Ross’s department to look at how 1.5 metre passing distance works in Australia

Transport minister Shane Ross said yesterday that his department will examine how a minimum passing disstance law — where a distance for motorists overtaking bicycles is defined in law — has worked in the Australian state of Queensland.

Phil Skelton, who started the Stayin Alive at 1.5 campaign said Ross was interested how the law could be enforced in a practical manner.

After meeting the minister today, Skelton said: “His main stance on minimum passing disstance law was one of concern for the enforceability of such a law.”

He added: “I got the opportunity to show him how it works overseas without rigorous enforcement and got a firm undertaking from him and his department that contact would be made with his Queensland equivalent to find out their experiences of this law.”

Much like the drink driving loophole which the minister is trying to close, Minister Ross may have a battle on his hands if he tries to implement a passing distance law, but he is expected to have strong cabinet-level support from at least Minister Ciaran Cannon and Minister Regina Doherty. The meeting today was also arranged by Sligo-based councillor Marie Casserly, who is part of Ross’s Independent Alliance political grouping.

When passing distance law are implemented around the world, 1.5 metres minimum is usually applied to areas of 60km/h and over, and 1 metres applied at 50km/h and under.

Skelton said on Facebook last night: “Bear in mind that Queensland introduced minimum passing disstance law as a 2 year trial and following its success there, this was made in to permanent law there. The law was subsequently added to most states and territories there.”

“There are more steps on the road to what we hope might lead to this life-saving measure for thousands of bicycle riders on Irish roads,” he said.


  1. I don’t know how this works in Austrailia, and I’m a little surprised that anything good for cyclists is supposed to be in place there.

    I think the MPDL law could work as a deterrent to dangerous overtaking even if it is only used after there has been a collission. I can think of one particular example where a cyclist was hit by a taxi during a close pass and they got away with it because the guards didn’t think they deliberately did it and apparently that’s the standard they choose to apply. If you hit a cyclist due to carelessness or incompetence or because you deliberaretly put them in danger to save yourself a few minutes but didn’t actually ram them on purpose then nothing will be done.

    If there was an MPDL then that taxi driver would have a much harder time arguing they hadn’t done anything wrong when they tried to squeeze past a cyclist with only a few centimeters of space. It is a grim condemnation of the attitude of some motorists but I think that the chance they would get penalty points if their overtake goes wrong is a bigger deterrent than the chance of seriously injuring some cyclist.

    We already know there will be a flood of objections claiming that this rule would make it impossible to overtake on lots of roads. I’m enthusiastic to hear what idiocy the Healy-Rae (Indepdendents for Drunk Drivers) clan comes up with.

  2. Why go all the way to Australia? It has been law in Belgium for over 20 years (be it 1 m distance). As it is this old all car drivers keep their distance as it is part of any practical driving test. Mind you there is overall much higher consideration towards cyclists in Belgium.

  3. As Sam Lowry remarks, why bother with Australia – indisputably the most anti-cycling country on the planet – when most of continental Europe has already had such a law for decades past, and motorists generally observe it? Here in France it’s 1.5m in the countryside and 1.0m in towns, and in five years of daily cycling I’ve had only two dangerously close passes, one of them from a car with a Polish registration. What makes drivers observe it is not just the law, and a far greater respect for cyclists than in the English-speaking countries, but also the fact that among EU states only the UK, Ireland, Romania, Cyprus and Malta don’t have a law of presumed liability for civil damages, under which in the event of a motor vehicle hitting a cyclist it’s assumed to have been the driver’s fault unless they can prove otherwise. Since, apart from head-on collisions, a car hitting a cyclist was by definition within the safe-passing distance, the driver will be facing not just a fine of between 135 and 750 Euros and three points on their licence for infringing Article 414-4 of the Code de la Route, but also a letter from their insurer and a greatly increased premium the following year. This has a remarkably sobering effect on nonchalant overtakers: drivers will always drop back until they have enough room to overtake you with sufficient space.

  4. I should have added, by the way, that the safe-passing law is not just a musty and disregarded clause buried somewhere in the highway code: along all French roads frequented by cyclists you’ll see reminder notices every couple of kilometres. They take it very seriously.

