• Only Victoria and the Northern Territory are yet to act on introducing or trialling mandatory minimum distance passing laws. (ACT government)
The tragic death of Jason Lowndes once again showed that when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable road users, reliance on common sense alone is not enough, writes Anthony Tan.
By
Source:
Cycling Central
25 Dec 2017 - 12:10 PM 

In March this year, the Victorian government rejected a recommendation to introduce a minimum passing distance for motorists overtaking cyclists, saying it preferred to try a public education safety campaign first.

This completely went against the grain of all other states in Australia bar the Northern Territory.

South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania, the ACT and Queensland, and as of last October, Western Australia, have introduced, or are trialling, mandatory minimum passing distance laws of one metre for speeds less than 60 kilometres an hour, and 1.5 metres for vehicles going faster than that.

We did not need to lose another to discover that for many motorists, the threat of a hefty fine and loss of demerit points may be the only deterrent they would listen to, and, consciously or otherwise, act upon.

Why is it so bloody hard to understand that a law mandating a safe passing distance will do far more in terms of educating drivers, and far more quickly, than any public education plan without an accompanying unequivocal-it's-the-law-so-don't-break-it message?

For now, Victoria - the state that has produced more world-class cyclists than any other, and in Melbourne, has the highest proportion of bike commuters compared to all other capitals - only advises motorists to keep a gap of "at least a metre" when overtaking cyclists.

Advisable, then, but not necessary... What bollocks.

As the completely avoidable death of Jason Lowndes demonstrated, struck from behind by a car last Friday on the outskirts of Bendigo, Victoria, had the metre-passing law being mandated and an awareness campaign built around it, the promising 23-year-old may still be around to enjoy the 2018 season with his JLT Condor team-mates.

Australian rider Lowndes killed while training near Bendigo
Australian professional rider Jason Lowndes is dead after he was struck from behind by a motorist at Mandurang, Victoria while training for the 2018 season.

Instead, on what is supposed to be a joyous day of celebration and giving, his family, friends and the Australian cycling community are left to ponder what might have been for a man with an infectious smile and the world at his feet.

A metre mattered.

Victorian Roads Minister Luke Donnellan, at the time the minimum passing law was rejected, said all motorists, cyclists and pedestrians needed to share road space better. "That's why we will (first) run a 12-month community education campaign," he reasoned.

Only if that campaign proved ineffective would the Victorian Government trial a mandated minimum passing law. It wasn't enough that, based on evidence of its efficacy in providing a safe buffer and reducing the cyclist road toll, other states and the ACT had already acted.

A parliamentary inquiry called for it. Research commissioned by The Amy Gillett Foundation had shown a metre-passing law would undoubtedly save lives.

We did not need to lose another to discover that for many motorists, the threat of a hefty fine and loss of four demerit points may be the only deterrent they would listen to, and, consciously or otherwise, act upon.

It's incontrovertible that a machine weighing one-to-two hundred times more, is motorised, and which completely encases its occupants, should allow at least a metre-wide berth when passing an unprotected fellow human on the same stretch of road. And yes, given how toxic the debate gets at times, it's worth remembering we're all humans.

We all have a heart. We all have a heartbeat - until such time that it is taken from us.

If the tragic passing of Jason Lowndes shows anything, it's that common sense out on the roads, overwhelmingly, needs to be mandated.

Over to you, then, Minister Donnellan and Premier Daniel Andrews...