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Crackdown on Overtaking Cyclists

Written by: Bath School of Motoring


Motorists who drive too close to cyclists when they overtake are the target of a new campaign by West Midlands Police -  Launched on September 16th, the initiative sees plain-clothes police officers cycling some of the busiest routes in the area in order to catch drivers passing too close to cyclists.  The Highway Code stipulates that motorist should give cyclists at least the same space as vehicles when overtaking and this is widely considered to be aminimum of 1.5m.  Encroaching within this distance could lead to a penalt for driving without due care and attention.

Once they have been pulled over, drivers will then be given an eyesight test before being educated as to the correct way to overtake cyclists.

In preparation for the launch, West Midlands Police carried out four test days across the summer, during which 80 motorists were stopped and given on-the-spot educational input.

Birmingham Cycle Revolution, an arm of Birmingham City Council which seeks to increase cycling across the city, has funded a special mat which demonstrates the correct distance for overtaking, while drivers are also given reading material to take away.

If offenders are then caught a second time, or are found to be committing another offence as they pass such as talking on a mobile phone, then they will be prosecuted.

The penalty for being caught a second time is a £100 fine and three points.

Officers behind the scheme said they have analysed the statistics for the number of cyclists killed and seriously injured in the area in the four years up to 2014 (530) and found that the blame in the vast majority of the cases lay with the driver error.

During the launch, PC Mark Hodson, a cyclist and traffic officer with West Midlands Police, said; "It's driver behaviour that causes the collision that ivariably leads to the fatality or serious injury.  We realised rather than looking at cyclist behaviour we have to concentrate on driver behaviour if we want to bring down those statistics and stop people being killed or seriously injured."

For the past nine months, the police have been inviting cyclists to send in their own evidence of incidents of bad driving in the form of video, which the force says has worked to an extenet-38 people were prosecuted during the summer for due care and attention offences but Pc Hodson says they want to do more.

"We realised we needed to be proactive and target drivers who are making it dangerous for cyclists.  We can have press campaigns and put out all the eduaction we want, but to reach those people who are dismissive of those, we need to speak to them personally and, if they don't take it on board, prosecute.

"We want it in drivers' heads that the cyclist in front of them could be a traffic officer.  The theory is that, once it's been going for a couple of months, when people seea cyclist the first things that will pop into their head is 'there's a cyclist, I need to give them some room'.  Or they may think ' that could be a police officer on that bike, and if I do pass too close I could be prosecuted'.

"It's the same psychological message as with speed cameras.  Everyone does the speed limit past a speed camera.  Every time someone passes a cyclist in the West Midlands they are not going to know whether it's an officer."

RoSPA Road Safety Manager, said; "We fully support West Midlands Police's new campaign to tackle those motorists who pass too close to cyclists.

"Ideally, cyclists would not need to mingle with traffic on the roads, and a lot is being invested in road infrastructure to make this a reality, but until this happens we need to make sure we are educating about the risks and enforcing the law.

"The vast majority of motorists who pass too close to cyclists have either made a genuine mistake or will not know how much room to give, so educating them on this is important.

"But there is a small minority who have a disregard for vulnerable road users-this is where enforcement must be used.

"If you are a motorist ensure that you give cyclists as much room as you would when overtaking a car, and expect the unexpected, such as cyclists manoeuvring to avoid hazards.

"We want everyone to share the road safely, and so we also urge cyclists to adhere to the rules of the road."

UK Cycling is backing the scheme, as is Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman, who is now a policy adviser for British Cycling and was at the scheme's launch to lend his support.

He said: "This is sadly exciting-it's something that needs to be done, and isn't being done in the rest of the country.

"When we drive a car we have a massive responsibility but we forget that and we often treat cyclists as an obstacle, not human beings.  This police force is the first in the country to my mind to say that we are not going to accept that, we are going to have a zero tolerance approach to people who treat other human beings like something that's an inconveniencein their way."

He also made the point that, although cyclists do also break the law, it makes sense to target limited resources at tackling issues that will make the most difference.

"One of the biggest kickbacks to this, "he said, "is that people say 'but cyclists break the law as well, I see them jumping red lights'.  Absolutely.  Cyclists are just as capable of being as irresponsible and rude as any other person who uses our roads.  And I think for the police force which doesn't have the resources to prosecute every single crime, it's logical for them to target those who do the most harm and work back from there.  And I don't think anybody could argue with that."

Pc Hodson agreed with this point, adding "Cyclists do commit offences, some cyclists do endanger themselves, but the fact speak for themselves, the majority of serious collisions are caused by driver action.

"Cyclists committing offencese by and large are an irritant to other road users, but that's all they are, it's an irritant.  It's not a priority for the traffic department.  We are looking at the reasons why people are killed and seriously injured.  We can go to cyclists and say please don't run red lights or we will fine you, and all we end up with is a fist full of fines, and our killed and seriously injured figures will still be running at 530 every four years, which is not what we want.  Once our killed and seriously injured figures are down to a level we can no longer affect by educating and prosecuting drivers, then we will look at the cyclist behaviour.

"But the figures are so tilted towards drivers and the way they behave on our roads that we have no option but to concentrate on them.  Drivers have to take it on the chim-driving standards across the country have fallen to an unacceptable level."