“But our roads are too narrow!”
It’s a common response whenever the issue of minimum passing distance for motorists overtaking cyclists is raised.
Maybe this response underlines the need for this in the first place.
Many of our roads are indeed narrow, and yet some people think it’s acceptable to leave very little space when squeezing past cyclists, often at speed – which can be terrifying and sometimes fatal.
There may indeed be an inconvenient truth for some, that in fact, the vast majority of close pass manoeuvre videos that we get here at Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 are not on roads with a grass section running down the centre. Nope..they are on roads where this space is available as in this collection of videos.
VIDEO: Close Passing manoeuvres on Irish roads.
Within this inconvenience of truth, there would appear to be a small minority of drivers who are simply not prepared to wait; these are the small number who might view people on bicycles as road furniture, as an inconvenience, which needs to be overtaken hastily and at the first opportunity, those unwilling to take on the message or dismissive of vulnerable road users altogether. For such drivers, the straw man argument of narrow roads acts as a crutch for their life endangering driving.
Attempting to fling the baby out with the bath water helps their narrative.
We are not alone..
It’s important to realise that Ireland isn’t the only country that has narrow roads. Countries such as Belgium, France, Spain, Australia (see pics below) for example that have a minimum passing distance law in place have plenty of them especially in rural areas.
What do we actually mean then when we talk about narrow roads?
Let’s drill down further..
In the context of minimum passing distance, then roads that can facilitate a car overtaking another car is wide enough to facilitate this.
Roads that are narrower than this must mean that an oncoming vehicle doesn’t have room to pass safely without colliding.
Ireland’s current top selling car, the Hyundai Tucson has a car width is 1.85 metres for example. When we add the 2 side mirrors at around 20cm each, we have a road occupancy space of 2.25 metres. For a bicycle rider’s own safety it is not recommended to ride too close to the kerb, or edge of the road and this suggested distance can be between .5 metres and 1 metre. More depending on the situation on the road. If we take the median of this at .75metres as is being used as a guide by U.K. police currently, and add in the minimum passing distance, then we come to the same width of 2.25metres that the Hyundai Tucson occupies.
Any road therefore that we are happy to allow 2 of our top selling cars to travel at 80km/hr in opposite directions, to pass by each other without fear of colliding is wide enough to accommodate the proposed minimum passing distance.
The proposed Minimum Passing Distance Law (MPDL) is designed as a split rule where in speed zones of 50km/hr or less the minimum space comes down to 1 metre. On such roads maybe there is a need to have a conversation around the 80km/hr allowable speed limit; thus making those roads a much safer and more pleasurable experience for walkers, hikers, horse riders, cyclists etc.
Not unlike other traffic situations, of course, Garda discretion comes in to play..
When we drive for example, it is rare to see someone convicted for driving at, let’s say, 81km/hr in an 80km speed zone despite this being clearly illegal. You may of course see it’s non application if there is a secondary factor of a collision etc.
This is exactly how we see MPDL in action overseas – without rigorous enforcement and with discretion at play.
Let’s take a step back and see how this works in another country, France, where MPDL is in place.
I have cycled on narrow roads in France, Spain & Belgium…all of which have MPDL in place and I will give you an example of an overtake that I was part of in Picardie in France last year.
This road (pictured above) was as narrow as any road we have in Ireland. I became aware of the driver approaching from behind and glanced over my shoulder. The driver slowed down to my speed. I glanced again and moved as close to the verge as I could when it was safe to do so. The driver gave me a wave and proceeded to overtake as wide as he could in a careful and measured manner….no drama.
In Ireland it is not uncommon for the driver to skim past the rider within inches of the person without even slowing down.
This is what the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign Is seeking to address. Introducing a cyclist specific Minimum Passing Distance Law can help us achieve this in Ireland through changing the focus on sharing the road just as the French have..