Cycling: room for manoeuvre

Real progress in making the roads safer for cyclists will require greater responsibility by drivers

The Road Safety Authority has promoted safety and awareness campaigns involving cyclists for a number of years and it recommends that motorists should allow a distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Road Safety Authority has promoted safety and awareness campaigns involving cyclists for a number of years and it recommends that motorists should allow a distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

There is an unfortunate tendency in this State to engage in gesture politics: to introduce laws that make further demands on an over-stretched police force but are almost impossible to enforce. Minister for Transport Shane Ross appears determined to require motorists to keep a distance of between 1 and 1.5 metres when passing cyclists, in spite of advice from the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

The Minister is right to be concerned about the dramatic rise – to 15 – in the number of cyclists killed in 2017. For much of the previous decade, the death rate was in single figures. But the RSA advised him that the most effective way of addressing the issue was through an education and awareness campaign. There was limited empirical evidence, it said, to support the implementation of minimum passing distance legislation. However, Ross has announced that he will “go the extra mile” in order to improve road safety.

The RSA has promoted safety and awareness campaigns involving cyclists for a number of years and it recommends that motorists should allow a distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking. That is good, sensible advice. And it is generally followed in congested, urban areas. Dublin City recorded a single death for each of the past number of years. Most of last year’s fatalities occurred in high-speed zones, in rural areas and involved leisure and sporting activities. Three-quarters of these deaths occurred at or near a junction and involved a lack of attention or awareness by either motorists or cyclists.

If legislation is introduced, an under-strength Garda Traffic Corps will be expected to enforce it, even as drink-driving laws continue to be flouted. How can offences involving a distance ranging from 1 to 1.5 metres be accurately measured and successfully prosecuted in court? When you consider the convoluted manner in which drink-driving prosecutions are defended, this law could become a gift for solicitors. Those who have campaigned for change have played a valuable role in raising public awareness. But real progress will require greater responsibility by drivers.

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