— Officials accused of using strawman arguments when law works elsewhere.
An Irish campaigner who has lobbied for a 1.5m minimum passing distance for motorists overtaking bicycles said he is “disgusted at the dismissiveness and misinformation from officialdom” over the proposed new law.
The law, proposed by Fine Gael minister Regina Doherty and junior minister Ciaran Cannon, would see a defined minimum passing distance of 1.5 metres applied to areas of 60km/h and over, and 1 metre applied at 50km/h and under. As we reported last week, minister Shane Ross has promised to research how the law has worked in other jurisdictions.
But the Sunday Times today reports how officials previously told Ross that the law would be “unenforceable”. A briefing document obtained under Freedom of Information by The Sunday Times outlines how a Department of Transport official claimed that: “Proof would hinge on establishing the precise distance rather than on the degree of danger involved.”
The Sunday Times also reports that officials believe that the passing distance offence would have to apply to both drivers and cyclists.
Passing distance laws are in place in a number of European countries and a large number of states in the US and Australia. Enforcement in these jurisdictions ranges from video evidence showing cars passing within inches of the handlebars of bicycles to police operations with police offices cycling bicycles with detection equipment on board.
Phil Skelton, who runs the Stayin Alive at 1.5 campaign, said on Facebook last night: “The whole point of minimum passing distance law in Ireland, like the many jurisdictions worldwide that now have it in place, is that dangerous overtaking is not defined and this has been seen as a loophole without a defined measurement.”
He added: “Minimum passing distance law (the clue is in the title) isn’t about establishing precise distance; The burden of proof is to show beyond reasonable doubt that this defined minimum space has been encroached, which is vastly different.”
Skelton said that some UK police forces have started to implement a passing distance without it being defined in law, but this is a “post code lottery system” because enforcement varies so much from area to area.
He said: “When we talk about minimum passing distance law and look at overseas examples, we do not see rigorous enforcement of this and as always Garda discretion applies eliminating such straw man discussions of the cyclist veering towards the car. This is the very reason why you need [the law], so that for whatever reason that a cyclist may veer; a sudden gust of wind, a dog running out etc, that a collision doesn’t happen in the first place due to a minimum passing distance being in place. Using straw men discussions to throw the baby out with the bath water will not save the lives of Irish bicycle riders!”
Skelton pointed out that reports of fatal cycling collisions on Irish roads indicate that a minimum passing distance is relevant to a common collision type of motorist overtaking bicycle. He fears there will be more cyclists killed on our roads by the end of the year and, so, he is encouraging followers to tell politicians “how important this is to your friends, family and community.”
VIDEO: A Houston Police Department video showing active police enforcement of a passing distance law:
MORE: Cyclist safety law ‘unenforceable’ (Sunday Times)