MINIMUM PASSING DISTANCE

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07 April 2016 Bicycling Western Australia has recently reviewed its position on the Minimum Passing Distance rules in Western Australia following the release of Evaluation of the Queensland Minimum Passing Distance Road Rule by CARRS-Q.

SUMMARY

Western Australian law currently requires vehicles to leave a sufficient distance when passing a bicycle. A number of Australian states and territories have introduced minimum passing distance (MPD) rules that specify a minimum distance vehicles must leave; one metre in 60 km/h or less zones, and 1.5 metres in more than 60 km/h zones.

Queensland has recently concluded a two-year trial of MPD and has elected to make these rules permanent.  Given the outcomes and findings, Bicycling Western Australia (BWA) supports the trial introduction in Western Australia of MPD, based on the Queensland model, for a minimum of three years with the following conditions:

  • Continue to focus on the Towards Zero strategy and Safe Systems approach

  • Ensure the law is supported with a significant driver behaviour change program

  • Ensure WA Police are provided with an effective enforcement framework

  • Conduct a pre- and post-study to understand the full impact of these rules

Furthermore, the findings and conclusions of the “Evaluation of the Queensland Minimum Passing Distance Road Rule” (CARRS-Q 2016) should be used to inform the development and implementation of the rules in Western Australia.

It is clear that many bike riders are in favour of MPD with many believing it will make them safer.  The Queensland trial identified that it is premature to draw conclusions regarding the road safety benefits of MPD at this stage, there is however preliminary data indicating a statistically significant decreasing trend in serious bicycle crashes in the post-commencement period than would have been expected based on extrapolation from the pre-trial trend.  The extent to which this reduction can be attributed to the MPD road rule trial is unclear, but it is nevertheless encouraging.

CURRENT LAWS

Western Australia currently has a ‘safe distance’ passing law

The current safe distance overtaking law is set out in the Road Traffic Code 2000 Regulation 124 – Keeping safe distance when overtaking. This regulation states:

A driver overtaking a vehicle —

a) shall pass the vehicle at a sufficient distance to avoid a collision with that vehicle or to avoid obstructing the path of that vehicle; and

b) shall not return to the marked lane or line of traffic where the vehicle is travelling until the driver is a sufficient distance past that vehicle to avoid a collision with that vehicle or to avoid obstructing the path of that vehicle.

Modified penalty: 8 penalty units.

A number of Australian jurisdictions have introduced MPD

Since 2014, a number of Australian states and territories have introduced MPD.   To date, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have not introduced any legislative change.

State

MPD

Dates

Queensland

Yes

Permanent: 04/2016
Trial: 04/2014 - 04/2016

Tasmania

No

Changes to overtaking rules introduced from 25 February 2015

South Australia

Yes

Permanent: 10/2015

Australian Capital Territory

Yes

Trial: 11/2015 – 11/2017

New South Wales

Yes

Trial: 03/2016 – 03/2018

RECOMMENDATION

Bicycling Western Australia recommends the introduction of a three year MPD trial in Western Australia, based on the Queensland model.

The introduction of MPD may serve as an opportunity to clarify cyclist rights on the road, and reinforce to drivers the need to allow enough passing distance in a way that the former rule did not.

BWA recommends that Western Australia should adopt a consistent approach with other Australian jurisdictions and introduce a MPD trial.  Because it takes significant time to properly assess the impact of the change, it is recommended that the trial be for a minimum of three years.

Based on the learnings from other jurisdictions, our recommendation comes with the following qualifications:

Continue to focus on the Towards Zero strategy and Safe Systems approach

MPD should be part of a broader strategy to improve bike rider safety.  The Safe System approach to road safety recognises the need for responsible road user behaviour and accepts that human error is inevitable.  It therefore aims to create a road transport system that makes allowance for errors and minimises the consequences - in particular, the risk of death or serious injury.  This approach can make a vital contribution to the safety to vulnerable road users.

Focusing on the Safe System approach for bike riders will reduce the impact of bike rider trauma.  Examples include:

  1. Safer vehicles – examples include using Safety Assist Technologies (SATs) to improve lane support systems and speed assist systems, the enforcement of electronic work diaries for truck drivers.

  2. Safer road users – with particular focus on driver distraction and inattention.

  3. Safer speeds – reviewing speed limits to reflect the context of the street and the road users, as well as being compliant with the Safe Systems approach.

  4. Safer roads – ongoing investment in infrastructure improvements including cyclist-friendly intersection design and both on-road and grade-separated facilities for cyclists to segregate from other vehicles and parking hazards.

Ensure the rule is supported with a significant driver behaviour change program

In other jurisdictions in Australia, when MPD has been introduced it has been accompanied by mass awareness/education campaigns such as Go Together (Transport for NSW 2016) and the Stay Wider of the Rider (Queensland Government 2015).

Research shows that mass education/awareness campaigns are not an effective way at creating behavioural change (McKenzie-Mohr 2011).  While campaigns designed to increase public knowledge can be effective in altering attitudes, they are unlikely to result in behavioural change as there is usually little or no relationship between attitudes and/or knowledge and a change in behaviour (McKenzie-Mohr 2011).

The use of an information-based campaign could be effective if the only barrier to drivers not allowing sufficient distance is lack of knowledge. However, there is no evidence to support this. Accordingly, the expenditure of advertising could be wasteful and ineffective.

BWA’s recommendation is to supplement the law with a research-based driver behaviour change program that:

  • clearly defines the desired behaviour: for example ‘Drivers in Western Australia leave a minimum of one metre space when passing a bike rider’

  • researches existing barriers, beliefs and attitudes preventing drivers from carrying out the desired behaviour (possibly with the support of organisations such as the RAC, the WA taxi and major transport groups)

  • uses the findings from the research to develop strategies

  • pilots the strategies with a small section of the community to quickly evaluate effectiveness

  • uses learnings from the pilot to implement the most successful strategies

Ensure WA Police are provided with an effective enforcement framework

There is little point introducing a MPD rule if it is not enforced.  Learnings from the Queensland trial indicate a low level of enforcement with concerns expressed about the difficulty of enforcing the law.  WA Police should be tasked the enforcement of this law under the same principles of any other law.  Therefore, it should be made clear that offending motorists should be prosecuted.

Conduct a pre- and post-impact study

The impact of MDP rules on improving rider safety and increasing ridership is a highly under-researched area.  To assist in the understanding of the impact of the MPD, BWA recommends that a study which examines the impact on both rider safety and the take up of bicycle riding is commissioned prior to the introduction of the MPD. Unlike previous studies, pre-impact analysis needs to be included as well as a longitudinal study spanning three years post-implementation.

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BWA acknowledges the assistance and advice provided by Bicycle Network and Bicycle Queensland in the development of this policy position.

References

Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) (2016), ‘Minimum Passing Distance Road Rule Evaluation – Final Report’

McKenzie-Mohr, D (2011). Fostering Sustainable Behaviour: an introduction to community-based social marketing (Third Edition). New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island.