Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why a metre does NOT matter...

Before I start, let me just say that this is only my opinion. It’s probably not right but everyone is entitled to an opinion. Just like you…

So Queensland has just implemented a law that requires cars to give at least 1m of space when overtaking a cyclist. Despite this, I’m still getting bombarded with stories on Facebook of cyclists being hit by cars and equally bombarded by the rage of drivers in the comments section. Everyone (well, cyclists mainly) are celebrating the new law but I’m willing to bet money that it has no affect at all. Why???? Because implementing a law that requires a car to give cyclists 1m of space is like making a law that requires you to give up your seat on the bus to heavily pregnant women or the elderly. If you are not already doing it, then there is probably something fundamentally wrong with you as a human being.
Think about it. 1m is not much room. If I get within 1m of another car when I’m trying to park, I start to panic and I will probably back up. If you are driving within 1m of another moving object that you cannot predict the movement of, then you really should question your driving abilities. Actually, you really should question your basic manners and scruples because giving 1m is a simple courtesy given out of the respect for another human being. If you ever think ‘how can I possibly give 1m of room’, (which I have seen in many of the comments from irate drivers), then you are a straight out (insert rude word here).

In a few days, I will be heading back to Brisbane for a couple of weeks of no racing and I’m not looking forward to riding on QLD roads again. Since leaving in January, I have had a total of 1 car beep their horn at me and about 3 cars that have passed close enough to me for me to think, ‘hmmmm, that was a bit close’.

So why are the attitudes of drivers so different here in Spain?  Well, for starters, it seems like absolutely no one in Spain is in a hurry to get anywhere. Cars will sit behind you for as long as it takes before they pass safely and even give you a wave as they go by. In fact, they are so patient that it can actually be annoying to me as a cyclist. If a car is behind me for an extended period of time, I start to panic and think that they are just going to be getting more and more angry so I should make room for them to pass. But they never do. At traffic lights, cars will sit in line without making a noise if the light turns green and no one notices. Then they will take off at a snail’s pace.

It’s as if the default state of mind here in Spain is relaxed and calm. Everyone just wants to chill out with family and friends and see that others get to do the same. I mean, heck, everything closes for 4hrs a day so that people can eat with the family and have a nap! The traffic lights favor the pedestrian crossings and if you actually are in a hurry, then you take the freeways. As a result, if you are driving on small back roads, there is an unwritten agreement that the right of way goes to the cyclist because if you want to go fast, take a better road!

Back home in Brisbane seems like the exact opposite. The default state of mind seems to be stressed and rushed. Everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, looking for any shortcut possible to get there quicker and they assume that everyone else is the same. So if a bike is on the road, there is the impression that they are just slowing everyone down and should get out of the way. Shouldn’t we revel in the fact that someone is out enjoying life instead of accusing them of wasting your precious time?

As a cyclist, I can appreciate that people are trying to get from A to B and I do my best to not impede them. I stick the left, I indicate and I wave cars through when I can. It’s simple civility. Giving a cyclist 1m meter of room isn’t a matter of law. It’s a matter of the frame of mind of drivers. Don’t give a metre because it’s a rule. Give a metre because it’s courteous and common decency.


  1. Awesome mate.... Really Really Awesome

  2. Totally agree my friend. Currently cycling through France and the French have a similar attitude. They do tend to zip around country lanes....but when they come across a cyclist, they generally do the right thing. Looking forward to Spain.....

  3. You main point is valid - drivers should already be doing this. But I have noticed (could all be in my mind) that drivers are more willing to straddle the centre line and really give space now. To me that was the key message from the law, but the one that was ignored by the media.

    Here's the relevant text from the law

    "Motorists will be allowed to cross centre lines, including double unbroken centre lines, straddle lane-lines or drive on painted islands to pass cyclists provided the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic and it is safe to do so."

    I was originally very sceptical about the law, but my experience has been that it has raised awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists and really helped to change attitudes on the road.

    If you are interested, my views on the recent bike crashes, law, and media nonsense surrounding cycling.

  4. Very very true! Thanks for sharing - absolutely food for thought (both parties!)