We regularly hear the headline figure of the 15 bicycle riders who have died on Irish roads so far this year.
Some of these people have been killed in collisions with vehicles traveling in the same direction perhaps as a result of badly planned overtaking manoeuvres.
When we drill down further, what we don’t often hear of are the many unreported near miss incidences of close dangerous overtaking of bicycle riders.
It is unfortunate that some drivers seem to have a ‘no contact, no harm’ attitude.
For many, the definition of ‘safe overtake’ seems to be when the rider remains upright afterwards and no blood has been spilled.
Some of these are what cyclists call a ‘punishment pass’, sometimes described with the thought process of ‘you’re on my road and I’m going to give you a bit of a scare’
I have no doubt that this particular overtaking manoeuvre was one such punishment pass. It happens to me a few years ago while cycling from Wexford to Dublin. If you view the clip, there is no oncoming car so no reason not to at least make some effort to straddle or fully cross the centre line.
It might be fun for the driver, but for a cyclist, this is absolutely frightening and greatly intimidating.
I don’t believe that many are as deliberate at that one but we need to recognise that this behaviour exists. Some are borne out of misunderstanding of what is safe. If the driver is also not a bicycle rider, the degree of empathy can be somewhat diminished.
This is where minimum passing distance law becomes so very important.
It gives clarity around how much space is safe when passing a bicycle rider, and it helps to make motorists more aware of bicycle riders in general.
The creation of a virtual safety zone through the introduction of Minimum Passing Distance Law is not just for middle age men in Lycra, this is aimed at all people who ride bicycles and especially those who are currently too scared to do so.
The Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign conducted a survey late last year in association with the Dublin Cycling Campaign and the following results were garnered.
97.2% of respondents had been scared by a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre whilst cycling.
95.38% of respondents felt that MPDL was very important or important.
86.12% of respondents want MPDL to be introduced.
Also as part of the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign, there are almost 6,000 signatures between online and paper petitions of people who seek Minimum Passing Distance Law for Ireland.
(Please take a moment to have a look at some of the comments to realise just how important this is to those signing).
Other Irish research is weak in this area so we need to refer to one from a country with arguably a similar driving culture; the U.K.
Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster conducted a near miss project in 2015 in an effort to shine a spotlight on near misses of bicycle riders.
According to findings from Dr Rachel Aldred’s Near Miss Project, close passes account for a third of threatening encounters cyclists have with motor vehicles. They present a significant barrier for people new to cycling, or who cycle at a more sedate pace (<8mph). The project found close passes are particularly a problem for women, who on average cycle more slowly than men, and experienced a 50 per cent higher rate of close passes.
This is clearly a problem when we are trying to encourage more exercise and active smarter travel.
In 2014, one of the findings from a report from American League of bicyclists revealed:
‘For example, the most common collision type in our Every Bicyclist Counts data is a rear end collision. Approximately 40% of fatalities in our data with reported collision types were rear end collisions’.
We therefore need to recognise that we have a clear and present problem that we as a society have made no real effort to deal with and now needs to be engaged with in a meaningful manner in order to improve safety for pedal cyclists in Ireland.
A cyclist specific minimum passing distance law is the one vital tool that our government can add to the overall tool-kit of driver education. It is not a substitute for dedicated safe cycling infrastructure but it is a recognition that even under optimistic expenditure scenarios that riders will need to share road space with drivers for a long time yet and we need to make this critical interaction a safer one..
The introduction of a cyclist specific minimum passing distance law provides one such solution.