Safe Cycling Ireland

Making Irish roads Safer For Everyone

How do we solve a problem like ‘close pass’? 🚵🏾‍♀️🚵‍♂️🚴🏼‍♀️

MPDL as suggested for Ireland 🇮🇪

 

Minimum Passing Distance Law

 

2017 has been an horrendous year for Irish bicycle rider fatalities.

 

15 people won’t be at the family Christmas dinner table this year because they chose to go out and ride their bikes on the Republic’s roads.

 

This comes as little surprise to those of us who campaign for safer cycling.
We are presented daily with video footage and reports of close passes, near misses, fight or flight adrenaline dumps where what’s at stake is flesh and bone, not bumper paintwork.
We see riders frequently put in intimidating or dangerous situations, not through any fault of their own, but through the indifference of road engineers, politicians and hurried drivers.

 

Should we really be surprised when increasing amounts of near misses lead to more serious injuries or when they in turn lead to increased rider fatalities?

 

We have seen this coming; 9 rider fatalities in 2015; 10 in 2016 and 15 this year…so far.

 

At the time of writing (23rd Dec ‘17) overall road fatalities have fallen by 31 over the same period last year, while cyclist fatalities are up by 5 or by a whopping 50% over the whole of 2016!

When we drill down further, then even more worrying is that ALL of our cyclist fatalities this year have involved collisions with motor vehicles, while last year that figure was 7.  This is a very worrying increase of 114% over 2016 and hopefully there will be no more to add to this before the end of 2017.

 

We have a problem that badly needs fixing.

 

We are left scrambling for solutions; well meaning solutions from the AGSI for example of mandatory hi-viz and helmets that are not without serious unintended consequences. Mandatory use of cycle paths, that are incomplete, poorly maintained and end abruptly. Calls for cyclist registration and licensing in the same way that car and their drivers are – a false equivalence not applicable anywhere on planet earth. We could go on..

 

Through the din, we at Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 have been calling for a cyclist specific minimum passing distance law (MPDL) for over 4 years now…

 

Why?

 

Because when the creation of a virtual safety zone is applied properly, it has the potential to reverse preventable cyclist road toll.

 

A substitute for dedicated, protected safe cycling infrastructure it is not; but it is a recognition that even under optimistic expenditure scenarios, cyclists will share road space with motorists for a long time yet.

 

In 1973, Wisconsin made a then bold move and became the first state to see a weakness in their undefined overtaking laws and added a cyclist specific measurement to it. They did so ‘on the blind’ without modern devices such as on board bicycle cameras, ultrasonic lateral distance devices etc. A year later Belgium followed in their footsteps.

There are now 42 jurisdictions worldwide that have followed suite; 13 states, territories and countries since Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 came in to being over 4 years ago.

Just like Ireland, others are looking more closely at what this law can potentially achieve.

 

These places have seen fit to have this debate, wrung out the issues and consequences, enacted the legislation and moved on to still other important issues with respect to sharing of roads.

 

 

When MPDL is implemented correctly, riders report safer interactions and a growing sense of legitimacy; others report decreases in injuries and fatalities…but you only get this when implemented correctly..
Popping this into legislation and thinking, job done, butters few parsnips..

 

 

 

Let’s examine 3 examples from overseas.

 

In doing so, we will examine results, their respective law around overtaking, driver education and associated rules of the road. 

 

 

U.K.

 

In the UK, police officers Hudson & Hodson instigated operation close pass where they begun policing the close passing of bicycle riders in the West Midlands in Sept 2016.
A year later they discovered that the number of cyclists killed or seriously hurt on the region’s roads has dropped by 20%

 

 

MPDL ❎ (policed under due care and attention laws)
Defined cyclist specific measurement in Highway code ❎
Police on road close pass enforcement ✅
Police video evidence enforcement ✅
Driver education through road signage ❎
Specific targeted measurement based awareness videos ❎
Allowance for motorists ✅ (can overtake on continuous white lines when bike speed is 16km/hr or less)
Public Awareness ❓judging by those pulled over in the BBC video clip that included 2 driving instructors, it looks like there’s a long way to go.

