Transport Minister Shane Ross seems set not to keep his promise to legislate a minimum passing distance of motorists overtaking cyclists as there are fears that an exact distance would not hold up in court.
IrishCycle.com understands that the Attorney General’s office has concerns over a measuring device used by police, while the Department of Transport were not open to the use of video footage for prosecutions.
At the end of February a press release from the Department of Transport said: “The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross T.D. today announced that he will legislate for Minimum Passing Distance in order to make our roads safer for cyclists. In line with best international practice, this will entail a Minimum Passing Distance of 1 metre on roads with a speed limit not exceeding 50 km/h and 1.5 metres on all other roads.”
Phil Skelton, the founder of the Stayin Alive at 1.5, wrote on the campaign’s website: “Overall after 5 years of campaigning, I am disappointed but all is far from lost.”
He said: “Many of you who follow this page will know that there were some stumbling blocks with the Attorney General with regard to the implementation of our promised Minimum Passing Distance Law. Well, we met with relevant officials yesterday to hear their concerns and their proposed solutions. In a nutshell, the best legal advice in the country (who by the way is also a cyclist) is telling us that the proposed Minimum Passing Distance Law wouldn’t survive a test in the court.”
“There were both constitutional rights issues and practical court issues which are advised as not to be able to be overcome, due to Irish Common law constraints. DTTAS [the Department of Transport] say that Minimum Passing Distance Law is unlikely to happen in current format proposals,” he said.
He said that as a compromise the Department of Transport is now propose a new specific dangerous overtaking of cyclists law, with larger penalty.
Skelton said: “They agreed to send on the basic background on this proposal to MPDL team. DTTAS feel this is workable. This would involve an increased fine (not yet defined) for dangerous overtaking a bicycle rider along penalty points but would not have a measured lateral distance. It would be the opinion of the Gardaí.”
He said he was always keen on the passing distance law “not becoming a paper tiger” and so he feels the proposals by the department need to be examined.
Skelton said that the West Midlands Police — which is highly active on social media — enforce safe passing without a specified distance in UK law and this “could be a viable model” for Ireland.
He added: “I have been following some closed group pages from Queensland in particular where riders have been frustrated by the lack of action from the Queensland police. The onus of proof of the measurement has been a stumbling block there too and it hasn’t been tested in court. The West Midlands model on the other hand has been tested and survived because its the opinion of the police officer rather than the extra need to prove lateral distances.”
In the press release in February — headlined “Minister Ross heeds call from cyclists to introduce ‘Stayin Alive at 1.5’ Law” — Minister Ross said: “I have been extremely concerned about the rise in cyclists fatalities on our roads. In 2017, there were 15 cyclists killed, which was a 50% increase on 2016. Clearly this is an intolerable situation which has to change. Every life lost on our roads is a tragedy and as Minister for Transport, I am committed to do everything within my power to prevent preventable road deaths.”
He added: “It was brought to my attention that other jurisdictions apply a Minimum Passing Distance and I determined to undertake research to see if such legislation would benefit Irish cyclists. I particularly wished to know if the perceived difficulties in enforcing and prosecuting offences relating to MPD legislation were outweighed by the benefits.”
Minister Ross said: “I am also proposing that the effectiveness of the new regulations be reviewed twelve months after their introduction.”
Minutes of meeting between cycling groups and Department of Transport as posted on Facebook by Stayin Alive at 1.5: