Safe passing distance – Queensland inquiry gets 106 submissions

The Queensland Parliament inquiry into cycling issues has received 106 submissions. It is worthwhile reading some of them to get […]

The Queensland Parliament inquiry into cycling issues has received 106 submissions.

It is worthwhile reading some of them to get a feel for the arguments for and against a set safe passing distance. Reading the submission from the Amy Gillett foundation it is clear that a large number of organisations support the “a meter matters” campaign (see page 17 and onwards in the AGF submission for a list of supporting organisations – it is about four pages long). There is some opposition – the usual suspects (car organisations), but surprisingly some cycling organisations as well.

Bicycle Queensland (associated with Bicycle Network and Bicycle WA) argues that “Effectiveness and enforceability are clearly shown in international research to be problematic.  Why would Queensland be different?  Or worse – would Queensland, if it adopted a ‘one metre’ rule produce a series of spin-off problems that would challenge existing designs, laws andcultural behaviours enjoyed by bicycle riders while adding to a current lack of empathy from a small but significant proportion of motorists?  This is a major safety concern and a false promise for the cycling community.”

We disagree.   Their argument mixes the principle of protection with the implementation, leaving cyclists short-changed.  It is unfortunate because it will need a united voice to get the measure through the state parliaments

I have put some background together on a set minimum overtaking clearance (see further down for more details)  — a concept that is regarded with some reservation in WA, as shown by the letter from Police Minister Liza Harvey and Transport Department Director General Reece Waldock.

Letter from Police Minister Liza Harvey re one metre passing distance

Letter from Transport Department Director General Reece Waldock re one metre passing distance

On the other hand, the Greens will introduce a Bill in WA requiring drivers to leave a minimum distance when overtaking bicycle riders – of one metre on roads up to 60kph and 1.5 metres on faster roads.

We think this is a good idea, considering the evidence that shows that about a quarter of cycling crashes that involve a motor vehicle involve the cyclist being run over by a car travelling in the same direction.

A good amount of background information is available from the Amy Gillett Foundation website.

The discussion has also spilled into the Australian Cycling Forum

 

 

Cycling in traffic:

 Many people who are healthy, have a bicycle and live within cycling distance of their destination choose to use their cars because they are afraid of riding a bicycle in traffic.  Cycling academic John Pucher describes riding a bicycle as “a benign activity carried out in a dangerous environment”, with the benefits of cycling outweighing the risks.

Most of the nearly 20 per cent of Australians that rode a bicycle last week did so for recreation and many of them feared sharing roads with motorised traffic.

The biggest fear of on-road cycling commuters is being run over by a car travelling in the same direction.  Although only a small proportion of injured cyclists admitted to hospitals were involved in a collision with a motor vehicle, they were normally the more severely injured

About 90 per cent of cyclist deaths involve a motor vehicle.

Drivers see the key function of streets as being for transport and belonging to motorised traffic that can easily accelerate to 50 kph plus and go up grades without slowing, and consider the cyclists presence on the road as annoying.

A set minimum overtaking distance works.  In a study into the effects of a 3-feet (0.914 metres) minimum overtaking distance in Baltimore in the US, the researchers did not find a single case where a car overtook a cyclist with a clearance of less than 2.5 feet — 0.762 of a metre.

“Sharing the road” as a concept implies that all road users have a similar stake and a similar attitude to safety and encounter similar problems on the road.  This is a misconception.  Pedestrians and cyclists generally do not inflict serious injuries on people in cars.  Therefore the hierarchy and severity of injuries has to be considered when devising a behaviour change campaign that aims for a safer environment for vulnerable road users.

The strongest approach for Australia would be to set a minimum safe passing distance, followed by a campaign showing motorists how vulnerable people on bicycles are, explaining the need for a generous passing distance and making motorists aware of the benefits cyclists bring to the community in terms of reducing traffic congestion and pollution.

It is important to understand the differing collision patterns between children and adults.  Because children on bikes ride on the footpath, they are vulnerable to cars backing out of driveways (Williams, 1976)[1], while adult cyclists are more likely to be run over by a car driving in the same direction or by a car turning across their path[2].

