New bike-passing laws leave too much room for error, reckons Dave Carey


THERE’S been a lot of talk lately about the new ‘A Metre Matters’ bike-passing laws that have been rolling out across Australia. Barbeques, sheds, water coolers (they still have them, right?) and social media have all been abuzz with opinions and comments supporting and lambasting the new laws in equal measure.

Just in case you’re living either under a rock or in the two states (WA and Victoria) where the idea hasn’t gained much traction, the new rules state that, when passing a cyclist, a motor vehicle must keep a minimum of one metre’s distance in a 60km/h zone, or 1.5 metres in any zone with a higher posted limit. Crucially, in order to comply with this rule, motorists are legally allowed to cross double lines if they deem it safe to do so.

On the one hand, cyclists are stoked that they’re now less likely to be blown off their treadlies by a distracted mum in her Kia Carnival. Motorists, meanwhile, are petrified they’ll come around a corner into the oncoming path of said mum with half her bus across the centre line, apparently obeying the new rules.

Some motorists are stating that people simply need to think and ensure it’s safe before they cross an unbroken line. The rest know that most people won’t.

That is the main issue with these rules – there is too much ambiguity. We have clear-cut laws against things like drink-driving, insider trading and masturbating in public. If there was a grey area in those, you’d be liable to find your neighbour cutting laps while sliced on bourbon, smashing the stock market on his smartphone and tugging away like he’s got to return it in the morning. But we made all that stuff illegal, so nobody could say: “Oh, but I thought it was fine in this instance.” Just like our mum.

Have you ever had someone bearing down on you on the wrong side of the road? The first time my then-new VY Sandman ever hit dirt was thanks to a Toyota Echo doing just that. I saw the roof first, floating above a crest, then those boring, soulless headlights. The driver was overtaking a beautiful Morris Minor that was puttering along as best as the sidevalve would move it. It soon became clear she was not going to relent in her kamikaze mission to pass old mate, forcing me to lift off and gently drop two wheels in the dirt. Then the other two. The Morris then did the same. All the while, Ms Echo sailed down the middle of both lanes, seemingly oblivious to the double catastrophe she’d nearly caused. Had I not been paying attention, we would have had a head-on; because I was, my new car was dirty.

I’m based in Adelaide; we’re surrounded by the beautiful Adelaide Hills, home to some of Australia’s most picturesque driving roads. Cyclists also love these roads, and that’s fine; that is their right. But the new rules can easily create the exact scenario described above – just replace the Morrie with a peloton and the dirt with a crash barrier, rock-face or, at worst, a cliff.

And while it’s certain that something needs to be done to help prevent unnecessary deaths, I don’t think these new laws are the answer.

So what’s the solution? Banning bikes from certain roads? Banning cars? Neither is realistic and the former is certain to cause a ruckus from those who enjoy grinding away up hill and down dale.

My proposal is pretty simple. You can’t ride a horse on the beach or let your Doberman Pinscher wander around unleashed after certain times; there’s an element of danger associated with both animals and the rules are there to stop kids getting stepped on or eaten. So perhaps a similar rule needs to be applied to certain windy fang roads. For example, if bike riders can hit up said roads before 10am and then get off, drivers could be extra-vigilant before that time and crest with impunity afterwards. I’m certainly not talking about all roads – far from it – but those with endless switchbacks and blind crests would do well from the rule.

Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before I round a blind corner at the recommended speed and end up smearing a lycra-clad dude across my shiny metal grille. Or I head-on a Kia Carnival trying to avoid the same fate.

For more information:

Queensland – effective 07 April 2014

Tasmania – effective 25 February 2015

SA – effective 25 October 2015

ACT – effective 01 November 2015

NSW – effective 01 March 2016

Vic – Greens introduced the bill to parliament on 17 March 2015; no news on if this will be ratified