You never really forget what a close pass feels like. You’re tootling happily along on your bike and then, without warning, a motor vehicle roars past, sometimes close enough to touch. Even when it’s not that close, the noise and the air pressure fluctuations of a close pass are enough to get your heart racing. In an instant they can turn a joyful activity into a thing of terror. They’re intimidating and they discourage people from ever getting on a bike. And, in New Zealand, they’re completely legal.

Cycle Action Network’s Patrick Morgan.

If Patrick Morgan gets his way, that will change. Patrick is Cycling Action Network’s project manager and he’s the closest thing we have to a national voice for cyclists. His current campaign: Give Me Room, an online petition for a safe passing rule. It asks the government to regulate against close passes. We asked Patrick to explain the why and the when of Give Me Room:

Why the petition?

The law doesn’t offer enough protection for people on bikes. There’s a guideline in the road code to leave a 1.5 metre gap but it lacks the force of law. Simply put, people on bikes deserve the protection of the law. A safe passing law was recommended by the New Zealand Cycle Safety Panel in 2014 and safe passing laws are common in Europe and most Australian states.

Yes, they do get that close. Photo courtesy of Vince Nancarrow.

It’s not just about people on bikes; it also protects people on foot, law enforcement and road workers.

To be clear, I’m not saying that a law will eliminate close passing. But it will do two things. One, it will make it clear what safe overtaking looks like. And it will give police the possibility of taking action. Currently they are very reluctant to prosecute unless contact has been made, which is totally unsatisfactory.

The other benefit of a rule change is that it starts a new conversation about what safe overtaking looks like. Discussions with the media, face-to-face, driving instructors, police messaging – all those conversations.

If a safe passing rule was recommended four years ago, why don’t we have one yet?

It was probably put into the too-hard basket by the previous government. But I know the current government is considering it right now. This petition will demonstrate to the government that there’s a lot of public support for laws that protect people on bikes.

The next step is that the minister has to take it to her cabinet colleagues and get the ok to go out to consultation. I believe her maternity leave has delayed that stage somewhat, but we expect it will happen early next year.

There will be other things the government will consult on at the same time, such as footpath cycling for children and changing the give-way rules at side roads. There will be a range of things; some will be more controversial than others. A safe passing rule will be part of a package of changes the government is considering.

What evidence is there that legislating a 1.5 metre gap makes cycling safer?

The experience in Queensland, for example, was that when they evaluated their rule, they found that there was in fact benefit. Vehicle drivers were giving more space to people on bikes. Getting passed too close is really scary and it puts people off bikes. We need fewer barriers to cycling, not more barriers.

What are the realistic chances of success for Give Me Room?

The chances are better than 50 percent. We’ve got transport ministers who are ambitious for road safety. We’ve also got a transport agency and organisations like Auckland Transport which have put safety at the top of their priorities. The question is: can the ministers persuade their cabinet colleagues that this is a safe move?

Do you have a target for signatures?

No. We’re just over 2,000 at the moment. When the government announces the consultation over the safe passing rule, I think there will be a lot more interest at that point.

Sign the petition here. Video of the close pass shown in Vince Nancarrow’s photo is here.

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11 responses to “Give Me Room: A campaign for a safe passing rule

  1. I am a cyclist and a motorist. Sadly, Cycle Action probably does not really help cyclist. There is no excuse for cyclists breaking the law and obstructing motorist. Cycle Action’s refusal to condemn this on the part of these inconsiderate does not help cyclists. I refer to the link below. What happens is that some motorists will have enough and pass very close. Is Vince Narcarrow stupid. Does he not know who will come off worse in a collision. Do not try and defend the indefensible.

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12162563

    1. Hi Chuck… I’m also a cyclist and a motorist (as nearly all adult cyclists are)… I’ve met Vince on one or two occasions, but I’d be lying if I said I know him well… He did not seem stupid to me at the time, and I’m at a loss as to how you think him posting a video of a car passing “indefensibly close” to the cyclist ahead of him, ( that is not riding too-far to the right) is in any-way a suggestion that he might be?

      It appears that the cyclist ahead of Vince is pretty-much as far to the left as they can reasonably be expected to be… and any car that wants to overtake should be giving more room than in that video (looks like 0.5-0.7m to me?- The cyclist could touch the car if they reached out, no?)…

      Please explain your opinion to me?

      Is the fact that a truck is passing, legally, on it’s own side of the road, in the other direction a sign that…..
      (A) the cyclist should get further to the left where it is unreasonable and unsafe to be?
      (B) the car behind should wait until it is safe to pass due to the oncoming traffic and presence of a legally positioned bicycle and rider?
      (C) a sign that it is YOU who are trying to “defend the indefensible” of a car driver who cant reasonably wait a few seconds to make a safe passing manoeuvre?

      I look forward to your explanation, cheers!

      1. Fletcher, Many years ago I got clipped a car passing too close so I agree with your points mainly. However, I should have been more clear and not just depend on the link I supplied. The article is about a group of cyclists riding up to 4 abreast blocking traffic. When I lived in West Auckland I had a group block me for more than a km. In the Herald article Cycle Action I quote.

        “Barbara Cuthbert, spokeswoman for Bike Auckland, said with summer on its
        way the groups asked motorists be prepared to share roads with sports
        cyclists.”

        She is wrong. I say sports cyclists should obey the law.

        I hope this helps clarify my position. I hope you read the Herald article and respond.

        1. Chuck

          As a keen law abider you may be aware of the highway code. I’d recommend you read it. It says that cyclists “should ride no more than 2 abreast” It does not say it is illegal for cyclists to block traffic. As you are no doubt aware “Must” is the only word that imposes a legal obligation that something is mandatory.

