Feb. 3rd 2014
It is with a great deal of sadness that I am contacting you on this occasion.
This morning the sad news came in that a cyclist had been killed following a collision with a car near Tralee. This brings to 3, the amount of cyclists killed on Irish roads already in 2014. The total for the whole of last year was 5.
Unfortunately, and it gives me no pleasure to say that this has been totally predicable and to some degree, preventable. There has been a huge increase in the amount of bicycles sold in Ireland in the past few years and what we are seeing is the resulting increased interaction between cyclists and motorists. As a cyclist and a motorist I witness an increased level of aggression and a lack of mutual understanding of this interaction. For example, some motorists consider what most call ‘road tax’ gives them an entitlement to the road which exceeds that of cyclists. I think a RSA video clearly stating the reality of this misconception would be helpful to begin with.
I am also proposing to have a safe overtaking space of 1.5 metres written into Irish law as our current one is confusing and ambiguous.
We really need to wring out the issues pertaining to cycle safety and pass such legislation in order to prevent further bloodshed. Unfortunately this problem will not go away with a few videos. Drink driving attitudes didn’t change either after the ad campaigns. Yes, they are part of the solution but the real behavioural changes came as a result in random breath testing and other powers given to the Gardai. This is where we need to get to also with regard to safer cycling in my opinion.
Further delays in dealing with these issues in a responsible manner unfortunately will lead to more cyclists being killed or badly injured. This is what has happened in Queensland Australia over the last year and as a result they are about to trial this 1.5 metre safe overtaking law later this year along with a fine of AU$4400 and a loss of 8 penalty points to impress on to motorists the seriousness of this infringement. I think we here in Ireland need to follow suit as soon as possible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Stayin’ alive at 1.5 campaign.
Feb 9th 2014
Thank you for your swift reply to my most recent email. I really do appreciate your continuing line of communication with respect to road safety issues pertaining to cyclists.
I understand your position with regard to not being mandated or statutorily empowered to change law. You have made this clear to me in the past. That said, you DO hold the position of project manager within the RSA where I’m sure you must have the power to influence future decision making and all that this entails. I continue to lobby politicians in an effort to effect this change and during a meeting of Wexford council last Monday, this very issue was proposed and unanimously passed and will now be forwarded to the dept. transport and yourselves in the RSA for consideration in due course.
Your stated aim is that of working strenuously, through road user education to reduce deaths and serious injuries occurring on our roads. Part of this is the repeated playing of the same ad called ‘cyclists-we all share the road’. This has been a big leap into the world of cycling safety when it was launched especially with mention of 1.5 metres therein. This particular part is of course of huge significance to the cycling community. If you will allow me to expand on why this is so significant.
The left side of the road where cyclists are expected to cycle is normally the part of the road where pot-holes are and debris and glass accumulate. In urban areas it’s the section of road that most likely will have drainage and man-holes. Bicycle tyres are narrow and puncture more easily than other vehicles so ideally the cyclist will try to avoid these hazards. Crosswinds too cause cyclists to slightly deviate from a predicted line. Some steep hills also cause slight wobbles in the effort to stay balanced. In a nutshell, bicycles are not cars, they are less predictable, they travel more slowly and can’t see what’s behind them. They swerve to avoid obstacles and they have no steel shell to protect them. I seems obvious that for the rules of the road to be respected, they need to be clear.
Many cyclists believe that passing (or in the RSA’s case promoting) the 1.5 metre safe overtaking rule would automatically mean dramatically fewer violations due primarily to the law’s effect on educating motorists. Many drivers are unaware of what they are supposed to do when sharing the road with cyclists. If the 1.5 metre overtaking law was passed and publisised, it gives drivers a clear boundary on handling this situation, that our current ambiguous law does not. Basically, if drivers don’t know what constitutes a safe overtaking manoeuvre, then how can cyclists be confident that they know how to share the road properly?
Cycling infrastructure is slowly being rolled out, some good, some not so good. But no amount of cycling infrastructure will negate the need for cyclists to use the road at some part of the journey meaning the interaction of cyclists with motorists will always exist. This 1.5 metres would in itself create a buffer zone providing more protection for the cyclist.
Indeed following the tragic death in August last year of Louise Butler, RSA communications officer Brian Farrell stated ‘‘Drivers need to take special care and understand that cyclists are entitled to road space as much as any other vehicle on the road. It’s important that drivers anticipate cyclists at blind spots and to give at least a 1.5m clearance when overtaking a cyclist,’’ It would be helpful if this message were to be hammered home through legislation or in the case of the RSA, through a safety campaign rather than doing so after such a tragic accident.
