Thursday 9 March 2017 08.30 GMT
More than 2 million Britons cycle every day, and about 6.6 million ride at least once a month. For most of these people, the cycling infrastructure will be poor and they will be on the road mixing with traffic in all its forms where close passes will sadly be the norm.
According to findings from Dr Rachel Aldred’s Near Miss project, drivers overtaking cyclists too closely account for a third of threatening encounters that cyclists have with motor vehicles.
Further analysis from the Road Danger Reduction Forum suggests close passes are behind three of the five most common types of crash that cause serious injuries and death to cyclists.
While close passes are a problem for experienced cyclists, it’s those who are just starting to cycle or prefer to cycle at a more sedate pace who are the most frequent victims of this antisocial driving behaviour.
According to Aldred’s report, people who maintained an average of under 8mph reported three times as many near misses per mile than those with an average of over 12mph. Her findings suggested close passes are particularly a problem for women, who on average cycle more slowly than men, and experience a 50% higher rate of near misses than men.
Until there is widespread Dutch-standard cycle-friendly infrastructure, it’s clear that if we want our roads to be safer for our most vulnerable road users, driver behaviour will have to change.
Government-led road safety campaigns such as Think! won’t address close passes despite requests from organisations such as Cycling UK. The reasoning is straight out of Catch-22: Think! campaigns are dictated by collision statistics, but if there’s been a collision then it’s no longer a close pass.
A similar attitude is adopted by many police forces within the UK, with investigations only beginning if there is physical harm to the cyclist. That was until West Midlands traffic police started their Give Space, Be Safe campaign.
Last September, West Midlands police began sending plain-clothed officers on bikes to educate drivers who overtook cyclists too closely. Offenders were pulled over and officers explained what they had done wrong with the help of a mat showing how much distance to leave when passing. The worst cases were reported for careless driving.
At the heart of this campaign was the drive to educate drivers, rather than prosecute. The Highway Code is vague on the issue, with Rule 163 telling drivers to “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car” and Rule 212 saying to “… give them [cyclists] plenty of room”. Only 2% of all journeys in the UK are by bike, so most drivers lack the experience of what it’s like to ride a bike and what “plenty of room” might mean.
The West Midlands campaign clearly worked. Driving behaviour changed quickly, with a 50% reduction in reported close-pass offences in the first three months. Forces up and down the country took note, and 16 recently attended a training session for the programme.
It’s not enough to have pockets of safer driving behaviour – it needs to be across every county and devolved administration.
Police forces are, however, overstretched. With government-imposed budget cuts in excess of 20% and traffic officers bearing the brunt of this problem with a 37% reduction over 10 years, a little community help wouldn’t go amiss.
At Cycling UK we’re keen to see similar road safety campaigns rolled out across the country, and there’s a simple way we can help.
By buying these close-pass mats in bulk, we can cut costs considerably from the £800 cost of the original mat. We can ensure all forces across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have the opportunity to roll out the mat and begin addressing this illegal and threatening driving behaviour.
We’ve launched a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter called Too Close For Comfort with the aim of raising £12,000 to buy enough mats for each force across the UK. With enough support, we can help to stop dangerous overtaking.