“Judges will be against” bicycle passing distance law says Fianna Fail sports spokesperson

— “Lobbyists approach me from the motor sector” said TD.

Fianna Fail spokesperson on sport Kevin O’Keeffe has said judges will be against the planned minimum passing distance law.

The comment was made despite Ireland’s clear separation of powers which means judges are required to — within the law and constitution — enforce the laws which are written by legislators.

The Cork East Fianna Fail TD said that “in principle” he had no issue with the distance but that there are “exceptional circumstances”.

His comments were made at Oireachtas committee on transport, tourism and sport discussion on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill and can be found in full context at kildarestreet.com.

Transport minister Shane Ross has promised to bring a minimum passing law forward of 1m in speed limit zones up to 50km/h and 1.5m in areas with higher limits. He had said he will do this using a statutory instrument, otherwise known as secondary legislation, which the minister can sign into law.

Deputy O’Keeffe said: “I know that, but I have the same problem as the Chairman. Lobbyists approach me from the motor sector. In principle I have no problem in regard to the requirement of 1.5 m clearance for cyclists. However, the Minister is bringing it in by statutory instrument, and he will have to accept exceptional circumstances.”

He added: “I will give a typical example. On a rural road, a motorist may be approaching a cyclist from behind, unbeknownst to the cyclist. The cyclist sees a pothole, swerves out, and the motorist hits him. There are no witnesses. Straight away, the statutory instrument says that the motorist is wrong, because he did not maintain a clearance of 1.5 m. How are these issues of road safety going to be addressed by a statutory instrument? Judges will be against it.”

Transport minister Shane Ross, who was appearing at the committee, said: “The statutory instrument is with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and will be brought back, I hope, very shortly, although one can never be certain, but I do not think there are too many complications with it. It will be, as announced, a distance of 1.5 m for those travelling in excess of 50 km/h and 1 m for those travelling below that speed. It will not be any more complicated than that.”

He added: “The reason for it is that cyclists’ lives are at stake and they are as important as the lives of others. We want to send them a clear signal that we want to save their lives.

“The number of deaths went up from ten to 15 last year. That is a really serious increase which we should feel obliged to address, and that is what we are doing. In answer to Deputy Troy’s question on why this is being done by statutory instrument, that this is the normal way overtaking legislation is implemented. It is not done by primary legislation,” said Minister Ross.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

7 Comments

  1. His “typical example” does not even have anything to do with the minimum passing distance. You always need to be able to stop. When you see a vehicle, a bicycle here but could be any other mode of transport, do something sudden you would need to have kept enough distance and have suitable speed in order to stop . It is called anticipating traffic.

    Here indeed it would be the driver’s fault buy not due to the minimum passing distance.

    Also, in Belgium, where I grew up a car will always be in fault with any incident with a bicycle (and pedestrian) expect when great negligence by the cyclist can be proven. The onus will be on the car driver to proof this.

  2. Surely the whole point of the 1.5m is that should a cyclist need to swerve as you are passing the space you have given will be the cyclists protection.

  3. “It will be, as announced, a distance of 1.5 m for those travelling in excess of 50 km/h and 1 m for those travelling below that speed.”

    Will the law be based on the speed the car is traveling at the time they pass the cyclist, or based on the speed limit of the road they are travelling on?

    Will the law be 1m or 1.5m for a 50km/hh zone?

  4. I have a few issues with what Kevin O’Keefe had to say.

    Firstly, how is him being approached by the motor lobby a problem for him? He should be able to judge whether they are raising a valid point or not and he should have, and is required to have, the spine to go against special interests when they are wrong. Would it be acceptable for some TD to explain they have a problem with banning cigarette advertising because the tobacco lobby keeps approaching them? No, he’d be laughed out of it.

    Secondly, his ‘typical’ example seems to suggest that when a car driver runs down a cyclist on a country road this is generally because the cyclist has swerved out in front of them. There is even a name for this, the Single Witness Suicide Swerve. This is appalling and if I was related to one of the people killed on the roads I would want to spit in his eye. I’m sure O’Keefe and the defenders of the primacy of cars would argue that’s not what he meant, but I bet if he had said in a typical crash the driver is speeding or not paying attention to the road, or both, he’d really be in for it from those motor lobby people he is so concerned about. Not that he ever would say that I imagine.

    Finally, he paints a picture of a cyclist who willfully swerves out in front of a car and then the poor motorist would be blamed for hitting them. I’m unclear why he thinks that’s a problem. The driver purposefully passed a cyclist closely and then when the cyclist had to swerve they weren’t able to react and hit them. The exact thing this law is supposed to prevent. If this is really a ‘typical’ event then surely O’Keefe should be able to see the need for the law. Well, I say surely but he seems to think the motorist being declared wrong in a situation where they have broken the law is a problem so I’m not sure how smart he is.

    Personally I’m not a fan of this law. I think it will be very difficult to enforce. During my normal day there are countless passes that I consider safe that would be illegal under this and the unlikelihood of enforcement means it will probably do nothing to stop the actual assholes who scream past at 80+ less than 10cms from my shoulder. Pragmatically I don’t think it will improve my safety much and it will fuel the anti-cyclist lobby. The only tangible benefit from this that I can see would be that when a driver does hit a cyclist the excuse of “they swerved out in front of me” won’t stand. For example, take the taxi driver who hit a woman on the Rock Road years ago. He wasn’t charged apparently because the guards decided he didn’t _intend_ to hit the cyclist, he just tried to squeeze through a gap that turned out to be too narrow and hit her. Nothing to see here.

    With this law we actually might have a chance of punishing dangerous drivers who pass too close and hit cyclists and this might discourage that behavior. It seems the only real benefit of this law is what O’Keefe is complaining about. I must be on to something.

  5. All drivers of motor vehicles are charged with this duty of care to all other road users in the Road Traffic Act, 1961.
    52.—(1) “A person shall not drive a vehicle in a public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the place”.
    In relation to people who cycle on our roads it seems as if some drivers are not happy to share those same roads with us. Bicycles, by definition, are metastable vehicles and prone to wobble so this means prudent drivers will give the rider plenty of room and show respect for that vulnerability in keeping with their duty under s. 52 cited above.
    Quite simple.

  6. From reading the transcript it looks like Robert Troy is planning to have a second bite at the cheery is regards to mandatory hi-viz for pedestrians.

    “I am trying to improve the safety of pedestrians on unlit roads. There should be a requirement on pedestrians to wear reflective gear on roads where there is no footpaths or public lighting. It is in their own interest. I am not trying to criminalise or penalise the victim. This is an attempt to save a life or two. We spoke about this before here, and the Minister was somewhat sympathetic to the principle of the proposal, maybe before his officials spoke to him. At that point he undertook to look into it. Perhaps it is something we could look at for Report Stage.”

  7. report stage amendments for road traffic bil,by Troy including reflective cloth and MPD, and lesser punishments for drink driving then are in the bill. Im guesing alot of this will eb ruled out of order https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/bill/2017/108/dail/4/amendment/numberedList/eng/b10817d-drnl.pdf it also looks like, Ross is changing bill to add to stuff re learners drivers http://www.oireachtas.ie/ViewDoc.asp?DocId=-1&CatID=139 its his privilege as Minister

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: