More wishful thinking I am afraid about effectively trying to change driver
behavior. I have serious doubts this will work through either enforcement or
education (see my August 12, 2015 comment on the same issue). Also, it's rare
that law enforcement agencies do rigorous evaluation of well-meaning but
usually ineffective efforts like this. If they don't adequately evaluate it, it
certainly is not worth the effort, despite the officers' enthusiasm.
In a nutshell it won't work well because:
· Laws can't work if people aren’t aware they exist. Studies invariably
show that when laws like this are passed most drivers say they didn’t know the
law existed. They make a splash at first and then are quietly forgotten.
· A few may know the law, but say they didn’t realize they were passing
so closely. This exact challenge is described in the article itself. "The last
two drivers we pulled over, we asked: ‘do you know how far away you were from
the cyclist’, and they said ‘what cyclist?’". How will deterrence occur if many
drivers are not aware of the cyclist they just passed?
· As the article says, most serious crashes (70%) in the city are at
intersections where cyclists aren't seen. Passing distance laws don't really
even target these type of crashes.
· Another aspect these type of efforts inadequately address is the
numbers game. I highlighted previously the Texas news story that covered the
high level of attention that Austin police gave to a minimum passing distance
law. But 'Do The Math'. The Austin story reported on a pretty high level of
enforcement too; 104 actual citations (not warnings) in four years. That means
~25 per year or 2 citations every month. If there are about 500,000 drivers in
Austin (70 vehicles per 100 people and 800,000 population) and we assume they
each make two trips a day, one can estimate that there are about one-million
car trips per day in Austin. So among those 30 million trips per month, 2
people get cited. Therefore, the risk of an individual driver getting cited
(assuming that all are potentially violators at one time or another) is a
miniscule one in 15 million trips per month! How is that ever going to deter
drivers who are unaware of the law or don’t think they are breaking it? Sure,
the police and or advocates can publicize a few citations and make it look like
one is more likely to get caught than in reality. But police, road safety
coordinators and media resources are limited and there are other very serious
problems police face that also affect cyclists (like speeding and drunk
driving, distracted driving, parking in bike lanes, etc.). Therefore, such a
campaign will always be episodic, impact few guilty parties, and be done at the
cost of not doing other things, even as police and road safety educational
The fact is, there is simply little evidence that minimum distance laws, even
with “strong enforcement", changes general cycling experiences or ultimately
reduces crashes or injuries, whether in Birmingham, Austin or Madison.
If we rely on enforcement and education for vehicle/bike separation, a pretty
dubious proposition, we will have to rely on them, literally, forever. If you
change the environment, however, (wider shoulders, lower speeds, better
intersection design and buffers and physical separation), it manages itself
most of the time. This approach, sometimes called “objective safety” works much
better than wistfully hoping for long lasting behavioral change. This is what
is at the heart of the Vision Zero road safety approach that Mayor Soglin has
endorsed (though I see little evidence yet of its implementation in Madison).
In conclusion, the evidence shows that a passing distance law results only in
punishment of the very very few that might get caught…that’s all that is likely
to happen. Does that make you feel better? Sure the heck does, especially if
you were the one just passed at 12 inches by a 40 MPH commercial vehicle. But
is it likely to reduce the chance that it will happen again? The answer is not
by very much.
It is difficult to educate driver awareness and enforce behavior change.
Ultimately, such efforts are insufficient for the real work of effectively
ensuring cyclist safety and comfort.
On Sep 16, 2016, at 11:54 AM, Brian Mink via Bikies <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Interesting piece from the Guardian about offering offending motorists
> education versus prosecution for minor infractions:
> Brian Mink,
> Monona, WI
> Sent from Postbox
> Bikies mailing list
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