Motorists are to face fines and penalty points for driving too close to cyclists under a radical new law sought by Fine Gael.
The move comes after 20 cyclists have died on Irish roads in the past two years.
Under the planned law, drivers will face €80 fines and three penalty points slapped on their licences if they are caught encroaching on cyclists’ road space. Fines of up to €1,500, and five penalty points, would be imposed if an incident ends up in court and results in a conviction.
The minimum passing distance would be set at 1.5 metres on roads with speed limits of more than 50kmh.
A distance of one metre would apply on streets and roads with lower speed limits. The Road Traffic (Minimum Passing Distance of Cyclists) Bill 2017, is being published today by Fine Gael TDs Ciarán Cannon and Regina Doherty, the Government chief whip.
They are seeking the support of Transport Minister Shane Ross and the transport spokespersons of other political parties for the law they want to see passed before the Dáil’s summer recess.
Earlier this month, Mr Ross told an Oireachtas committee he was aware Ms Doherty was working on a bill in relation to cyclists and the legislation would be considered once it’s brought forward. Mr Ross said his officials were also working on a measure to create a special offence of “dangerously overtaking cyclists”, adding: “I believe that they need protection.”
The campaign for a minimum distance law ‘Stayin’ Alive at 1.5′ was set up by Wexford cyclist Phil Skelton, who felt compelled to take action when two local cyclists were killed following incidents with motorists.
He contacted Mr Cannon, who’s a keen cyclist. The Galway East TD said “a worrying amount of drivers seem to have a ‘no contact, no harm’ attitude.”
He pointed to the number of deaths of cyclists in recent years and said: “It is no longer acceptable to expose our cyclists to huge risks on our roads… this law sets out to significantly reduce those risks.”
Ms Doherty said the number of cyclists was increasing.
“We all need to share the roads and to do that they must be made safer. The only way to do this is to introduce a minimum passing distance law,” she said.
Such laws have been passed in France, Belgium, Portugal, Canada and Australia as well as half of the US states.
Mr Cannon said a number of mechanisms have been used in other jurisdictions to enforce similar laws. He said footage from cyclists’ own bike-mounted cameras had been used in Australian courts, while special equipment had been deployed by US police forces. The device measures the lateral space around the cyclist and is used by police officers on bikes to catch motorists breaching minimum distance laws.
Mr Cannon said he did not want to “drive a wedge” between cyclists and motorists, but that he was seeking the law to raise awareness of the issue and change the behaviour of drivers who did not consider cyclists while overtaking.
He gave the examples of the smoking ban and plastic bag tax as measures that previously changed public behaviour.
“This is about effecting a cultural change in Ireland so that every driver is aware of the vulnerability of cyclists, young and old, and drive accordingly,” he said.
Ms Doherty said: “Once a safe passing distance is legislated for, we need to significantly raise awareness of this law by amending the Rules of the Road and funding new public awareness campaigns.”