Proposals to make cycling part of the driver licence process

Imagine if more drivers knew what it was like to ride a bicycle on a road that's busy with motor vehicles, and had a firmer grasp of road rules regarding cyclists?

It might clear up a lot of misunderstandings about cyclist behaviour – and create a bit of safety and empathy along the way.

That's the thinking behind several submissions to an upcoming NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Driver Training and Road Safety.

"As more riders are on the road it is imperative that drivers understand their perspective … to experience what it feels like to be on the road as a bike rider," says the submission from the City of Sydney. "The effect would be better interactions between these drivers and other riders."

But how to encourage that process? The City is recommending that learner drivers be allowed to use a cycling proficiency course, such as those offered by the council, as part of the 120 log book hours they need to accumulate before taking their driver's test. And to make it more attractive, as with professional driving courses, hours spent in instruction would accrue bonus log book hours.

Bicycle NSW's submission also recommends that up to 10 hours spent on an approved bicycle safety course be credited in a learner's log book, saying this would "increase awareness of vulnerable road users, and increase bicycle rider safety".

The Amy Gillett Foundation, meanwhile, says authorities should set up a trial that will "recognise hours spent riding bicycles in a road environment for the calculation of log book hours" – with a maximum credit of 20 hours.

Knowledge upgrades

The difficulty of educating drivers about changes to road rules is also a key feature of submissions by organisations that promote cycling.

Once a driver has a licence, "they may drive for 60 years or more without ever formally learning about updates to road rules", says the submission by the Australian Cycle Alliance.

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One of the challenges of the recent minimum distance passing laws being rolled out across Australia has been informing road users about the law.

This was highlighted last month in a coronial inquest into the deaths of two cyclists in Queensland.

The that one man was killed in a collision with a car towing a trailer, while the other died after being knocked off his bike by a truck.

In his comments, Magistrate David O'Connell said: "It was touched on at the inquest how little drivers knew of the rules relating to safe overtaking distances of bicycle riders, or safe passing distances as some refer to it. Drivers quizzed on this issue could not correctly answer what the law was, which is dependent on the posted speed limit of the road."

He recommended that drivers be given a short quiz on recent changes to traffic laws when applying to renew their driver's licence.

Bicycle NSW and the City of Sydney are also calling for a system of testing for those renewing their licences, with the Australian Cycle Alliance recommending a knowledge refresher test that includes "questions about changes to road rules and driving near vulnerable road users".

However, in its submission to the road safety inquiry, Transport for NSW said: "Research has shown that periodic re-testing of all drivers is not an effective method for influencing driver compliance and reducing crashes."

Billion-dollar fund

In its submission, Bicycle Network recommends a range of measures, including funded, standardised bicycle education programs at primary schools; reducing traffic speeds to 30km/h around school zones and in residential areas; and legalising all-ages cycling on footpaths, except for areas where separated cycleways have already been provided

But its most ambitious recommendation is that the government "invest in a $1 billion dedicated Bicycle Infrastructure Fund over the forward estimates for the next four years to significantly increase the construction of consolidated networks of separated cycleways, protected intersections and other cycling infrastructure".

The organisation identifies a list of projects, many drawn from the plan released in 2013, while urging the completion of the Sydney cycleways – including the replacement of the CBD's College Street path, removed in 2015.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson told me the government has made $284 million available over the next four years for dedicated cycling and pedestrian facilities, in addition to cycling facilities provided as part of infrastructure programs.

A billion dollars is a lot of money, but it's worth noting that London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, has (£770 million) on cycling in the British capital during his four-year term. The city's cycling superhighways – built amid much controversy – have hosted a surge of cycling in the city.

Separated cycleways are the most effective way to reduce the risk of injury for cyclists, and are key for getting more people riding, Bicycle Network says.

There are 75 submissions to the inquiry, from government agencies through advocacy groups to private individuals, and two days of hearings will be held later this month.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011.

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