The language that is used when cyclist crashes are reported in the media can be problematic, especially when children are involved.  Normal childhood behaviour is incorrectly regarded as irresponsible, instead of examining if the motorist was, for instance, driving too fast for the situation.  The blaming of children in such situations avoids addressing the real causes – dangerous road design and dangerous driver behaviour. (Roberts & Coggan, 1994)

 

The high percentage of serious injuries and deaths of cyclists being caused by cars driving in the same direction suggests that setting by law a minimum safe overtaking distance would be the first step in alleviating the justified fears of  commuting cyclists when they hear a car approaching from behind, colloquially referred to as “fear from the rear”.  A typical crash description is in the footnote.[3]

A study in Melbourne that analysed 127 hours of helmet-cam footage concluded that car drivers were at fault in 87 per cent of incidents with cyclists, with sideswiping the most frequent type of incident (M. Johnson, 2010).  Based on that study, a cyclist using public roads would expect some sort of incident every three hours.

Although only a small proportion of injured cyclists admitted to hospitals were involved in a collision with a motor vehicle[4], they were  normally the more severely injured and about 90 per cent of cyclist deaths involved a motor vehicle(Nicaj et al., 2009).  A more recent report (Burgess, 2013) concluded that 87 per cent of cyclist deaths in Britain in 2012 were due to a collision with a motor vehicle.  In about 25 per cent of fatal cyclist accidents, the front of the vehicle hit the rear of the bicycle.

A Canadian Study confirmed that apart from intersection crashes between bicycles and cars, the second most frequent cause for reports to police of car/bike collisions was a bicycle being hit by a car travelling in the same direction. [5] .

Opponents of a set minimum overtaking distance frequently, gleefully and incorrectly cite a study from Baltimore in the US that examined the effects of a law setting 3-feet minimum passing distance (Love, et al., 2012).  The authors described their findings as a failure of the law because there was some overtaking of bicycles with less than the legally required distance[6].  A look at the data in the study strongly suggests a different conclusion: in a sample of 586 passes, between 77 per cent and 83 per cent of the cars gave more than three feet of clearance when overtaking a bicycle, (depending on the lane markings used).   In the remaining cases, overtaking was at exactly three feet or so little below that the included graphs show the lesser distance as touching the three-feet line.  There was not a single case where a car overtook a cyclist with less than 2.5 feet clearance.

The existing Australian Road Rules, including Rule 144, do not protect bicycle riders when being overtaken by drivers.  Drivers are permitted to make judgement calls regarding a ‘sufficient distance to avoid a collision’.

A set minimum safe passing distance provides absolute and practical clarity[7].  It:

  • Recognises that bicycle riders are physically vulnerable and need the protection of space
  • Provides drivers with a clear, easily-recognised measure when overtaking bicycle riders – otherwise they must slow down and wait
  • Reduces the risk of motor vehicle-bicycle crashes and cyclist crashes resulting from being side-swiped — but not hit — by motor vehicles
  • Is enforceable; it allows a law enforcement officer or witness to readily observe a driver’s actions
  • Would give consideration for a graded approach for higher speeds and very low speeds, though setting one standard law is more readily understood
  • Will improve safety for bicycle riders and provides them with space in which to move to avoid obstacles such as glass, pot holes etc. that motorists may not be aware of
  • Acknowledges that bicycle riders are legitimate road users
  • Will ultimately reduce bicycle rider fatalities and serious injuries.

 

A minimum safe passing distance provides strong foundations to build upon.  Many American states have used it as the first step in developing additional legislation to provide better safety for pedestrians and cyclists.  Such a law would be a first measure, in a series of measures, to educate and increase awareness of both pedestrian and cyclist safety and the rights and responsibilities of all road users.  Setting a safe passing distance is not the end but rather part of the means towards establishing safer conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. [8]

As a two wheeled vehicle, bicycles cannot physically travel in a completely straight line.  To allow for unexpected changes of direction, car drivers should leave sufficient clearance when overtaking bicycles.

It is important to understand the differing collision patterns of children and adults.  Because children on bikes ride on the footpath, they are vulnerable to cars backing out of driveways (Williams, 1976)[9], while adult cyclists are more likely to be run over by a car driving in the same direction or by a car turning across their path. [10]

The language that is used when cyclist crashes are reported in the media can be problematic, especially when children are involved. Normal childhood behaviour is incorrectly regarded as irresponsible, instead of examining if the motorist was, for instance, driving too fast for the situation.  Blaming of children in such situations avoids addressing the real causes – dangerous road design and dangerous driver behaviour. (Roberts & Coggan, 1994)

The strongest approach would be a law setting a minimum  safe passing distance with a campaign showing drivers how vulnerable people on bicycles are, explaining the need for a generous passing distance and making motorists aware of the benefits cyclists bring to the community by reducing traffic congestion and motor vehicle pollution.