  5. Phil Skelton is very aware of the MPDL in force in several European countries and has referenced same with photos,( including polite overtake on narrow road in France) in his extensive FAQ’S on the topic. He may be using Queensland as an example as he lived in Australia for some years and has observed with interest the change from no MPD to a legally defined one. Plus, maybe as an English speaking country it’s easier for Dept official to pick up the phone to Australia! Also interesting because it’s relatively recent and went from Trial to Permanent. i’d love to see the European strict liability law come in here too but maybe one bit of legislation at a time!.

  6. This is a very worrying development. Australia is rightly viewed as one of the most car-centric hostile anti-cycling countries in the Western world. One the biggest problems we have faced in Ireland has been that state actors have used Australia as a policy model while pretending that mainland Europe did not exist. It is no accident that Ireland has ended up the same way. When the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors recently called for it to be made illegal to cycle in ordinary clothing they used the Australian cycle helmet law as a positive example. If we want examples of enforcement of close passing we don’t need to look any further than than “operation close pass” run by the West Midlands Police. Going to Australia for advice is very much a step backwards and is a direct threat to all we have worked for.

  7. @Eric- you say “I can think of one particular example where a cyclist was hit by a taxi during a close pass and they got away with it because the guards didn’t think they deliberately did it and apparently that’s the standard they choose to apply”

    Just to add balance I was an eyewitness to a RTA involving a taxi trying to save a second or two on that really narrow part of Essex Quay and who knocked over a cyclist as a result. So far the Gardai are taking it seriously as they see it as dangerous driving. I reported it and am following through on it as the girl was very lucky not to be killed. Im just making the point that not all Gardai are the same but I do accept that you have to be pretty assertive to get your point of view across.

  8. I fear that Shane Foran is right: the Garda’s ingrained dislike of cyclists, plus their instinctive anglocentricity, plus their ignorance of foreign languages, all led them to look to Australia (…for Christ’s sake!) as a model rather than at a lot of countries much closer to hand – the Netherlands; Denmark; Germany – where they often speak far better English than most Australians do. I fear that what they really meant with their recent recommendations re. helmets etc. was “Cyclists are a nuisance because roads are for CARS, and we’d very much like to ban cycling on public highways altogether. But we realise that’s politically impossible; so what we’ll do instead is go down the well-tested Australia/New Zealand route of making it so fiddly and complicated that people just stop doing it.”

  9. Speaking of the guards, I noticed their reaction to the first day of the new traffic arrangement on the North quays in Dublin was to say that it wasn’t their job to enforce this. This being the rules of the road. So they have time for stopping cyclists and telling them they should be wearing a high viz jacket and wearing a helmet (not a legal requirement outside the wishes of the GRA) but not enough time to stop car drivers from using the bus lane (an actual legal requirement). Of course on day two they were out enforcing the rules so I assume someone in the DoT talked to someone in the DoJ and someone gave them a boot up the arse.

  10. @Eric
    Incidents like this make you wonder just how diligently an MPD for cyclists would ever be enforced if it became law in Ireland: you fear that in reality the old “how far were you from him when you hit him, sir?” mentality would still prevail. Let’s face it: in the English-speaking countries the general public view is that roads are for motor vehicles, that cyclists are on them only by kind permission, and that in the event of an accident the cyclist was behaving dangerously by being on the road at all. So you fear that in practice an MPD law would remain a dead letter since the motoring public see no need for it, while the Gardaí would view it as a waste of their time. Here in France we’ve had compulsory hi-viz waistcoats for cyclists since 2008; but nobody takes a blind bit of notice of it, the police don’t enforce it and there’s never been a prosecution for not wearing one. Ditto for helmets in Spain, which are theoretically compulsory outside towns but nobody bothers enforcing them; certainly not the police manning anti-jihadist roadblocks on Monday when I was out for the day in Catalonia wearing my normal cotton hat, and who waved me through very politely without anyone remarking upon my illegal headgear. If there’s no public perception that something is wrong then all the laws in the world will have no effect.


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