Ireland And The Defined Safe Overtaking Space Race

January 14, 2015

Cycling in Ireland should be really fantastic. We have a never ending collage of picturesque vistas spread right across the length an breadth of our country with our ever changing landscape. We have an extensive network of practically deserted, quiet rural roads in conjunction with hundreds of kms of main roads with hard shoulders.

The country itself has a small population with a density of just 67/km sq. All of which should make Ireland a fantastic country for cycling in. Mostly of course, it is.
However, some totally predicable and to some degree, preventable statistics have emerged throughout 2014.

(I say ‘predicable and preventable’ with this email sent to our Road Safety Authority in mind.)

Feb. 3rd 2014

Dear Mr…..,

It is with a great deal of sadness that I am contacting you on this occasion.

This morning the sad news came in that a cyclist had been killed following a collision with a car near Tralee. This brings to 3, the amount of cyclists killed on Irish roads already in 2014. The total for the whole of last year was 5.

Unfortunately, and it gives me no pleasure to say that this has been totally predicable and to some degree, preventable. There has been a huge increase in the amount of bicycles sold in Ireland in the past few years and what we are seeing is the resulting increased interaction between cyclists and motorists. As a cyclist and a motorist I witness an increased level of aggression and a lack of mutual understanding of this interaction. For example, some motorists consider what most call ‘road tax’ gives them an entitlement to the road which exceeds that of cyclists. I think a RSA video clearly stating the reality of this misconception would be helpful to begin with.

I am also proposing to have a safe overtaking space of 1.5 metres written into Irish law as our current one is confusing and ambiguous.

We really need to wring out the issues pertaining to cycle safety and pass such legislation in order to prevent further bloodshed. Unfortunately this problem will not go away with a few videos. Drink driving attitudes didn’t change either after the ad campaigns. Yes, they are part of the solution but the real behavioural changes came as a result in random breath testing and other powers given to the Gardai (Police). This is where we need to get to also with regard to safer cycling in my opinion. Further delays in dealing with these issues in a responsible manner unfortunately will lead to more cyclists being killed or badly injured. This is what has happened in Queensland Australia over the last year and as a result they are about to trial this 1.5 metre safe overtaking law later this year along with a fine of AU$4400 and a loss of 3 penalty points to impress on to motorists the seriousness of this infringement. I think we here in Ireland need to follow suit as soon as possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours sincerely,
Phil Skelton
Stayin’ alive at 1.5 campaign.

………………………………………..

Phil Skelton

 

My name is Phil Skelton and I run the Irish campaign to pursue the adoption of a law that requires motorists to give cyclists 1.5 metres of lateral space when overtaking from the rear. I set this up in April 2013 following the deaths of two cyclists in a nine month period on local roads close to where I live. In between these fatalities I was grazed by a car while cycling causing me to wobble into a nearby ditch, which unnerved me massively. Along with some sound advice and a willingness to assist, I set up the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5 (SAA1.5) campaign with the assistance of Dave Sharp from safe cycling Australia. (Dave has since been instrumental in petitioning the Queensland gov’t to trial a safe overtaking law called ‘stay wider of the rider’).

 
The SAA1.5 campaign is trying to achieve this objective through interactions with the Road Safety Authority, Minister for Transport and local government. In most EU countries, cycling safety is enhanced by presumed liability laws or/and defined safe overtaking laws. Not so in Ireland, at least not yet. It is really important to enact such legislation in order to both legitimise and protect people who cycle. I say ‘people who cycle’ because it’s equally important not to apportion a collective responsibility on people who cycle and categorise them as one. This can lead to blaming all people who cycle for the misdemeanours of a few. This is another area that needs a lot of work but that’s a battle for another day.
 Dangerous overtaking is something many cyclists experience, and according to a recent study from the American League of Cyclists can lead to 40pc of all cyclist fatalities. 
Our laws in this area are weak and in dire need of updating in line with other jurisdictions. Those who have seen fit to define in distance their safe overtaking law now include 24 U.S. states, France, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, etc. Queensland, Australia has passed this law for trial since April 2014 with some very good initial results.

 

Ireland by contrast, without such legislation has seen a huge increase in cyclist fatalities from 5 in 2013 to 12

in 2014. This is coupled with a massive jump in 59pc in cyclist injuries.

Education obviously is a major component of cycling safety and the Irish Road Safety Authority produce some excellent cycling safety messages through ad campaigns. It is compliance with the message that’s the problem though. This is why education and law run hand in hand, the message is crystallised by law enabling its full impact to take place. In Queensland for example a recent survey done by the Amy Gillette Foundation after just 6 months of the trial there found that 75pc are aware of the legislation, 67pc support the legislation and most importantly 61pc of cyclists have experienced greater distance from overtaking motorists. Ad campaigns alone can come nowhere near this outcome especially in such a short time.

Local council interaction with the campaign has been very positive with most vans having the ‘1.5 metres please’ sign. This is also coupled with putting together a safe overtaking of cyclists (19 in SAA1.5 kit) video which had been narrated by Anne Doyle, a former national
newscaster.
 The campaign comes with a dedicated safety jersey worn by Irish cyclists on Irish roads in a bid to educate other road users how to share the road with cyclists. Campaign banners are shared between various sportive events to help raise awareness. A campaign information stall was rolled out last year too and will be further rolled out with safety partners Cycliq Fly6 and See.Sense in 2015.

The legislation aspect of safe overtaking is by far the most difficult component to lobby for and to achieve. Several emails stating the value of a safe overtaking law to cyclist safety have been written to both the Road Safety Authority and the minister for transport. Late last year too, an online petition was launched with the assistance of former champion Irish cyclist Sean Kelly. This petition has now been signed by over 1300 people and is growing rapidly. Later this year it is hoped other cyclists and various celebrities will become involved leading to even more people signing.

 

An awareness ride is planned too for June, which will include an option for a jersey, thus further increasing the message out on Irish roads.
SAA1.5 has now got some very good traction in Ireland including support from Cycling Ireland. Meetings are planned with the Road Safety Authority and Minister for Transport in the first part of 2015.
 This cause is very close to my heart and I really hope that for the sake of cycling safety in Ireland that the relevant authorities see fit to enact safe overtaking legislation here.