 

1.     References

 

Australian_Transport_Safety_Bureau. (2006). Death of cyclists due to road crashes. Canberra: Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Basford, L., Reid, S., Lester, T., Thomson, J., & Tomie, A. (2002). Drivers’s perceptions of cyclists: Charging and Transport Division, Department for Transport.

Bassett, D., Pucher, J., Buehler, R., Thompson, D., & Crouter, S. (2008). Walking, cycling and obesity rates in Europe, North America and Australia. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 5, 795-814.

Batini, C. (2010). Park N Ride Research. Perth: Transperth.

Baumann, A., & Rissel, C. (2009). Cycling and health: an opportunity for positive change? [Editorial]. Medical Journal of Australia, 190(7).

Burgess, K. (2013, 2.1.2013). 122 cyclists died in 2012 – a five-year high. The Times. Retrieved from <http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3313260.ece>)

Burkeman, O. (2013, 15.5.2013). Bikes are the mainstream now. It’s time to start stopping at red lights. The Guardian.

Castelli, D. M., Hillmann, C. H., Buck, S. M., & Erwin, H. E. (2007). Physical Fitness and Academic Achievment in Third- and Fifth-Grade Students. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29, 239-252.

Chaurand, N., & Delhomme, P. (2013). Cyclist and drivers in road interactions: A comparison of perceived crash risk. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 50, 1176 – 1184.

Cohlmeyer, E. (2012). A Tool Kit to accelerate the adoption of cycling for transportation. Toronto: Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank.

Craft, L., & Perna, F. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104-111.

Cycling_Promotion_Fund. (2008). Economic Beneftis of Cycling for Australia.

Davies, A. (2013a, 19.2.2012). Can cyclists and pedestrians share public space. http://blogs.crikey.com.au/theurbanist/2012/02/19/can-cyclists-and-pedestrians-share-public-space/

Davies, A. (2013b, 22.5.2013). Should cyclists stop ignoring red lights.

Davies, A. (2013c, 20.5.2013). Why do (some) cyclist ignore red lights. http://blogs.crikey.com.au/theurbanist/2013/05/20/why-do-some-cyclists-ignore-red-lights/

Delhomme, P., Chaurand, N., & Paran, F. (2012). Personality predictors of speeding in young drivers: Anger vs. sensation seeking. Transport Research Part F, 15, 654-a666.

Dill, J. (2012). Categorizing Cyclists: What do we know? Paper presented at the Velo-City Global 2012. Retrieved from http://web.pdx.edu/~jdill/Dill_VeloCity_Types_of_Cyclists.pdf

Elvik, R., & Mysen, A. B. (1999). Incomplete accident reporting: Meta-analysis of studies made in 13 countries. Transportation Research Record, 133-140.

Fitzgibbons, A., & Hand, T. (2009). Economic Feasibility Assessment of the Active Transport Policy. Brisbane: Marsden, Jacob Associates.

Fleming, S. (2013, 12.6.2013). Bike lanes and bark lanes. Paths, nodes and districts. http://cycle-space.com/?cat=8

Geller, R. (2006). Four Types of Transportation Cyclists.   Retrieved 12th April, 2012, from http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/158497

Goodyear, S. (2013, 13.5.2013). Cyclists aren’t “special”, and they shouldn’t play by their own rules. The Atlantice Cities. Retrieved from http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/05/bikers-dont-deserve-any-special-treatment/5565/

Henley, G., & Harrison, J. E. (2009). Serious injury due to land transport accidents, Australia 2006-2007. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Hiscock, S., MacIntyre, R., Kearns, A., & Ellaways, A. (2002). Means of transport and ontological security: do cars provide psych-social benefits to their users? Transportation Research, D7, 119-135.

Jacobsen, P. (2003). Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention, 9(3), 205-209.

Jacobsen, P., Racioppi, F., & Rutter, H. (2009). Who owns the roads? How motorised traffic discourages walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention, 15(6), 362-363.

Jacobsen, P., & Rutter, H. (2012). Cycling Safety. In J. Pucher & R. Buehler (Eds.), City Cycling. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT.