 

(Video supplied curtesy of presenter Jon Cuthill for educational purposes only)

 

Note: * Described by Cycling UK as “quite simply the best cyclist safety initiative by any police force, ever.”
Undercover Police on bicycles subjectively gauge close passing distances and radio ahead to an awaiting colleague. This involves a chat on an education mat where the driver is shown what is required under due care and attention.
They also encourage bike cam reporting but without a MPDL, this may refer more to inch fly-bys rather than an arbitrary distance.

This though can can be hit and miss as in these 2 examples.

Policing this through due care and attention laws without an amendment to their Highway Code, without specific targeted ad campaigns and without road signage might prove difficult in creating widespread public awareness.
The work of Officers Hudson & Hodson is exemplary and only time will tell if other areas have similar dedication and achieve these results.

 

 

U.S.A.

 

In the USA in 2015, police officer Rob Simmons in Tennessee began using a newly developed ultrasonic device as a means of policing their minimum passing distance law and found a 26% decrease in cyclist injuries as a result.

 

MPDL ✅ (3 feet Minimum)

Minimum Passing Distance road sign from USA.

Defined cyclist specific measurement in Highway code ✅
Police on road close pass enforcement ✅
Police video evidence enforcement ❎
Driver education through road signage ✅
Specific targeted measurement based awareness videos ❎ (other US states have though)
Allowance for motorists ✅ (can overtake bicycles on continuous white lines when safe)
Public Awareness ✅ Law passed in 2007

 

NOTE: * The first to commence an operation close pass initiative, a full year before West Midlands did so.

Using their 3 feet MPDL, they dispatch an undercover police officer on a bike with an ultrasonic Passing Distance measurement device called the C3FT. along with a Go-Pro camera. When this distance is encroached, it leads to an education opportunity. When they stop a violator, they first explain why they stopped them, then they link the GoPro camera to a tablet and actually SHOW them a video of them passing. This gives them a “first person” view of what it looks like to be passed closely by a motorist while riding a bike. This in turn opens up the traffic stop for an educational opportunity. They give the violator a pamphlet of local cycling and driving laws and then let them go.
The whole experience is good, and the driver walks away with a better understanding of cyclist rights. Of course some do get a citation, but it is usually their attitude which dictates this.
One of the engineers who helped developed the C3FT device is looking into getting it “certified” much like a speed radar gun is certified for court.

 

 

 

 

Australia

 

Queensland was their first state to introduce a minimum passing distance law in April 2014 following a gradual increase in cyclist fatalities there. When we compare their 3 years before it’s introduction and the now 3 years post introduction, we see a 34% drop in cyclist fatalities.

 

MPDL ✅ 1.5 Metres speed zones of over 60 km/hr, 1 metre in 60 or less.

Australian Minimum Passing Distance road sign.

Defined cyclist specific measurement in Highway code ✅
Police on road close pass enforcement ✅ (but very little).
(Ultrasonic device that would satisfy their police and judiciary has been put out to tender).

Police video evidence enforcement ✅ (though not without difficulties)
Driver education through road signage ✅
Specific targeted measurement based awareness videos ✅
Allowance for motorists ✅ (to give this space, drivers can overtake on centre lines, straddle lane lines and drive on painted traffic islands but only when safe to do so).
Public Awareness ✅ Law initiated in 2014 – Following their 2 year trial of MPDL, three-quarters of (Queenslanders) supported the one-metre rule – compared to only 13 per cent opposed – and two-thirds of cyclists reported car drivers giving them a wider berth when overtaking after the law was introduced.

 

NOTE: Queensland began a 2 year trial of MPDL in April 2014 following a gradual increase in cyclist fatalities there.
Following this trial and associated evaluation, they made this permanent law. Hot on their heels, other Australian states and territories have followed. Some of their awareness campaigns have been excellent. They have rolled out road signage all leading to increased public awareness.
A stumbling block has been the lack of an ultrasonic device as used in Tennessee but the government there has put such a device out for tender to satisfy police and judiciary there.

