A myopic approach to road safety legislation has angered a peak transport group in Queensland, with good reason, writes David Goeldner.

Featured in ABC – Australasian Bus and Coach, 01 Apr 2014 by David Goeldner.

It’s not often I agree with what trade unions have to say, but there’s a recent rumble from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) that caught my attention.

Legislation came into force in Queensland this month that requires motorists to keep at least a i m space between their vehicle and a cyclist sharing the same carriageway.

A Bill was introduced to Queensland Parliament last year signalling the new rule, hailed as a win for the cycling lobby, while creating angst for heavy vehicle operators.

The TWU says the legislation was subsequently rushed through parliament with little consideration of possible alternatives that would have deemed the new law unnecessary.

The aim of the legislation is to reduce cycling accidents, and that point is a shared community goal, no matter who you are.

But this can be done with improved infrastructure, such as building more bikeways, or partitioning sections of road for cycling. Sunny Brisbane does have a useful network of bicycle paths, as does Canberra and other parts of the nation. But whether we should legislate around the shared use of space for when bikes, buses and cars converge requires more thought.

The problem, as the TWU sees it, relates to the commercial use of roads, where heavy vehicle operators many of whom are TWU members now have the added burden of being fined in the course of their employment for straying too close to a cyclist.

TWU Queensland State Secretary Peter Biagini says his members regularly stop-start and manoeuvre in-and-around city and residential areas. He says the new rule will hinder a commercial driver’s ability to do his or her job, and subject them to increased pressures, scrutiny and fines.

I can see this happening during my own journey to the office.

At around 6am most mornings, the Lycra-wearing brigade are out in droves, at the time when many workers are starting their commutes, and bus drivers are already into the morning shift.

The reality is pretty clear. The vast majority of cyclists out on the street at that time of day are not there for the purpose of commuting to work, university or school. To believe otherwise is like believing in the Easter bunny. You wish it were true but it isn’t.

Rather the vast majority of cyclists in the bus driver’s direct line of sight are more likely to be pumping hard riding two-abreast on busy city streets as part of a cycling club routine. They are out for a workout, not out to get to work.

Essentially, the supposed victims of the piece, upon which this legislation is designed to protect, are mostly doing their sport on a free ‘playing field’. The roadway is not a soccer pitch or tennis court, but that’s how it is being used. But those using it to transfer citizens between points A and B, or to facilitate essential services, are now at risk of being fined for endangering someone’s pursuit of a hobby.

The TWU is right on this concluding point. Better awareness and education between cyclists and motorists, and improved infrastructure that is better connected to keep cyclists off dangerous and busy roads are more important than this one-sided blanket rule.

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