Among a slew of announcements from NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Duncan Gay, comes the news of a trial ‘a metre matters’ law as of March, 2016.
This legislation means motorists will be required to allow at least one-metre of passing distance when overtaking cyclists in speed zones up to 60kph, and 1.5-metres in speed zones above 60kph.
A similar two-year trial was launched in Queensland in April, 2014, and was initially met with resistance from local motorists, but has seen positive results.
According to a survey conducted by the Queensland Government, almost two-thirds of bicycle riders in Queensland have noticed an increase in the space drivers give them since the legislation was introduced in 2014, in addition to more positive driver attitudes.
Amy Gillett Foundation chairman Mark Textor congratulated the NSW Government on introducing the ‘a metre matters’ trial saying, “We are delighted with the Minister’s decision to introduce the trial and it caps off a breakthrough year for the Amy Gillett Foundation as we continue our mission to reduce the incidence of serious injury and death of bike riders in Australia. As the fifth jurisdiction to adopt these changes, the NSW decision puts us one step closer to achieving the Foundation’s goal of having minimum overtaking distance laws in place Australia-wide.”
This adds to the growing support for ‘a metre matters’ around Australia with permanent laws in place in South Australia, amended road laws in Tasmania, and trials underway in Queensland and the ACT.
In addition to the one-metre passing distance, adult cyclists will be required to carry a photo ID and can be fined $319 for not wearing a helmet. The fine for not carrying an ID will be $106 and there will be a 12-month grace period for cyclist's caught without an ID.
The announcement from Mr. Gay also included a dramatic 350-percent increase in the penalties for cyclist caught breaking road rules. As the law stands now, most offences see a fine of $71, but with the new legislation; running a red light, riding dangerously, and not stopping at a pedestrian crossing will incur a $425 fine, and holding onto a moving vehicle a $319 fine.
The NSW government is also announcing a similar one-metre passing law, for cyclists overtaking pedestrians on a shared path (where possible).
All of this comes only months after the College Street cycleway in Sydney’s CBD was ripped up with no alternative infrastructure or cycle routes available — it also cost taxpayers a whopping $8-million. This comes in addition to the findings from a study conducted by the University of New South Wales, which found when cyclists do break the law, it’s in an effort to protect themselves due to a lack of infrastructure.
Not everyone in the cycling community is excited about Mr. Gay’s announcement with Bicycle Network CEO, Craig Richards, saying the new legislation could set bike riding back decades in the state.
“Bike riding has been growing rapidly around Australia because it appeals as a healthy activity that everybody can participate in regardless of age or status.
“But now you need the official stamp of government approval—you can't leave the house without your officially mandated, government issued ID card.
“In a time where we need greater cooperation from all road users, these proposals will result in bike riders being seen as a fringe group that needs special rules to keep them in check," Richards said.
In the end, if cyclists want to be treated as equals and respected by motorists we cannot be breaking road rules. While some may see this legislation as Australia increasingly becoming a ‘nanny state’, it’s really about creating awareness for all road users.
It also comes down to enforcement, no law can have any positive effect if it’s not enforced properly. We only hope that the NSW Police take it upon themselves to not just target cyclists with big fines, but also drivers who are putting riders lives at risk.