Many prosecutions are secured with on board rider cameras and an excellent blog dealing with best practice for reporting these has been put together.
It’s important that they don’t lose their momentum and police engagement will be vital in its overall success.

 

*(From Sth Australia)

 

 

So how about it Ireland 🇮🇪 

 

We need to have a serious conversation around aiming our road fatalities towards zero in this country and I believe that we have simply got to stop trading off safety for time savings.

 

There isn’t and there’s never been anything stopping our Gardaí from engaging in a West Midlands style close pass initiative under due consideration laws.

 

This existing law is probably broad enough and flexible enough to give the Gardaí ample scope to prosecute motorists for passing dangerously close, but it really doesn’t send that signal loudly enough to cyclists, motorists or the Gardai.
We haven’t seen anything in the line of solutions from the Gardaí outside that of helmets and hi-vis despite success with close pass initiatives from other forces overseas.

 

Garda Traffic numbers have dwindled and hopefully with the imminent Policing Plan 2018, we might see an increase in personnel.
Along with that, we can only hope that there might be a West Midlands style plan for cyclists but given their stance so far, I would be very surprised.

 

My firm belief though is that a specific, well-publicised provision is more likely to get through to the public and in doing do can potentially achieve the best possible outcome in terms of rider experience, near misses, injuries and fatalities.

 

Enforceability

 

When you see comments relating to the unenforceability of Minimum Passing Distance Law, these simply fly in the face of the aforementioned ultrasonic device and camera footage that are used as part of the policing of this overseas.

 

Gardaí eye-witness can be done very easily too.

These 2 images offer some examples.

 

Common and frightening place where riders get overtaken at –
1.5 metre MPDL, rider width & position and vehicle width don’t fit in 3.2 metre width.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In most cases, drivers will need to at least straddle the median strip –
A very easy Garda eye witness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in regard to safe passing of bicycle riders, the first step is that of driver education. This, I believe, needs to begin with underscoring the safe passing message with legislation in order to allow this message to crystallise.

 

With this in mind most riders would be delighted if no driver was ever charged under this proposed legislation if it means that 99.9999% of drivers are overtaking people on bicycles, with this defined safe margin for error.

 

Indeed this new proposed law would mean very little to the majority of motorists who heed the advice from the Road Safety Authority by staying wider of the rider and leaving the recommended 1.5 metres of lateral space when overtaking a person on a bicycle.
In Ireland though, there are still a cohort drivers who think it’s ok to intimidate, bully and squeeze riders off the road so long as blood is not spilled.
You don’t have to be a road safety expert to realise that those with very little chance of being caught will continually offend.

 

 

What’s another year? 😏😠

 

The results as outlined in the 3 examples above, are also possible to achieve in an Irish context with MPD legislation in place, along with associated awareness campaigns and subsequent Gardaí engagement.

 

Now is the time for Ireland to step up and add this important tool in the larger tool-kit of awareness creation.

 

Failure to do so will certainly mean that we can expect more bicycle riders not to be at the 2018 family Christmas table.

 

I wrote this article for the journal.ie in early March of this year.

I concluded it with this warning:

“Further hand wringing will certainly lead to unnecessary and wholly preventable deaths of bicycle riders and a lifetime of heartache not just for their family, friends and communities but also for the uninformed motorist”.

 

Since then another 14 bicycle riders didn’t return home to their loved ones.

 

Let’s change this wholly preventable loss..

 

1.5 Metres Matters!

 

Phil.

 

Sonia O Sullivan adds her voice to the safe passing message

2 Responses so far.

  1. john stygall says:

    My view has always been that driver education needs to be started at an early age. A simple way of raising awareness would be to make a cycling proficiency test compulsory before a driver can move on to taking their theory and practical tests. That way nobody has any excuse for not knowing what cyclist experience when we take to the roads.

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