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Cars flouting cyclist safety rules

One in six cars passing cyclists aren’t leaving the minimum required distance, according to a new study from Queensland University of Technology, which has called for better road infrastructure to reduce risks. 

The study observed 2000 situations where cars overtook bikes in Brisbane, Rockhampton, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. While many states like Queensland have implemented minimum distances for motorists when overtaking cyclists, the study found that 16 per cent of the time cars were not leaving the required space.

It found that, rather than any cyclist characteristics (such as age, gender, individual/group riding) affecting overtaking distance, motorist characteristics and road characteristics such as speed limit and narrowness of roads were the key factors.

Motorists were most likely to flout the rules in both high and low speed zones (but not average 60km/h zones), between 1-5pm, at curved road sections and on roads with narrow traffic lanes.

QUT’s Professor Narelle Haworth said the research showed that improving road infrastructure was required to improve cyclist safety.

“The results showed compliance levels are influenced by the characteristics of motorists and the roadway, but not of the rider,” she said.

“In Australia, sideswipe collisions between cyclists and motorists account for 14 per cent of fatal bicycle crashes and passing too closely is the most common incident type, but it is too simplistic to blame motorists for poor driving.

“The key finding is that cycling would be a whole lot safer for riders if road infrastructure was improved. This might mean more cycling lanes, for example, while stronger enforcement of the law by authorities would also help to further increase driver compliance.”

Weak enforcement has been an issue in states like NSW, where, after a blitz on cyclists saw 9760 fines and $2.2 million raised in just a year, only 17 motorists were fined for not leaving the required space when passing.

Professor Haworth said previous research had provided inconsistent results on contributing factors, which could be because the method had not been done in a realistic fashion.

“Our study examined the factors influencing motorists’ compliance with the law in Queensland and was done in such a way that none of the motorists or the cyclists were aware of being studied,” she said.

“As a result, this study captured the ‘true’ driving and riding behaviours during passing events.”

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