The safety of bicycles being overtaken by cars: what do we know and what do we need to know?
Many cyclist deaths and serious injuries result from rear-end or sideswipe collisions involving a car or heavy vehicle. As a consequence, minimum passing distance laws (often referred to as ‘one metre rules’) have been introduced in a number of U.S. states along with European countries such as France, Belgium and Spain. A two-year trial of a minimum passing distance rule is underway in Queensland. The international studies show that while the average passing distance is more than one metre, significant proportions of passes occur at less than this distance. Average passing distances are greater with wider lanes, when bicycle lanes are present, for cars rather than vans or trucks, and (possibly) at higher speed limits. Perceived characteristics of the cyclist (other than gender) appear to have little effect on passing distances. The research questions the ability to judge lateral distance and whether nominated distances predict on-road behaviour. Cyclists have strong concerns about drivers passing too close but the extent to which this behaviour reflects deliberate intimidation versus an inability to judge what is a safe passing distance is not clear. There has been no systematic evaluation of the road safety benefits of minimum passing distance laws. These laws have received little police enforcement but it is unclear whether enforcement is necessary for them to be effective.