It’s good to see the government making the right call on a transport issue. From the Dominion Post:

The Government has rejected a coroner’s recommendations designed to save cyclists’ lives.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse ruled out pursuing the suggestions of Wellington coroner Ian Smith when he called for an overhaul of cycle safety last February.

Smith said all cyclists should have to wear high-visibility clothing at all times and there should be a mandatory one-metre gap between vehicles and cyclists.


Smith’s recommendations followed his inquest into the death of former national road policing manager Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald, 57, who was hit by a truck and trailer unit while cycling on the Petone foreshore in June 2008.

At the time, Smith said cycling legislation was too complex, “and in my view needs a more simplistic revamp”.

“Turning to the issue of hi-vis clothing, it is in my view a no-brainer. It should be compulsory for cyclists to wear at all times when riding in public.”

But in a letter to the coroner a few months later, Woodhouse said making hi-vis vests compulsory could discourage people from cycling by over-emphasising the risk and adding extra cost.

I think Michael Woodhouse as made the right decision. If people feel safer wearing hi-vis then they should but it isn’t something that should be mandatory. Further from memory Steve Fitzgerald was wearing hi-vis at the time the time he was hit so it’s not like it would have made any difference in that case.

In fact I’ve seen research that drivers change how they interact with cyclists subconsciously based on their gender and what they are wearing, for example they found that drivers give cyclists less space if they are a male and are wearing safety gear while will give more space to a female wearing no safety gear. I can’t find the reference off the top of my head but will update if I find it.

As for requiring drivers to give a minimum gap, I can certainly understand the concern that it would be hard, if not impossible to police.

Woodhouse said mandating a one-metre gap was not practical either, as police would struggle to accurately judge the gap. The road code encouraged a 1.5m gap, and he was happy to keep it that way.

Making cycle lanes compulsory was a move Woodhouse said he could support in future, but their quality would need to improve first. At present, some lanes were not maintained to the same high standard as roads and cyclists were exposed to hazards, such as opening car doors, he said

At the end of the day the best solution is to improve the quality of our infrastructure through more cycle lanes and of better quality. That will require a lot more investment from both the government and councils so we will be watching with interest this year to see what the new Government Policy Statement says and if it allocates anything more than crumbs to walking and cycling.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that Michael Woodhouse is actually a cyclist himself so perhaps that’s helped give him some perspective as to what’s needed. Good job minister.

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  1. New law: pink helmets and training wheels for everyone… infantilizing cyclists’ appearance will make drivers less homocidal!

  2. I’ve got quite a bit of time the associate minister having had a couple interactions with him. At least with regards to cycling he does ride, recreationally on road, and Dunedin is building separated on-street cycle paths largely as a response to needless deaths there recently, so he has personal experience of them. Also i just love Dunedin as our first city; it’s got great bones. Hopefully that’s seeped into him somewhat, I’m hoping this means he’s not as deeply provincial as some of his peers….

  3. One study by University of Bath and Brunel University suggests that “no matter what clothing a cyclist wears, around 1-2% of drivers will pass dangerously close when overtaking. This suggests there is little a rider can do, by altering their outfit or donning a high-visibility jacket, to prevent the most dangerous overtakes from happening. Instead, the researchers suggest, if we want to make cyclists safer, it is our roads, or driver behaviour, that need to change.”

    1. I think the brightly coloured tunsten steel arrow with a paint rending tip extending 1.5 metres from the bike might help prevent drivers from travelling too close, at least on the second pass 😉

  4. If hi-vis became compulsory it would be the last time I rode a bike in NZ, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be alone.

    Everyday I cycle with no helmet and normal clothes, I cycle on and off road in the many cycle lanes, cars always slow and wait behind me until they can pass safely. The city encourages me to bike and I’m not sworn at by drivers. No this isn’t some sort of dream it’s daily life now that I’m not living in Auckland. I wish NZ could grow up to.

    1. Where are you? Yes, i agree, any attempt to make fluro mandatory would put me of riding. I resent having to wear a helmet to ride 800m to the shops, on residential streets.

      1. The parallels with the mandatory helmet thing are amazing. Cycling suddenly become dangerous in NZ one day back in 1994. The day the government made the wrong call, and few other countries saw the need to follow.

    2. Yup, same with me here, bbc. I cycle everyday with no helmet and with normal clothes – going in and out of dedicated cycle lanes. Cars are mostly courteous and polite. It’s so natural here, that I start to take it for granted. I always try to be grateful by remembering what it was like in Auckland. I guess things have not changed much since I’ve left =(

      By the way, I live in Brighton, UK.

  5. Seems we dodged another bullet here. Why does cycling in NZ always feel so vulnerable to sudden dangerous disruption?

    Oh, yeah. Right. Because.

  6. Campbell live had their “vox pop” poll showing 75% want hi-vis to be mandatory for cyclists (24% said no).
    This basically throws sand in the face of the Governments decision.

    Main reason for the yes vote seems to be that lots of people believe cyclists have a duty to make themselves 100% totally visible to motorists at all times of the day and night.
    Even when that doesn’t actually work that well as a method of ensuring safety in all conditions and locations (Case in point the Police officer ran over while cycling who started this whole debate by the Wellington Coroner, actually WAS wearing hi-vis when he has hit, so much for that theory).

