Cape Town-120909-Cars should pass no closer that 1.5 metres from cyclists, according to the proposed law. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Murray Williams


A crackdown on cyclists who break the law is looming – just as new legislation is ushered in to protect riders. Transport MEC Robin Carlisle announced at the weekend that the Western Cape Provincial Road Traffic Act was passed by the provincial legislature late last week.

“While much of the new act is largely administrative, it empowers the provincial minister of transport to regulate certain matters to increase road safety in the province,” he reported. This would include the a new rule long-awaited by cyclists – the regulation requiring all vehicles overtaking cyclists to ensure that there was a safe distance of at least 1.5m between them before passing.

But Carlisle then also warned: “This will be accompanied by law enforcement actions against cyclists who do not ride in single file, or who fail to stop at red robots or stop streets.”

Co-chairman of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, David Bellairs, said in response: “The vast majority of cyclists who are injured or killed are individuals riding alone and riding responsibly. The message that is developing within cycling circles is ride in large groups and motorists will be forced to notice.”

He was therefore excited about the new “1.5m” law, which he said would protect exactly these lone cyclists. Similarly, he was “100 percent in support of cyclists becoming more law-abiding on the road”.

“In the same way that there are motorists who give motorists a bad name, so that there are cyclists who give cyclists a bad name.

“So, absolutely, there is no question that not obeying the rules of the road is wrong.

“If we as cyclists are going to command the respect of motorists on the road, then we need to be behaving responsibly as the law currently is.” Bellairs added, however, that he would also like to see some road rules, which pertain to cyclists, reviewed.

“What we need to do is look for best practices in terms of motorists and cyclist. In some parts of the world, stop streets and traffic lights should be used as yield signs.”

A Cape Town-based expert in legal matters pertaining to cycling, advocate Lance Burger, questioned the motives of a crackdown on cyclists.

“The goal to promote traffic safety – to reduce or eliminate death and injury and to a lesser extent property damage as a result of traffic collisions – should be the primary and overriding consideration.”Cyclists going through stop streets (or red traffic lights) do not kill anyone other than possibly the cyclists themselves. That does not happen, as the instinct of self preservation prevents cyclists from doing so in dangerous situations where they might be killed or injured by motorists,” Burger argued.

“Spending enforcement resources on prosecuting cyclists for the reasons stated is not going to promote traffic safety. It will detract from traffic safety by diverting resources from other more pressing enforcement needs.” There were, he believed, many motorists “who particularly dislike cyclists and are vocal”.

“These vocal motorists are part of the affluent minority that own private motor cars.”

He alleged that the intended enforcement against cyclists was “to appease this group”.

“Before deciding to do so, the traffic authorities should first consider whether it actually promotes traffic safety or not.

“The traffic authorities should rather spend their resources on enforcement against minibus taxi drivers, who are responsible for a disproportionate number of traffic collisions,” Burger charged.

Carlisle has yet to announce the full details about both the 1.5m law and a crackdown on law-breaking cyclists.

If any road user jeopardised the safety of other traffic users, or themselves, a traffic officer could intervene.

The City of Cape Town’s Mayco member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, said he agreed that any measures to protect cyclists from death or injury should by accompanied by a crackdown on cyclists who endangered road users through their riding.

“We have to get them to take reciprocal steps,” Smith said of drivers and cyclists alike.

“Certainly the Cape Town traffic department will do its best, but we also need to conscientise cyclists about looking after their own safety. And this may mean, in extreme cases, fining a cyclist who brazenly breaks the laws of the road.”

Traffic authorities indicated the average fine for not stopping at traffic lights was R500, and this applied to cyclists too.