ACT News

Bike advocates want motorists to leave more space on roads for cyclists

Leading cycling advocates want a mandatory one-metre clearance between vehicles and cyclists, compulsory cycling training in all ACT primary schools and to stop SMIDSY.

SMIDSY is an acronym for "Sorry Mate I Didn't See You", coined by legal firm Maurice Blackburn, one of 61 submitters to the ACT government's Inquiry into Vulnerable Road Users, aiming to change attitudes among road users.

Maurice Blackburn also recommends inquiring into a strict liability law, in place in the Netherlands and other European countries, to protect vulnerable road users from more powerful road users.

Under this law, the onus after an accident would shift to the more powerful road user and there would be a presumption the vulnerable road user was not at fault.

The recommendation has been adopted by the inquiry panel, supported by the ACT's leading cycling advocacy group Pedal Power and national bike safety leader the Amy Gillett Foundation (AGF).

Both have also made recommendations adopted by the inquiry committee.

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The government is due to respond to the inquiry committee's findings later this month.

Recommendations call for a mandatory one-metre overtaking distance in 60km/h zones and 1.5 metres in speed zones above 60km/h.

The AGF said motor vehicles travelling in the same direction and hitting bike riders from behind was the most common crash that killed riders. In these crashes, the responsibility was with the driver.

Pedal Power executive officer John Armstrong said the current legislation identifies a safe distance, which has always been open to interpretation.

"We recognise limitations, the classic is Northbourne Avenue," Mr Armstrong said.

"If you were riding along Northbourne Avenue and you had a bus and a car and a truck right next to you in the three lanes, it would be potentially difficult to maintain a one-metre distance between a person in the bike lane and those in the other lanes.

"We propose the legislation should be one metre, except where a separate lane is marked."

Mr Armstrong said safety for cyclists needed a multi-pronged approach and could not be improved through legislative changes alone. Education, infrastructure development and support were prime components.

Cycling submissions refer to a study involving 36 people fitted with helmet-mounted cameras, recording 466 hours of commuter trips across north-east Canberra, Queanbeyan and Jerrabomberra.

While no crashes were recorded, 91 potentially unsafe bike rider-vehicle interactions were identified. Most were caused by drivers, and the most common was left-hand turns across the path of bike riders. Unexpectedly opening vehicle doors accounted for 17.6 per cent of the interactions. A crash was avoided mostly by bike riders taking evasive actions.

"Participants also reported being occasionally harassed by drivers on ACT roads, recounting both verbal abuse and physical intimidation that they believed was based on the driver's belief bike riders should not be on the road," the AGF submission said.

Pedal Power would like to see infrastructure to ensure women and children felt safe riding their bikes.

The inquiry recommendations made little reference to best practice in infrastructure, design and funding arrangements.

 The ACT Chief Health Officer's report earlier this year shows the territory had the highest rate of serious injuries to cyclists in Australia, with twice the national average.

Mr Armstrong said in the heavily urbanised central, northern Canberra and Civic areas, infrastructure needed to segregate cyclists from fast-moving motor traffic, to provide a safer environment for everybody.

Mr Armstrong supported the inquiry committee's recommendation for compulsory training in primary schools, as was the case in South Australia.

"Cycling is no different to swimming, to saving yourself when you are in the water," he said.

"It's really important most Australian children can learn to swim, and we would suggest it is pretty well the same on the bike."

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