In an answer to a parliamentary question the minister for roads and cycling said the Government was "interested" in a minimum distance cyclist overtaking law, and would be keeping the idea "under review". Robert Goodwill was answering a question from Alberto Costa, the Tory MP for South Leicestershire who sits on the justice select committee.
Costa asked Goodwill "what assessment his Department is planning of cycle passing spaces in South Australia and by when he plans to complete that assessment." This question was put to the minister thanks to a petition calling for a safe passing distance between motorists and cyclists. This currently has 16,429 signatures – and the Government was obliged to answer it once it reached 10,000 signatures.
The petition was started by Tony C Martin. He wrote: "The lack of a clear specification may result in a personal decision what a "plenty of room" means in terms of distance. Therefore, introducing a minimum legal passing distance when overtaking cyclists will considerably reduce the number of cyclist casualties, aiding in a safe cycling practice. Suggestion of 3.28 ft (1 m) when overtaking cyclists on roads with speed limits up to and including 30mph. On roads with higher speed limits, the minimum passing distance should be 4.9 ft (1.5 m)."
Other countries have "minimum passing distance laws" to protect cyclists. In 2015 South Australia mandated the minimum overtaking distance, as part of a range of "safe cycling measures". The law requires motorised road users to allow at least a one metre gap on roads with speed limits of up to 60km/h, and 1.5 metres for anything above that speed. Drivers are allowed to cross centre lines, straddle lane-lines and drive on painted islands, provided that "it is safe to do so." However, the introduction of the passing law was "balanced" with a stipulation that cyclists had to carry ID at all times, and the fines for traffic violations – such as running red lights – were made equal for both cyclists and motorists, in effect increasing the possible fines for cyclists, including for not wearing cycle helmets. "Roadie" organisations which helped draft, and supported, the new rules were bitterly opposed by commuter cycling organisations.
Queensland’s 1.5 metre passing law – also known as the ‘Split Rule’ – has been cited in cases against motorists, with prosecutions brought after evidence was supplied from "helmetcam" footage. Under the Split Rule, drivers in Queensland can face a maximum penalty of AU$4,400.
Pedal Power Association of South Africa launched a “stay wider of the rider” campaign in 2015, based on a 1.5 metre safe passing distance campaign running since 2011.
In the UK, rule 163 of the Highway Code states that motorists should give cyclists (and pedestrians and equestrians) as much space as they would give a motor vehicle when overtaking but does not specify a set distance. Last year Olympian Chris Boardman starred in an industry-funded video which reminded drivers that “People on bicycles are flesh and blood, they’re mums and dads, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.” He stressed that motorists need to “give them plenty of space when overtaking.”
In the video Boardman also talks about the “dynamic envelope”, or wobble room that cyclists need on the road.
In its response to Martin’s petition the Government said it "currently does not have plans to legislate on a set minimum space e.g. 1 metre on roads with a speed limit of up to 30mph when overtaking a cyclist."
The answer added: "This type of legislation would be extremely difficult to enforce and the Government does not believe that it would add to the existing rules and guidance, including those set out in the Highway Code, which advises drivers to give cyclists “at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”.
However, "we are keeping this position under review," said the Government and is "interested in learning from the experience of places where legislation of this type has been introduced. One example is South Australia, where since 25th October 2015, drivers are required to give a minimum of one metre when passing a cyclist where the speed limit is 60km/h (37.3mph) or less or 1.5 metres where the speed limit is over 60km/h (40mph). The penalty for drivers caught disobeying this rule is a $287 (£148) fine, plus a $60 (£31) victim of crime levy and 2 demerit (penalty) points."
The Government said it "will take time to understand the benefits and impacts of this legislation on cyclists and other road users."