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February 26, 2021

Driver education needed before more cyclists die

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Cycling safety advocate Robert Goodwill. Photo David Lowe.

Robert Goodwill is a keen cyclist who lives in Skennars Head. He’s been shocked by the lack of awareness of minimum passing laws in the Northern Rivers since he moved here from Cairns eighteen months ago.

In NSW, the law is that cars need to give cyclists one metre of space when the speed limit is 60 km/hour or under, and 1.5 metres when the limit is over 60 km/hour.

Mr Goodwill told Echonetdaily that in Queensland there are very similar laws to NSW, but the stakeholders ‘have all got together to help raise that awareness and enforce it.’

In the Northern Rivers of NSW, by contrast, ‘there’s no enforcement, no awareness and no education; no signage, no messaging, nothing.’

How does the public education system work in Queensland?

Robert Goodwill said that in Cairns there are numerous reminders to share the road, mainly via bumper stickers, but also ‘signs on the back of municipal buses, and overhead signs on the DMR roads, like the Bruce Highway.’

Robert Goodwill riding in Lennox Head. Photo David Lowe.

He said that as a cyclist he noticed the result – fewer aggressive drivers coming too close and breaking the law, and many more doing the right thing.

‘There’s much better awareness,’ said Mr Goodwill.

‘The Queensland law was enacted in 2016. We’re nearly three years into the law here in NSW, but there’s no visibility, because Transport for NSW has made a conscious, formal decision not to educate drivers about cyclist safety; that is safety for cyclists from drivers.’

Mr Goodwill rides all over the Northern Rivers on a regular basis, from Ballina up to Tweed Heads.

His first port of call to get something done about the driver education situation was his local council. ‘But what I’ve been told quite clearly by Ballina Council is they cannot produce any messaging about cycling safety without clearing it through RMS, which has been subsumed into Transport for NSW, so they’re doing nothing,’ he said.

Mr Goodwill says he got a similar response from Byron Council. He thinks it’s unfair that the official government messaging puts all the onus on cyclists rather than drivers for road safety. ‘Yes, the messaging from the Centre for Road Safety, which is a body of Transport for NSW, is victim-blaming, and blaming the cyclists,’ he said.

‘Now they’re moving on to blaming pedestrians.’

A matter of life and death

Rob Goodwill with one of his stickers. Photo David Lowe.

As Rob Goodwill explains, ‘The minimum passing laws were enacted to stop cyclists being killed by motorists. It’s not the other way round, there’s no danger to motorists from cyclists, but you’d think that was the case with the messaging from Transport.’

Official numbers show the fines are falling very disproportionately on cyclists too.

Mr Goodwill says there’s hypocrisy in Ballina Council’s approach, with new cycle paths being built but no safety messaging about the roads which remain necessary for most cyclists to travel on.

‘In their Community Connect publication two editions ago they had a piece on road safety, and it completely omitted any reference to cycling safety.

‘And yet they’ve just built a very nice coastal path. But people don’t cycle when it’s not safe. We’ve got a law that should be used,’ he said.

With very few dedicated cycle paths in the area, and limited council funding available to build more, Mr Goodwill said messaging and education campaigns offer a low cost solution.

‘The point about the minimum passing distance laws is that they’re designed to be enacted and enforced with the current status, which is poor infrastructure,’ he said.

‘But at least we can educate motorists about safe driving. It costs nothing, it can be done quickly, and other jurisdictions have done it.’

With the assistance of the Bicycle Emporium in Ballina, he’s printed his own stickers to show what could be done, based on Bicycle NSW recommendations.

As it stands, he says many motorists are completely unaware of the minimum passing laws, ‘and even a lot of cyclists, which is even more incredible.’

Safety sticker. Photo David Lowe.

Advice for motorists

Robert Goodwill says that as a motorist himself, he would urge all motorists to look ahead when there’s a cyclist in front. ‘Remember you can overtake a bike on a single white line and a double white line when it’s safe to do so,’ he said.

‘It’s a legal manoeuvre. So don’t push the cyclist off the road. If there’s oncoming traffic, just wait and be considerate.’

Memorial ghost bike on the highway near Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

Another thing that motorists might not be aware of is that white painted bikes beside roads (ghost bikes) indicate where cyclists have died.

Mr Goodwill says he’s had numerous close shaves himself, with cars getting far too close.