Johnson, M. (2010). Naturalistic Cycling Study: Identifying risk factors for on-road commuter cyclists. Melbourne: Monash University Accident Research Centre.

Johnson, M., Newstead, S., Charlton, J., & Oxley, J. (2011). Riding through red lights: The rate, characteristics and risk factors of non-compliant urban commuter cyclists. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 43, 323-328.

Ker, I. R., & Catalyst. (2012). A Business Case for Investment in Cyling in Western Australia. Perth: Curtin Monash Accident Reserach Centre (C-Marc).

Love, D. C., Breaud, A., Burns, S., Margulies, J., Romano, M., & Lawrence, R. (2012). Is the three-foot bicycle passing law working in Baltimore, Maryland. Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Nicaj, L., Stayton, C., Mandel-Ricci, P., McCarthy, P., Grasso, K., Woloch, D., et al. (2009). Bicyclist Fatalities in New York City 1996 – 2005. Traffic Injury Prevention, 10(2), 157 – 161.

Oja, P., Titze, S., Baumann, A., de_Geus, B., Krenn, P., Reger-Nash, B., et al. (2011). Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. Scandinavia Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.

Pedestrians as hazards. (2011). Bikes and Riding  Retrieved May 5, 2013, from http://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/general/bikes-and-riding/42464/

Rivara, F., Thompson, D., & Thompson, R. (1997). Epidmiology of Bicycle Injuries and Risk Factors for Serious Injury. Injury Prevention, 3(2), 110-114.

Roberts, I., & Coggan, C. (1994). Blaming Children for Child Pedestrian Injuries. Social Science and Medicine, 38(5), 749 – 753.

Schramm, A., Rakotonirainy, A., & Haworth, N. (2010). The role of traffic violations in police reported bicycle crashes in Queensland. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 21(3), 61 – 67.

Thomas, B. (2010, 30.8.2013). Traffic gridlock tightens. The West Australian.

Williams, A. (1976). Factors in the Initiation of Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions. American Journal of Dieseases of Children, 130(4), 370 – 377.

Yang, L., Sahlqvist, S., McMinn, A., Griffin, S. J., & Ogilvie, D. (2010). Interventions to promote cycling: systematic review. BMJ, 341.

 

 

 


[1]  Painfully demonstrated by the death of a eleven year old boy in Nollamara on 17.6.2013

[2] The most common crash in which cyclists are fatally injured  is the result of being hit by a car travelling in the same direction (Australian_Transport_Safety_Bureau, 2006). To counter the common belief  that cyclists are risk takers and thus “deserve” to have crashes, Schramm (2010) shows that traffic violations are recorded against 85.4% of drivers that were at fault in bicycle-motor vehicle crashes

[3]The West Australian June 16, 2013, 3:08 pm. Major Crash Investigators are calling for help from the public following a serious crash in Pinjarra about 6.39pm yesterday. It occurred when a cyclist travelling north-west on Pinjarra Road, Pinjarra was struck from behind by a black Holden Commodore sedan. The cyclist received life threatening injuries and was airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital where he remains in a serious but stable condition in intensive care. Police are seeking witnesses to the crash or anyone who may have seen the cyclist travelling on Pinjarra Road before the crash. The rider is a heavy built man and was towing a small bicycle trailer.

[4] According to the WA Hospital Morbidity Data System about 27.5% of Hospital Admissions involve a motor vehicle, whilst in other studies the numbers are as low as 15%(Rivara, Thompson, & Thompson, 1997).

[5] The study examined 2572 police reported car/bike collisions in Toronto. 12% of collisions occurred at intersections, 11.9% of collisions were the result of a car overtaking a bicycle.

[6] Quote:”Cyclists in Baltimore, MD were routinely passed at a distance of three feet or less while cycling during morning and evening commutes, which indicates that the three-foot law is not being followed and cyclist safety may be compromised”.

[8] As suggested in a report by Alan Voorhees for the Department of Transportation of New Jersey (USA)

[9]  Painfully demonstrated by the death of a eleven year old boy in Nollamara on 17.6.2013

[10] The most common crash in which cyclists are fatally injured  is the result of being hit by a car travelling in the same direction (Australian_Transport_Safety_Bureau, 2006). To counter the common belief  that cyclists are risk takers and thus “deserve” to have crashes, Schramm (2010) shows that traffic violations are recorded against 85.4% of drivers that were at fault in bicycle-motor vehicle crashes

 

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Promoting everyday cycling