Safe passing and the solid line

Safe passing and the solid line

Across Australia and elsewhere in the world, there has been a push for making a safe passing distance for cars when overtaking cyclists a legal imperative. Whatever you think about the effectiveness of any aspect of this, it is a move towards trying to protect cyclists from the dangers using public roads. This is usually around 1m for speeds under 60kph, and 1.5m for speeds over 60kph.

Obviously, this is not always the most convenient thing to do on some roads, more specifically, single-lane, windy (as in curvy) roads with little forward vision. Really, it’s one of those laws that shouldn’t have to exist at all in an ideal world (…well, any law, ideally…), and it’s sad that laziness and/or convenience trump consideration and/or empathy every time, but there you go.

See how fun it is?

So, as part of this law, considering it’s application in all contexts, there is often (or always, but I’m not 100% on that) an allowance for motorists to be able to pass on a solid line when safe to do so. All good?

Ok, so now, I wonder aloud, what does the solid line mean when painted in the middle of the road? What message do this convey to users of that road?

Hmmm, I’m fairly sure it means that it is not safe to pass. I could be wrong… except I’m not.

Does no one else think this is a bit strange? I’m 100% in favour of safe passing distance laws, and I also fully understand the reasons why it is now allowed to cross the solid line in order to pass a cyclist safely, when it is safe to do so.

Here’s the thing – if there is a solid line on the road, it’s not safe to do so. That’s kind of the point of a solid line.

So either they are saying that it’s actually ok to pass regardless of the road markings and whenever you want, or that it’s ok to create a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation. Those are the options.

Well, the third option is to not pass the cyclist until it is safe to do so at a safe distance, but, of course, then you have the problem of the windy road.

There’s really no way around this, unless…

You create separate cycle tracks everywhere for cyclists where cars don’t have the opportunity to hit you, or, you take cyclists off the road. Neither of these are realistic.

The reality is that there is no ideal solution. Usually the best option is the lesser of the dangerous situations, but when I think about a car passing a cyclist dangerously close and killing a few of them, it sort of seems worse to me to allow cars to pass at unsafe points at high speeds, potentially killing many people all at at once. Obviously, people getting killed in any way, in any numbers on the road is a disaster and should be avoided at all costs. You can’t possibly put a value on life, and this seems like one of those first-year uni, moral philosophy class questions, like, “is it better to allow one person to die or a few?”, but this seems like a solution to one problem by shifting it into another.

This is really only a problem in rural situations. In cities, for the most part, there almost always the chance to pass safely without having to wait more than a few seconds. Who cares. On the other hand, I can think of innumerable stretches of road in the hills around Adelaide where you would have to wait for large blocks of time if you were to wait for both a safe opportunity and a broken centre line, say, up any one of the dozens of long, steep hills behind the average cyclist. Would I encourage risky behaviour by passing the cyclist too closely, or by crossing the centre line when you can’t see far enough ahead? Nope. As a cyclist, would I want people to pass me with at least 1-1.5m to spare? Most definitely, yes. If I had to pick one, I’d say to put the responsibility on the less vulnerable road user, which is best practice when it comes to any infrastructure development or regulation. I think this is the conclusion that the law-makers have also come to, and to get around the thorny issue of their responsibility for safe road infrastructure, they have said, “yeah, go ahead and cross the solid line when passing a cyclist”, and added, “but it’s your responsibility to do so only when it is safe“. Job done.

What do you think?


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