‘When I ride down Ross Lane in the morning, the numbers of motorists doing the wrong thing is not great. If there’s thirty cars passing me, it’s probably only two that get far too close, but that has a big impact on the safety of a cyclist, and that’s why they’re dying as well,’ he said.

Mr Goodwill once saw a cyclist literally pushed off the road on Ross Lane. ‘Yes, going up the steep bit towards the freeway. He was pushed right off the road on to the grass. This was all unfolding in front of me,’ he said.

Robert Goodwill. Photo David Lowe.

‘The trouble is a lot of people, unless they visit a different place, like Canberra or Cairns, they just don’t know what good looks like, and they think this is the norm.

‘But it’s not the norm and it’s not acceptable.’

Robert Goodwill’s next port of call as a local cycling safety advocate is a meeting with MP for Ballina, Tamara Smith, who’s also a Greens representative.

‘Active transport is definitely a platform of Greens policy,’ said Mr Goodwill. ‘It reduces carbon emissions, it keeps people fit, it’s good for mental and social health and every other aspect.

‘This is an area that needs serious, rapid improvement. It’s blindingly obvious,’ he said.

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  1. There is a culture on the road that it is OK to kill a cyclist because motorists can get away with murder.
    That is the culture and so cyclists die on the road in NSW.
    If we took away penalties for murder, then murders would increase. Simple isn’t it. There seems to ne no penalty for killing cyclists in NSW.
    The law needs to get on its bike.

  2. ‘Active transport is definitely a platform of Greens policy,’ said Mr Goodwill.

    Notionally perhaps but the reality is the NSW Greens (including Ballina MLA, Tamara Smith) spoke and voted against the legislation to enable the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Prior to the last election Ms Smith claimed to be a rail trail supporter. Voters should remember her duplicity at the next election.

    Greens candidates for NSW electorates of Tweed (Bill Fenelon) and Lismore (Sue Higginson) have spoken against the trail. In the Tweed Local Government Area, Greens Councillor, Katie Milne voted against the rail trail project.

    Anyone counting on the Greens to make a difference is barking up the wrong tree. They have lost my vote and the votes of many others who have become disenchanted with their nonsense.

  3. Well done to Rob Goodwill. Personally I wouldn’t ride a bicycle on any public road. I see enough mobile usage from a motorbike, to now consider selling it. Main roads should be administrated by the federal gov’t. eg. 1/ Following distances: NSW, SA 3 secs; QLD , VIC 2 secs. 2/Annual Vehicle inspections: NSW yes, Qld No. If you have a motor accident & compensation ends in a court battle, lawyers will pick your vehicle safety apart to minimize payout. Some of the vehicles I see in Qld shock me. Society has to be about people and not about haste & vehicles. It is very unnerving to ride a motorbike on a Qld highway and there is a fully laden B Double with cattle 2 car lengths behind you at 100Km/hr. Then there are those road users who struggle with numeral recognition and have no idea what a continuous white line means, yes I’m talking about my fellow Qldérs, OH! & toss in no indicator turning left and short fused aggression. Give me NSW roads ANYDAY!

  4. Great article. I’ve been riding for nearly thirty years, plenty of near misses but also been a victim on 3 occasions of being hit by cars through no fault on my part. There needs to more driver education to ‘share the road’ with all users.

  5. Excellent comments. I cycled in Tasmania which has a lot of narrow rural roads, just after the metre matters was introduced, and you really noticed the difference compared with NSW which gave it less publicity.
    I would be very happy to support Robert in his advocacy work in Ballina and the region .

  6. Hi Rob;
    Great effort!
    May also be worth discussing in a meeting with council/s & their engineers about PBN’s; [principal bicycle networks] where some progressive councils around Aus have now ensured that bicycle infrastructure is laid out thoroughly in the very first instance when all first generation road design work is carried out. This is just one facet in a PBN, plus the strategic linking of bicycle networking roads for cyclists to commute within a region, and or to see the sights.
    Doing it this way usually results in a much better execution of the overall new road or upgrades, and assists with enabling safer transit for bicycles .
    Greater Byron / Ballina has not really scratched the surface yet, but we live in hope for safer cycling conditions in the beautiful region [and rail trails!]

  7. In the absence of driver education maybe we should have some rider education, there are ways to keep the traffic away from you.

    • Not when a car drives through a Stop sign, Not when a car drives through a T-intersection without checking for road users, Not when a car powers through a Roundabout when a cyclist is already there….sadly, I know it from first hand experience and been crunched each time.


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