By 2013, 8.6 million or 37.4 per cent of Australians cycled. That same year, 50 people in Australia died while cycling.
In South Australia, 220,000 people were riding their bike at least once a week in 2013. At the end of that year, statistics showed 63 cyclists had been seriously injured on our roads and South Australian cyclists accounted for 5 of Australia’s 50 fatalities.
Acknowledging the popularity of cycling and the increasing vulnerability of cyclists, the South Australian Government decided something needed to change. And so began a series of consultations, recommendations and legislative changes that sought to decrease serious injuries and fatalities among cyclists, and increase cycling participation.
Now three years on from 2015’s landmark legislative changes, have the laws been the coveted ‘saving grace’ of our road’s most vulnerable?
The laws prior to 2015
Prior to 2015, motorists were required to keep a “sufficient distance” when overtaking a vehicle (including a bicycle) to avoid a collision.
And, cyclists were only permitted to ride their bikes on the footpath if they had a medical exemption or were aged 18 and over riding with a child under 12.
How were the laws changed?
In late 2014, the South Australian Government introduced their Second Citizens’ Jury. Launched by then Premier, Jay Weatherill, a Citizens’ Jury of 37 South Australians were randomly selected from a pool of 6,000 to represent a cross-section of our community.
During September and October 2014, the jury was tasked with making recommendations on a single issue: Motorists and Cyclists will always be using our roads. What things could we trial to ensure they share the roads safely?
Facilitated by an independent community engagement specialist, the jury met over five sessions, receiving formal submissions from experts, lobbyists, activists and citizens. Jury members were encouraged do their own research and bring their own experiences to deliberations. Online consultations with members of the public and a Twitter thread on the topic were also provided to the jury. Jurors continued their discussions and debates in an online forum, and were asked to develop practical and innovative ideas.
What did the Jury recommend?
The Citizens’ Jury made a number of recommendations, two of which were legislation based.
The jury found the law regarding overtaking a vehicle at a “sufficient distance” ambiguous and likely to result in an “unsafe environment” for road users who were unable to judge a “sufficient” distance. Legislating to allow a minimum overtaking distance of 1 metre was recommended.
Jurors also recommended legislating to allow cycling for all ages on footpaths where there was no safer alternative.
The current laws
In January 2015, the Government announced that the recommendations of the Citizens’ Jury would be implemented. Further consultation on the legislative detail was undertaken, including a consultation process generating over 1,500 submissions.
73% of respondents supported defining a minimum overtaking distance, while 71% of respondents supported allowing cycling for all ages on footpaths.
The current laws, legislated as at 25 October 2015 are:
- Minimum Overtaking Distance
Motorists are now required to give a minimum of one metre when passing a person riding a bicycle in a 60km/h or less speed zone. This distance increases to 1.5 metres when the speed limit is over 60km/h. This distance is measured from the rightmost part of the bicycle to the leftmost part of the motor vehicle.
To assist with compliance, motorists are permitted to undertake the following where the driver has a clear view of approaching traffic and can do so safely:
- Drive to the right of the centre of the road;
- Drive to the right of the dividing line;
- Drive on a dividing strip that is at the same level as the road;
- Drive on or over continuous lines around a painted island;
- Straddle lanes;
- Move across lanes; and
- Drive not completely in a single line of traffic.
- Riding on Footpaths
Cyclists of all ages are permitted to ride on footpaths whether or not a safer alternative exists. Cyclists are required to keep left and give way to pedestrians. Where footpaths are marked “no bikes”, the road must be used instead.
The Statistics: Three Years On
The South Australian Government sought to decrease serious injuries and fatalities of cyclists on our roads, while simultaneously improving cycling participation. Improving cycling safety, and the perception of cycling safety encourages greater participation in cycling.
Transport Department data highlights a noticeable decline in serious injuries since the introduction of the laws in 2015. In the five years between 2009-2013, an average of 69 cyclists were seriously injured on South Australian roads. In 2015, serious injuries to cyclists peaked at 74 (bearing in mind the new laws were not introduced until late October 2015). In 2016, that figure reduced to 52, and decreased further in 2017 to 39 bringing the 2013-2017 average to 58. In 2018, the figure fell well below that average at 43.
The number of fatalities, on the other hand, have been considerably varied since 2013. Between 2009-2013, an average of 3 cyclists were killed on our roads each year. The figure then alternated between 4 and 5 from 2013 to 2016. Mirroring a steep decline in serious injuries in 2017, the number of fatalities that year dropped to 2. In a disappointing end to 2018, an astounding 7 cyclists were killed on our roads – a figure higher than both the 2009-2013 and 2013-2017 average of 3 and 4 respectively. Five of those seven were killed in rural areas, and at least one of the accidents did not involve another motor vehicle.
As for cycling participation, data suggests that fewer Australians are riding their bikes now than they were in 2011. According to the National Cycling Survey, a biennial analysis conducted in each state and territory, almost 300,000 people were cycling each week in South Australia in 2011. That figure saw a sharp decline in 2013 to just 220,000 before surging to 279,000 in 2015.A 14 per cent drop in participation since then saw just 239,000 people cycling each week in 2017.
The 2015 legislative changes sought to decrease cyclists’ serious injuries and fatalities and increase cycling participation among the community. Despite a variation in fatalities, from an injuries standpoint, the laws have proven successful with a 46 per cent decline in serious injuries in the three years to 2018. However, it may be too soon to tell whether this decrease is a consequence of the corresponding decline in cycling participation.
From a legislative perspective, enforcement of the minimum overtaking distance law will always prove challenging, and, as a result, noticeably minimal. Despite this, the introduction of the law has highlighted the vulnerability of cyclists and acted as an educational tool for motorists regarding their awareness of cyclists on our roads.