More than a Metre Matters

Posted: January 2, 2014 in Opinion

I was in Tassie over Christmas to catch up with family, go to a few carnivals and get some much needed r&r.  I often head down at this time of the year and love immersing myself in the Northern Tassie cycling culture.  While the carnivals might not be what they once were (when it comes to track cycling, what is?), the passion and joy from the locals and the visiting riders is still as genuine as ever. It was a joy to see Jack Bobridge back on the track and at his brilliant best (he really is a freak, and I think marriage will bring out his best on the road in the years ahead).

This blog isn’t a review of the carnivals (although it was good to see most carnivals offer an extra race for the juniors)… or about the supporting criterium series (the courses were too long, you only saw the riders every 2-3-minutes, and why wasn’t there junior or female races having gone to the trouble of setting up the course?)… or even about the cricket ball throwing competition (sure to be the saviour of the carnivals!)…

On the morning after the Launceston Carnival (we were too tired to ride), I was driving to take the kids to visit Grindelwald (don’t ask!), when we approached multiple police cars parked on the side of the road.  I said to the kids as we approached, that I hoped that’s not about a cyclist.  It was.  And with the worst possible outcome.  A 21-year-old local lad had been hit from behind by a white 4×4 ute and killed instantly.  As we passed by, the ute was being towed away and the extent of the smashed front windscreen was evidence of the scale of the impact.

The scene of the tragic death - long straight dual carriage way, perfectly clear day…

The scene of the tragic death – long straight dual carriage way, perfectly clear day… how does this happen?

It was in a 100kmph zone on a dead straight dual lane road on a cloudless morning on the most popular cycling route in Launceston.  There were two mates, riding side-by-side, one on the shoulder and the other on the edge of the road.  The media reports it as a collision between a bike and ute… this was no collision, the cyclist was struck from behind without warning.  The media needs to rephrase these headlines and society needs to rethink how it treats cyclists – the most vulnerable of road users.

I have no idea how the driver of the ute didn’t see the cyclists or how he came to hit one of them doing 100kmph.  The law calls it ‘driver inattention’, and unless it can be proven the driver was texting or otherwise distracted, it carries a maximum sentence of just 12-months in jail, but is usually punished with a small fine and suspended sentence.  This just isn’t right; that an inattentive driver can take the life of an innocent person and walk away with a slap on the wrist.

The only potential positive to come out of this is that local cycling groups are putting pressure on the government to trial a minimum passing distance – as they’re doing in Queensland at the moment.  This isn’t going to bring Lewis Hendy (the cyclist who was killed) back, but it might save the lives of other riders and at least create a safer riding environment in Tasmania.

There are all sorts of arguments around the ‘metre matter’ campaign being driven by The Amy Gillet Campaign; how will it be enforced, it should be 1.5m, what happens on narrow roads… I really don’t think any that matters.  If we can make it law, surely then it enforces itself – if a car hits a cyclist they didn’t give them the required metre!  But again, I think that’s only half the benefit… the other half is the awareness campaign that will flow on from it.  Like mandatory seat belts laws back in the 70’s, it will be fairly quickly drummed into drivers that they need to give cyclists the room they need to survive.

I don’t want to get into the whole car vs bike thing which seems to bring out hysterical responses from both sides… I just want to say to impatient car drivers that the cyclist that might be holding you up for a moment is someone’s child and/or parent so give them a little extra room when you pass… equally to all the cyclists out there, be aware and respectful of the car drivers and road rules… give a driver who does the right thing a wave or a nod or a smile and maybe slowly we’ll be able to create safer roads out there for all.

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