Cycle safety call rejected

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2014

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The Government has rejected a coroner's recommendations designed to save cyclists' lives.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse ruled out pursuing the suggestions of Wellington coroner Ian Smith when he called for an overhaul of cycle safety last February.

Mr Smith said all cyclists should have to wear high-visibility clothing at all times and there should be a mandatory one-metre gap between vehicles and cyclists.

He also suggested forcing cyclists to use cycle lanes, and for there to be more cycle safety education for those seeking their driver licence.

Between July 2007 and September 2013, 94 cyclists died in New Zealand - an average of 15 per year. Of the 59 cases involving motor vehicles, 34 were due to driver error.

Mr Smith's recommendations followed his inquest into the death of former national road policing manager Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald, 57, who was hit by a truck and trailer unit while cycling on the Petone foreshore in June 2008.

At the time, Mr Smith said cycling legislation was too complex, "and in my view needs a more simplistic revamp".

"Turning to the issue of hi-vis clothing, it is in my view a no-brainer. It should be compulsory for cyclists to wear at all times when riding in public."

But in a letter to the coroner a few months later, Mr Woodhouse said making hi-vis vests compulsory could discourage people from cycling by over-emphasising the risk and adding extra cost.

The cheapest hi-vis vest The Dominion Post could find online yesterday was $5.60, excluding GST.

Mr Woodhouse said mandating a one-metre gap was not practical either, as police would struggle to accurately judge the gap. The road code encouraged a 1.5m gap, and he was happy to keep it that way.

Making cycle lanes compulsory was a move Mr Woodhouse said he could support in future, but their quality would need to improve first. At present, some lanes were not maintained to the same high standard as roads and cyclists were exposed to hazards, such as opening car doors, he said.

He also told Mr Smith the driver licence theory test had been reviewed in 2012 and was found to have the right balance between driving questions and other subjects.

NZ Transport Agency emails, also obtained under the Official Information Act, revealed that, for more cycling questions to be included in the driving test, other questions would need to be dumped.

Mr Woodhouse told The Dominion Post the Government stood by those views. Instead of pursuing the coroner's recommendations, it had opted to improve cycle safety by changing the give-way rule, increasing the driving age, strengthening the driver licensing regime, and lowering the drink-drive limit.

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Mr Smith's suggestions would be reconsidered during a NZ Transport Agency-led review of cycle safety beginning next month.

That review was launched in November on the advice of fellow coroner Gordon Matenga after he completed his own three-year inquest into all cycle deaths since 2007. In his findings, Mr Matenga stopped short of recommending hi-vis be compulsory but said it was an issue that must be addressed.

Cycling Advocates' Network spokesman Patrick Morgan said Mr Woodhouse was "on the mark" with his views on hi-vis, as there was no evidence it improved safety.

"We don't think the Government should be in the business of telling people how to dress . . ."

But he was disappointed to see the one-metre gap idea ruled out, as it would have given police the power to prosecute drivers who hit cyclists but did not cause serious injury.

CURRENT RULES 

Hi-vis clothing: Cyclists are required to have lights and reflectors on their bikes when it is dim or dark. They should be visible from a distance of 100 metres.

One-metre gap: Not mandatory but the road code encourages drivers to give cyclists a 1.5-metre clearance.

Cycle lanes: Cyclists are encouraged to use a lane if available but there is no legal obligation to do so.

WHAT THE CORONER WANTED

Compulsory hi-vis clothing on public roads.

Mandatory one-metre gap between motorists and cyclists.

Enhanced cyclist education in primary schools and for those seeking their driver licence.

Compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes and clearer rules about when they can intermingle with traffic.

WHY THE MINISTER SAID NO

Compulsory hi-vis would over-emphasise the risk and add extra cost.

A one-metre gap would be too difficult for police to enforce.

Road code is already comprehensive enough. A 2012 review of the theory test found it had a good balance of questions.

Some cycle lanes are not of a high enough standard to use.

- The Dominion Post

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