Govt considers 1.5m safety buffer for cyclists

Motorists may soon be required by law to give cyclists a 1.5-metre gap when overtaking.
GRANT MATTHEW / FAIRFAX NZ

Motorists may soon be required by law to give cyclists a 1.5-metre gap when overtaking.

The Government is considering a law that would require overtaking drivers to give cyclists up to 1.5 metres of space. 

Associate transport minister Craig Foss has asked officials to look at enforcing a buffer zone. They'll also examine whether trucks should have "side-under run" devices, which prevent pedestrians and cyclists from slipping under wheels.

The proposals were recommended late last year by the Cycling Safety Panel. A dozen cyclists were killed on New Zealand roads in the past two years.

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Ten experts on the panel, including Olympic cycling gold medallist Sarah Ulmer suggested a minimum passing distance of 1-metre where speed limits are 60kph, and 1.5 metres on faster roads.

This is already law - with fines of up to NZ$400 - in Queensland, Australia.

The panel suggested the idea be trialled - as it was in Queensland - and noted there might be situations where a minimum distance might not be practical. It also concluded there was "sufficient international evidence to suggest side under-run protection can be beneficial to cyclist safety."

Both suggestions are likely to be met with opposition from truck drivers, who have argued mandatory passing distance would lead to congestion with trucks stuck behind cyclists.

The investigation will finish in mid-late 2016, Foss said on Wednesday. "I firmly believe cycling should be a safe choice for personal travel on New Zealand roads, and I look forward to seeing significant improvements in cycling safety."

He says the Government is already delivering other recommendations form the panel to keep cyclists safe. This includes extending the"See the person, share the road" campaign, improving intersection safety and "encouraging better user behaviour," he said.

The panel was established after a 2013 coronial inquiry into 94 cycling deaths. 

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Cycling advocacy group Spokes Canterbury chairman Don Babe welcomed the potential buffer zone but also had reservations.

"Obviously if everybody was 1.5m from a cyclist then the cyclist is going to be a lot safer but it's not always practical.

"I bike home along narrow rural roads and if a truck or a car has to wait for a 1.5m space it's going to cause other problems."

Drivers could get frustrated or take unnecessary risks to get past.

"It sounds good in theory, in practice it's going to be a little bit difficult."

Babe also doubted it would be stringently policed.

"It's be one of those rules that would be enforced if someone knocked a cyclist off and they're going in the same direction. You can definitely say 'Hey, you're not 1.5m away so we're going to fine you for it.

"I can't imagine a policeman sitting out on the roads I bike along and say 'That guy's only 1.35m away, let's give him a ticket'."

* Comments are now closed on this story.

 - Stuff

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