Plans to enforce 1.5m rule

SAFE DISTANCE: New laws could see a compulsory 1.5 metre gap required for vehicles when passing cyclists. Editor Geoff Dobson on his bike demonstrates the distance on Sunnyside Rd in Coatesville which forces passing traffic over the centre line. The road has an 80kmh limit.
Jay Boreham
SAFE DISTANCE: New laws could see a compulsory 1.5 metre gap required for vehicles when passing cyclists. Editor Geoff Dobson on his bike demonstrates the distance on Sunnyside Rd in Coatesville which forces passing traffic over the centre line. The road has an 80kmh limit.

A proposed law change could see drivers fined heavily for not giving cyclists up to 1.5 metres of space when overtaking.

But some drivers question whether the laws would work on north Auckland's narrow roads.

The new law could create situations where trucks and cars have to slow and sit behind cyclists until it is safe to pass, although cyclists say any minor inconvenience is worth it to save lives.

A panel of cycling experts, including Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ulmer, proposed the law change after a nationwide coronial inquiry into 13 cyclist deaths in 2012.

The panel has been investigating ways to make cycling safer and has released a report containing 13 recommendations.

One is to mandate recommended minimum passing distances for vehicles overtaking people on bikes - 1m where speed limits are 60kmh or less, and 1.5m for faster areas.

The system, being trialled in Queensland, has offending drivers penalised three demerit points and fined A$341 (NZ$382). If the matter goes to court, a maximum fine of A$4554 (NZ$5105) can apply.

Hibiscus Coast Bunch Riders spokesman Steve Lawrence says the law would bring peace of mind to cyclists.

"I worry when I am riding on the road, my wife worries and I know my friends' wives and partners worry as well when we go riding.

"If there was some sort of law that people knew they were breaking then it would certainly give us a bit more of a safety factor," he said.

Most drivers are courteous and careful, but on average one every ride acts dangerously, he said.

He said although Rodney's roads are narrow, windy and littered with potholes, the safe passing law could work and drivers just need to be patient.

Frustrated drivers sometimes pass on blind corners or within centimetres of cyclists, seemingly trying to teach them a lesson to move over. Drivers just need to be practical and wait for safe passing conditions, he said.

"You might just sit there for 30 seconds, maybe a minute - does it really matter?

"And if you do knock a cyclist over you are going to have to stop and stay an hour anyway - so just be patient," Lawrence said.

Cycling Advocates Network spokesman Patrick Morgan also believes the law could work here, even in places with notoriously narrow roads.

Wharehine Wellsford transport manager Allan Sheriff says the new law would be awkward and he questions the feasibility of fines in Rodney.

"The conditions of the roads forces motorists across the white line which you can't do.

"Our roads aren't that well designed, they haven't got the width in the carriageway."

The fact that everyone shares the road is discussed at Wharehine's health and safety meetings, Sheriff said.

He often hears his drivers letting each other know on the CB radio the whereabouts of cyclists, he said.

"The biggest problem that comes up is road conditions. It's forcing people to avoid soft patches or potholes," he said.

Authorities should be looking at making the area's roads a safer environment for everyone, Sheriff said.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley says many New Zealand roads are not wide enough to accommodate a compulsory clearance zone and he believes the panel's report does not put enough emphasis on changing cyclist behaviour.

"Too many cyclists don't appreciate how vulnerable they really are."

Rodney Times