunday South Australia brought new laws into effect that require drivers to leave a metre distance when passing cyclists and they are backing that up with a promotional campaign to educate all road users about the new laws.

South Australia follows Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory which have already introduced similar laws.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that introducing laws like these will change attitudes overnight but they are a great step forward. Interestingly in Europe drivers give you at least a metre and in Holland on the many bike paths, when you enter an intersection the cars actually give way to bike riders. In Australia that certainly doesn’t occur.

Sadly my home state of NSW and my birth state of Victoria are both lagging behind on this issue. I did read on the Amy Gillett Foundation website that in Victoria legislation has been tabled to introduce minimum overtaking distances. Come on NSW.

Interestingly I found the following “Tips for drivers” on the website of the NSW Government’s Centre for Road Safety and thought it was worth sharing in the vain hope that some drivers read it:

Equal rights

Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers and motorcycle riders. Drivers must watch out for cyclists as they are smaller than cars and harder to see. Cyclists also have the right, like other vehicles, to travel on roads and be shown courtesy and care by other road users.

Tips when driving near cyclists

  • Cyclists are more difficult to see than cars or trucks, especially at night. Take care to check for bicycle riders in blind spots and especially when turning at intersections.
  • When overtaking, give bicycle riders a safe amount of space. This means at least one metre to the side in a 50km/h zone. If the speed limit is higher, bicycle riders need more space for their safety.
  • Sometimes a bicycle can travel faster than a car, particularly in slow-moving traffic. Never underestimate their speed and do not to cut them off by moving in front of them. Remember that it takes cyclists longer to stop than cars.
  • Check in your rear-view and side mirrors to avoid opening your car door into the path of bicycle riders. It can be dangerous and is legally your fault.
  • At times, bicycle riders may need the full width of a lane to ride safely because of rough road edges and gravel. Be prepared to slow down and allow the rider to travel away from the kerb.
  • Children on bikes can be unpredictable – be prepared to slow down and stop
  • Cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast (side by side).