    The NZ Deerstalkers association has told the Coronial court more than once, and also shown by University studies that hunters wearing hi-vis doesn’t work to stop hunting accidents, particularly in low light conditions (dawn/dusk etc), and that the belief that it does, actually encourages more risky behaviour amongst hunters, as they believe that if they see something thats not fluoro-like its safe to shoot it. So this all causes a false belief of “hi-vis = safety” when its not the case.

    And dawn and dusk are the very times that people believe hi-vis is most visible. The physics of seeing mean it just ain’t so.

    My comment to this attitude is that we don’t (any more) blame rape victims for the way they dressed as being relevant/the cause of their attack (the old “well they shouldn’t dress like so they deserved it” crapola), so why do we insist on blaming cyclists not wearing hi-vis as if they somehow “deserved it” if they get run over by a car?

    We moved on from the blaming rape victims years ago, so are cyclists without hi-vis the next class of victims that deserved their own fate by the way they did (or did not) dress?
    Surely we’re better than that.

    Hi-vis is but one possible, partial solution, to cycle safety, but its not the be all and end solution people are told/believe it is.
    Many proponents of hi-vis point out without much thought that construction workers and road workers wear all this hi-vis stuff – “so it must be needed” – ergo cyclists need it too.

    So lets move on and have some intelligent debate on dealing with the many variables that need to work together to make cycling safer.

    And number 1 is surely respect for each other on the road by all road users, and where advisable/possible,separation of cyclists from road dangers
    e.g. by proper cycle ways. not this narrow shared footpath with hazards all over the place crap like Tamaki Drive has either – proper separate or shared cycleways with good lighting and well kept surfaces.

  7. I remember as a youngster in England in the 1960’s, how pedestrians were forever being badgered about wearing light clothes when out in the street at night. Variations on the theme of people having to protect themselves from cars.
    Maybe we should all just wear hi-vis, all of the time. And helmets too. Even car-occupants, since they have far more head injuries than cyclists.
    Think how safe we would all be then!

  8. It’s not silly to wear bright clothing when riding on busy roads, but let’s hope this won’t be enforced with penalties.

    In developing cycling networks within Auckland we should plan to cater for commuting and sport cycling as two separate issues.

    In suburban Japan commuter cyclists are rarely of the lycra variety. They have free reign on side streets, but when travelling on arterials are often catered for by wide paths –
    mixed use with pedestrians is safer than mixed use with cars and buses.

    We should develop training routes separately with incremental safety improvements that create cycle priority at pinch points and safe passing width margins.

    1. Yes bright clothing is fine, but regardless people must not confuse being “Highly visible” with “100% visibility” – they are not the same thing. hi-vis is higher-visibility, not 100% visibility.

      And even when something is 100% visible, other road users still make mistakes for all sorts of reasons there is a difference between “seeing” and “perceiving” – the second one is done in the brain not the eye.
      Ensuring something is seen is, but one part, of a wider requirement of ensuring that those who see it, avoid it.

      Wearing hi-vis of any kind doesn’t necessarily prevent every accident – which it seems the “pro” hi-vis groups seem to think it does – hence their attitude if you don’t wear it you’re at fault regardless.

      1. And if you DO wear it, the facebook commenters will find another reason to blame you and de-humanise you. Witness Whaleoil blog with the last cycle fatality, who – lacking any info, called it a case of the “lycra forcefield having failed”. He knew jack **it about the case, but what did he care.

        Sorry, grumpy morning.

        1. Well thats par for the course, Mr Whaleoil himself knows jack **it about anything of relevance, so like the UK tabloids he never lets the facts get in the way of a good story..

    2. “We should develop training routes separately with incremental safety improvements that create cycle priority at pinch points and safe passing width margins”

      We could start with SH16, from Westgate to Waimauku, which would also give local kids safe routes to schools. Then expand from Kumeu to Swanson. What about a safe route to Muriwai or Bethells? Great bike tourism opportunities. Kids riding and walking to school, health benefits, recreational riding and walking, and economic activity. I know, I’m sounding crazy, right?

    1. I understand lycra is comfortable to ride in and pretty much all available lycra is branded. Can we repeal the rule that requires old dudes to wear All Black jerseys or shorts when out running?

  9. “Can we repeal the rule that requires old dudes to wear All Black jerseys or shorts when out running?

    Surely they should be wearing hi-vis, or at least a reflectorised silver fern?

  10. It’s good to see common sense from the Minister. Thanks for putting this out there. On Facebook I read the discussion at the Campbell Live page when they promoted their poll on the need to wear hi-vis gear. The vitriol was amazing and left me saddened at the attitude of many people towards those on bikes. It resulted in feeling a need to write an open letter to all Auckland drivers. Here’s what I wrote I hope you don’t mind me linking to it from here

  11. Good decision but the jury is still out on whether Hi Vis on cyclists is still effective, in my opinion. I feel that road users have become complacent to Hi Vis as it seems to be everywhere these days. Do you agree? Tammy

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