London’s police force has launched a new initiative to tackle drivers who pass cyclists too closely, using plain clothes officers.
From Friday, the Space for Cyclists initiative will be carried out by UK’s only cycle-mounted police command, the Met’s cycle safety team, after months spent adapting the tactic for London’s roads from a West Midlands Police initiative, introduced last year.
Earlier this year the Guardian was invited to an early on-road trial of the initiative.
Beside a south London park, a group of police officers waited beside a marked van set back from the road, one on a motorbike – as a man on an electric bike passed back and forth along the road.
It was a matter of minutes before a woman driving a small red car overtook within 10cm of the officer’s bike. The motorbike-mounted officer headed off, returning moments later with the driver behind.
She said she hadn’t seen the cyclist.
Sergeant Simon Castle, the man responsible for the Met’s adoption of this strategy, says that though the risk to cyclists from close passing drivers is low, the effect of near misses is enough to deter all but the quick and the brave. With population growth, congestion and air pollution worsening in the city, more people cycling is better for everyone.
Castle explains the aim of the initiative is not simply to ticket people, but to educate drivers on how to safely manoeuvre around cyclists. Ultimately, he says, risk to cyclists comes from a variety of behaviours.
“Some affect everyone,” he says. “Speed, red light jumping, unlicensed drivers and so on. But others disproportionately affect cyclists: close passing, turning across a cyclist’s path and tailgating are all incredibly intimidating when you’re on a bike, and are only a split second from something far worse. These irresponsible manoeuvres share a common theme – failing to give space for cyclists.”
This is the latest in a series of close pass operations launched by police forces across the country, following the West Midlands operation. While other forces use a 1.5m guideline for overtaking, the Met are focusing on the Highway Code rule stating drivers must give cyclists as much room as they do a car.
Says Castle: “If you’re following Rule 163 of the Highway Code and you’re leaving as much room as you would a car then it doesn’t matter whether the cyclist is in the gutter or the middle of the lane. You still should leave them the same amount of room.