          I do not believe it is unreasonable to be asked to share the road with your fellow tax payers who pay for those roads even though they use a different form of transport. Being delayed is not a good reason for abusive behaviour. Are you similarly angry about the time you spend at traffic lights, behind horses, in traffic jams at supermarket queues?

          ‘When I lived in West Auckland I had a group block me for more than a km’ I can only imagine the pain this must have put you through. War, Pestilence, Hunger & Famine have nothing on this. perhaps The Herald should put a trigger warning on their next cyclist baiting article so you don’t suffer PTSD.

          Its unusual for a cyclist to be so sensitive about what others are doing. It appears common for trolls in the herald to claim to be a cyclist as well as a motorist. I have reason to disbelieve this as they appear psychotically unemphathetic to those who do ride bikes.

          1. James

            The following in one of the road rules. Cyclist do not have to be tested on them. You would not be a Green Voter by any chance?

            Two cyclists can ride next to each other but should take into account
            the keep left rule and not hold back traffic. Three or more people
            cycling next to each other is illegal, except in the case of a road race
            that has been given traffic management approval from a road controlling
            authority.

            https://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/roadcode/cyclist-code/about-cycling/rules/

          2. You seem to be asking if James is a Green voter as if that were a bad thing.

            I’m glad you found the reference to cyclists being able to ride two abreast.

            And when and where did you last ride your bike?

          3. “I’m glad you found the reference to cyclists being able to ride two abreast.”

            You seem to be very good at cherry picking. My above quote James is from NZTA.

            I last rode my bike a few weeks ago from Ngaruawahia to Pukete, North Hamilton mainly along the river trail. I would ride occasionally two abreast on small stretches of road but go single file if it looked like I was impeding traffic.

            As I live in Ngaruawahia I did not have to take my bike in my wagon which is a 6 litre Holden. I have often traveled over a 100 km and met up with others who have done the same. Cycling is good for one’s health if one does not get wiped out by being aggressive. If someone passes a group of cyclist and a vehicle comes around a corner over the centre line and the motorist has a choice between a head on collusion and pushing some cyclist off the road which option do you think the motorist will take?

          4. I dont know Chuck. Perhaps the motorist should anticipate road conditions and overtake when it is safe to do so? you know like we, as
            motorists, are lawfully & morally required to do as we drive vehicles that can kill.

            You’ve now spent quite a bit of time whinging about the minute delay you suffered a few years ago. As a keen cyclist why are you such an apologist for intolerant, impatient aggressive (i.e. bad) driving? Is it because you are a National voter?

            And finally a quote from this website:

            “The road code is not law; it is an interpretation of the law that attempts to put things in plain language. The line between advice and law in the code is not clear, deliberately so. Think of the road code as your maiden aunt who keeps telling you of the time she went to K Rd in 1957 and was whistled at and that is why you can’t trust men. She may well be right, but her opinion is not an obligation.”

            Perhaps you would be better wasting less of your time whinging about very minor delays that occurred years ago and more learning about the issues that face you as a ‘cyclist’ today.

        2. Hi Chuck, thanks for taking the time to respond.

          I did read the article and commented there too… While it was labelled as 4-wide by the newspaper most people seemed to think it showed a bunch that was actually two-wide in any one location, but not perfectly straight as they went around a corner …

          As other posters have noted… cars waiting behind other legal vehicles (cars, tractors, postal delivery, horses etc) are all common occurrences, but don’t seem to rile motorists nearly as much as the “group hate” aimed at cyclists…

          If the cyclists can safely and reasonably convert to single file when they know they are holding up traffic, that is ideal, and it’s what I’ve seen practised both as a driver and a bunch rider… but it’s not always an available option, or sometimes takes a while to achieve…

          And of course, some people ARE idiots… some of them drive cars, some of them ride bikes, some of them are pedestrians, and some are supposed to be “professional drivers” in busses, taxi’s and trucks and should be better than average … there are bad eggs in every group and it’s not a good idea to assume a whole group are all or mostly idiots because of a few….

          1. Fletcher, I do not consider most cyclists are bad eggs. However, I believe that there is no need to cyclist to train in large groups. There is a lot of people who are anti-cyclist. Some with very good reason and others with not so good. Motorist see cycles lanes that take away parking spaces. Many of these motorists are also rate payers so this further annoys them. Motorist are also pedestrians. They get annoyed when crossing at lights and cyclist pass very close to them at speed.

            I had another look at the photo in the Herald. The group could have been far closer to the left. They were riding in a totally inconsiderate manner. I wonder if it has occurred to those in charge of Cycling Action that this sort of behaviour makes it less likely that a motorist will be considerate to cyclist and slow down and give them a wide birth.

            I have found Cycle action to be as much or more anti car as pro cyclist.and far too political. I would bet most members are Green voters.

            I thank you as well for your response. I would bet that you are far more considerate on a bike than James Powers who not only does not know the law but has an aggressive attitude as well.

            When I cycle now, I mainly do so off road due to the odd motorist who really does not like cyclist.

  2. A great idea. As a cyclist, motorcyclist, car driver, and pedestrian I’d like to think I have seen the view from all sides of the fence, but possibly not for as long as Chuck. While most of us break the road rules at times, the difference with cyclists is that they rarely put anyone’s life at risk in doing so (some may say ‘other than their own’). It appalls me when I am carved up by bus drivers on a daily basis simply because they can’t accept sharing the road with a cyclist.

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