The Safe Passing Laws Aren’t Working. So What Do We Do Now? Ban Cars?

On February 19th 2020, five early morning cyclists on a group cycling ride in Townsville, Australia were hit from behind by a driver who was on drugs. The driver failed to stop and render assistance. The same driver was released on bail the previous day after appearing in Court on drug charges. Geoff Baird says the Safe Passing Laws clearly aren't working, so what do we do now?

What do we do now?   It’s a fair enough question.   I happily supported the Safe Passing Laws when they were first introduced into Australia.  After all,  there’s nothing wrong with people riding to work if their circumstances allow it.  The Safe Passing Laws are well intentioned,  especially when there are children involved.  Increasingly however it’s clear the legislation isn’t making a difference.  

There’s an inherent flaw in the Minimum Passing Distance legislation.  It’s a body of legislation designed to act as a deterrent.  But the problem with deterrence is it only works on honest people.  The terrible incident in Townsville recently is a near perfect example of someone with a drug problem getting behind the wheel of a car and not caring about the consequences.

They say bad behaviour happens when people think there are no consequences.  Well, the underlying challenge regarding road safety is precisely that  –  bad people don’t care about consequences.   They still get behind the wheel regardless.

Cyclists believe deterrence absolutely makes people better drivers.  But it’s a myth.  You can read why deterrence is a myth here, in this article about the tragic death of Jason Lowndes.

So let’s take a look at two examples which show deterrence  only works on law abiding people.  Criminals on the other hand simply do what they want regardless.  Until they get caught.

Criminal Cycling Fatality Example Number One:-

In January 2002 leading Australian triathlete Luke Harrop died as a result of a hit and run incident on an early morning training ride. Twenty four year old Harrop was hit by a female driver in a stolen car.  Harrop was thrown from the car at 80kph and sustained massive head injuries.  He died at noon that day with his family and close friends at his bedside.

The driver fled the scene and abandoned her vehicle at a fruit market in Carrara.

Three days later Sandra Wilde, originally from New Zealand, appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court after a police hunt ended with her arrest.  Wilde was charged with unlawful killing, unlawful use of a motor car and two counts of negligence causing bodily harm.   As part of her defence Sandra Wilde confessed to being high on drugs after driving home from a Surfers Paradise nightclub.

Deterrence in the form of jail time clearly failed to protect Luke Harrop.  Clearly the offender knew what she was doing,  which is why she fled the scene after the fatal incident.  

Criminal Cycling Fatality Example Number Two:-

In November 2018 popular cycling advocate Cameron Frewer was killed on a morning training ride in bright sunlight at 6am by a 45 year old driver.  John Taylor,  originally from New Zealand,  was driving under the influence of drugs.  Taylor knew he was on drugs.  He confessed his drug problem to Police at the scene.  The incident occurred on a 100kph motorway,  death was instant.

High profile cycling advocates claimed Frewer’s death was a failure on the part of Police.  They tried to portray Police as a biased institution with built in prejudice against cyclists.  They were wrong.  Amidst all the pearl necklace clutching,  nobody noticed criminals don’t care about the law,  and they never will.  Nobody thought to ask,  if criminals are going to ignore legislation designed to protect vulnerable road users,  what do we do now?  What else can we do?

14 months later,  Taylor was scheduled to appear in Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to multiple charges arising from Frewer’s death.  He failed to appear, forcing a week long Police man hunt to occur.  After finally being apprehended,  he applied for bail again,  but it was denied when his criminal history of failing to appear on previous drug charges was made known to the Court.

The morning Cameron Frewer was killed,  Taylor knew full well his actions were unlawful but he didn’t care.  There were Safe Passing Laws in place which were designed to protect Frewer but they didn’t work because Taylor didn’t care about the role of deterrence.

And really,  that is the point.  Deterrence simply doesn’t work when you’re dealing with bad people.  They simply don’t respect the law.  They’re outliers.  Deterrence only works on good people.

There's an old saying... "When it comes to making your house secure, locks are only meant to keep honest people out."

The list of incidents where cyclists have been killed or maimed by drivers under the influence of drugs or booze is unbelievably long.  The incidents shown above are just two criminal incidents from Australia where motorists caused cyclist fatalities and fled the scene.  Multiply the numbers by 15 and you’ve got an idea how common the problem is in the USA.  This article could go on for pages and pages.  

The bottom line is the Safe Passing Laws are a software solution to a hardware problem,  and a highly faulty solution at that.  Clearly,  bad people will keep ignoring these laws because they have issues which go beyond normal thought processes.   Stuff like Illicit drugs,  alcohol abuse,  legal prescription abuse.  It’s so prevalent the mind boggles.

It’s all well and good for middle aged cyclists on training rides to say this shouldn’t be happening  but the reality is it WILL keep happening because cyclists are incapable of preventing criminal behaviour by motorists who simply don’t care about consequences.  Cyclists keep saying society can achieve Vision Zero  –  a Utopian idealistic world where nobody in a car ever hits a cyclist ever again.  They keep thinking they can legislate their way out of the problem by passing yet more and more laws designed to act as a deterrence against bad behaviour.  Well,  they’re dreaming.

To prove my point,  after this latest incident happened in Townsville within 10 minutes I saw the same old tired logical fallacies on the Safe Cycling Australia Facebook page.  One reader immediately posted “I have just two words.  Presumed Liability.”    In case you don’t know,  Presumed Liability is a legislative concept which says a motor vehicle driver is ALWAYS guilty in any incident which involves a cyclist.  Have these cyclists not learned anything yet?  Deterrence doesn’t work against bad people who don’t give a shit.  Bad people still keep getting behind the wheel regardless.

So,  what do we do now?