You also mention quite correctly that it is too early to ascertain whether the addition of a rule in the nature of maintaining a 1.5 metre would have been of any value in the prevention of these cyclist fatalities. It has been in the media that two of these fatalities occurred on roundabouts. Large roundabouts especially are an absolutely terrifying experience for cyclists, made even more so if you need to take an exit other than the first one. Some cars don’t seem able to judge a cyclist’s speed and perform all sorts of dangerous manoeuvres in this interaction. Purely from a safety point of view, I find it best to control the lane that I’m in, by riding in the centre of it on the roundabout. If I am making a right turn this involves getting into the centre of the right lane and then merging back when exiting using the correct hand signals. Even while practicing these, the amount of near misses that I’ve had are very numerous. I have heard of similar experiences from many other cyclists too. In my view the 1.5 metre law would have the effect of creating more space for the cyclist from the faster moving cars. In the aforementioned scenario for example, the 1.5 metre rule would eliminate the opportunity for a car, truck etc to overtake in the same lane (as has happened to me several times) and lessen the risk of a collision when exiting the roundabout. In the event therefore of a misunderstanding, for example a failure on either party to correctly signal intentions or other error, then there would be more time for either party to react and avert a potential collision.
You mention doing things in line with best practice worldwide. The country uniformly recognised as having the best practice in relation to cycling safety is Holland . (Here is a link to a clip on how they do some roundabouts) http://youtu.be/XhqTc_wx5EU . The Dutch started their cycling infrastructure during the fuel crisis in the 70s so we obviously have a lot of catching up to do. So much so perhaps and in no small part due to our economic situation, that it could prove impossible for many years yet. The 1.5 metre law by contrast costs very little. It’s major costs would be in its promotion and erection of signage to this effect. Most of its awareness would come in the form of comment and debate from newspaper articles like this one in Australia http://m.gladstoneobserver.com.au/news/laws-will-protect-riders-on-road/2160311/
This isn’t in itself the final solution of course but it would make matters of road sharing much clearer.
I mentioned in my previous email some misconceptions that cyclists constantly get battered with. Here is a link to further explain this. It’s from Australia but the same attitudes exist here unfortunately.
If you don’t concur with mine or this view, well here it is from Mr. Edmund King, president of the UK Automobile Association http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/11/16/cyclists-abuse-racial-discrimination-edmund-king_n_2143133.html
Indeed take a look at the comments section from any of your cyclist videos that are posted on your Facebook page and you will see the vitriol for yourself. Your latest one about the bicycle safety check is a prime example but you could use any of them really.
Whilst on the subject of RSA videos relating to cyclists, I feel that there is an over emphasis on hi-vis wearing and helmets. I agree they are hugely important but as a cyclist, you don’t just take your life in your hands, but as a vulnerable road user you put it in the hands of other road users to a great degree. The aggressive or inattentive motorist is where a lot of the problems lie in my view. Driving itself can be tedious and boring for a lot of motorists. This leads to all sorts of bad behaviour, from the serial texter, to the lip-stick applier, GPS fiddler, dashboard diner etc. It can seem that paying full attention to what is going on outside the windscreen is low on the list of priorities for many. Being visible and protected with a helmet will only get you so far. You are very reliant on the understanding and moreover, attentiveness of other road users when it comes to sharing the roads. Maybe a bit more emphasis in the future dealing with these issues would be helpful.
I am guessing that your next move, by much the same process as what the RSA did with the drink driving campaign, will be to roll out more hard hitting shock inducing ads. They could be of some help but like all matters pertaining to road safety, for some there is the carrot but for others there needs to be the stick.
Here’s on that I think appropriate that drives the message home. It is heart-wrenching.
I understand the need to examine the causes of these accidents and for tailoring your campaigns to meet the challenges identified, cognisant of these causes, credible research and best international practice. This is all very fine but surely there must also be an onus of responsibility on the RSA to learn from the experience of other jurisdictions. So far 22 states in the US, 1 Canadian Provence (Nova Scotia), France, Germany, Spain and Portugal have a safe overtaking space written in to law. As I said previously, Queensland, Australia is about to trial this law later this year too. Most of these have happened as a result of increased cyclist fatalities. These jurisdictions have seen fit to examine, wring out the issues and moved on to law making in relation to this. We in Ireland would be extremely naive to think that, we are different in this respect. I myself have lived in Australia for 10 years (it’s where I did my driving test) and the very same conditions and problems with road sharing exist there. Unfortunately, they had to wait until the the amount of cyclists killed on Queensland’s roads increased dramatically before they took action. I would like to think that our authorities here in Ireland don’t see the cycling community as guinea pigs and wait for similar trends here before reacting. The stakes in this are too high not to engage further with this issue.
I therefore urge you and other members of the RSA to heed the mounting calls for a safer cycling environment and to properly engage with the implementation of a 1.5 metre safe overtaking law in Ireland.
Stayin’ Alive at 1.5
2nd March 2014
I would like to draw your attention to your Facebook page. Not sure who is the admin for this but I think it needs to be supervised a little more closely. I indicated to you in my previous email some the vitriol that appears on some of your posts. Everyone has a right to their opinion of course but when posts of pure hate are allowed to be posted on a government run road safety Facebook page, I think THAT crosses the line..
Please find attached the RSA Facebook link along with the particular comment that I feel inappropriate. This might have been put up through someone’s warped sense of humour but I think it is very disrespectful to the countless cyclists who have been injured or have lost their lives on our roads.
Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 campaign.