As anyone who cycles regularly will know one of the most threatening experiences is a ‘Close Pass’. You’re riding along and a tonne of metal hurtles past you inches from your elbow and if at speed almost blows you off your bike. Closes passes are the type of experience that helps to reinforce the widely held belief that cycling is a dangerous activity, even though (per hour of activity) you’re just as likely to get killed walking and less likely to end up in hospital than when gardening.
According to research a third of ‘near misses’ affecting cyclists involve a vehicle passing too close. More worryingly, 3 in 5 serious cycling injuries and deaths involve a vehicle not giving enough room when overtaking. Its the slower and least experienced cyclists who are most affected. Those cycling at average speeds of under 8mph are three times as likely to experience close passes. Women also report a 50% higher rate of near misses than men.
That’s why it is so important motorists observe Highway Code Rule 163 and “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”. In the UK the safe overtaking distance isn’t specified, but in lots of other countries its usually assumed to be at least 1.5 metres. In fact the Government will soon be consulting on proposed changes to Rule 163 and other parts of the Highway Code to make it clearer and improve road safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
In 2016 West Midlands Police launched their ‘Give Space, Be Safe’ campaign. It targeted drivers who passed a plain-clothed cycling officer too close. A safe pass mat was used to demonstrate to drivers they pulled over what they needed to do to comply with the law and overtake vulnerable road users safely. In the first 12 months, the Force has achieved a 20% reduction in casualties amongst vulnerable road users, bucking a national trend that saw an increase that year.
Seeing the success of West Midlands Police Force’s campaign in delivering a 50% reduction in close pass offences and with support from the national cycling charity, Cycling UK similar campaigns have been rolled out by other Police Forces including in Worcestershire by the local Safer Roads Partnership.
But there’s no need to wait to be caught or the legislation to change. The next time you’re about to overtake a cyclist please allow a safe passing distance of at least 1.5 metres. If there’s insufficient room, hang back until it is safe to pass.