Give Distance to Cyclists or Face the Consequences


The Minimum Passing Distance rule has been retained as a permanent road rule in New South Wales, after a trial of the rule was hailed a success.

The rule requires motorists to leave a minimum one-metre gap when passing cyclists who are travelling in the same direction.

That distance bumps up to 1.5 metres when the speed limit is higher than 60km/h. Drivers who break the law face a penalty of $330 and two demerit points.

The rule has been in place as a trial for the past two years in NSW and is now here to stay, which cycling enthusiasts say is a welcome protection for them on the road.

Reduction is collisions

An independent review of the two-year trial estimated a 15 percent reduction in bicycle-to-vehicle crashes and the NSW Centre for Road Safety urges all drivers to be aware of the need to provide space around cyclists.

The Centre recommends that more than the minimum passing distance be given, particularly in the case of heavy trucks and buses.

Under the law, if it is safe to pass a cyclist, drivers are allowed to move across a centre dividing line, broken or unbroken, into the oncoming lane. Drivers can also drive on a flat dividing strip and a painted island.

What about pedestrians?

While there is no minimum passing rule for cyclists, Transport for NSW recommends leaving at least one metre when passing pedestrians on shared paths.

Current road rules stipulate that a cyclist on a shared path must:

  • Keep to the left of the footpath or shared path unless it is impracticable to do so, and
  • Give way to any pedestrian on the footpath or shared path.

Government backflips over compulsory ID laws

More than 10,000 cyclists signed a petition against proposed laws which would have made it mandatory for cyclists to carry acceptable identification.

The proposal would have required cyclists over the age of 18 to carry an acceptable form of ID such as a current Australian or international driver licence, NSW Photo Card, passport, or a photo of the ID on a mobile phone or electronic device. Those without ID would have faced a fine of $106.

Despite saying it was adamant that carrying ID would be made compulsory, even proposing a timetable for the enactment of the rules, the government later backflipped and the laws were not brought into effect.

However, there has been an increase in several of the penalties cyclists face, including fines for following offences:

  • Not wearing helmets – $330
  • Running a red light – $439
  • Riding negligently, furiously or recklessly – $439
  • Failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing – $439.

Along with not wearing helmets and risky behaviour, cyclists can also be fined if their brakes are not working properly or if they are riding in the dark without lights.

Road safety or revenue raising?

While the NSW Government says that the new laws are designed to keep all road users safe, many in the community believe they are too harsh and are simply another way to extract money from members of the public.

For instance, a cyclist in Sydney was fined $106 in 2016 for not having a working bell, during a police blitz shortly after the new laws came into effect. Along with other offences including not wearing a helmet, his ride to work cost him $531.

Figures for 2017 reveal that the number of fines handed to cyclists in NSW surged by more than a third in the first year of stiffer penalties, which led to the state government collecting more than $2.2 million in revenue for the top 5 offences alone.

While cycling injuries and fatalities are on the decline in New South Wales, it seems enthusiasm for cycling is also waning.

A national survey released mid-last year showed a drop in people riding in a typical week to 12.5 per cent this year, from almost 17 per cent in 2015.

NSW has the lowest participation rates for cycling of any state or territory in Australia. Its cycling laws are also some of the toughest in the world. Many blame the new laws, which they say are deterring people from cycling.


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About Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.
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