Cycling campaign highlights dangers of close passing

07.59 | 8 May 2019 | | 10 comments

Drivers in Scotland are unaware of the legal consequences of driving too close to cyclists, according to a new survey.

In the survey, commissioned by Cycling Scotland to mark the launch of its annual cycling road safety campaign, 73% of respondents were unaware they could get three points on their licence for failing to leave at least a car’s width when passing a cyclist.

The campaign – which will run on television and social media until 2 June – is supported by Police Scotland, whose Operation Close Pass takes place across the country.

Operation Close Pass sees a police officer in plain clothes cycling with a camera on the handlebar and rear of the bike. When they are passed too closely by a car, the police cyclist radios colleagues further up the road who pull over the motorist and directs them to a spot where another officer is waiting to talk to them about their driving.

Inspector Andrew Thomson said: “Keeping all road users safe is a key priority for us and this campaign highlights that cyclists are vulnerable when being passed by vehicles too closely.

“Driving too close and not allowing sufficient cycle space when passing is an example of careless driving, and the minimum penalty for this is three penalty points and £100 fine.

“Officers from Police Scotland will be working hard to raise awareness of this offence and encourage all road users to use the roads with respect for others.”

‘Generally good knowledge’
Over the last four years, Cycling Scotland has undertaken independent research with 500 people annually, which shows there is ‘generally good knowledge of the amount of space drivers should give people cycling’.

This research, together with three focus groups held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, has helped inform the new campaign.

Results from the focus group show that attendees:

  • Understood the amount of space that should be given – but admitted that they don’t always follow the advice
  • Push consequences to the back of their minds; where consequences were considered, the emphasis was on personal outcomes, not risks to other road users
  • Believe poor cycling behaviours excuse poor driving behaviours
  • Indicated personal priorities, impatience and a sense of entitlement were at the forefront of thinking when driving
  • Had low awareness that passing someone riding a bike too closely was an offence
  • Didn’t think of people who cycle necessarily as ‘road users’, with cyclists not quite seen as ‘equals’ on the road.

Keith Irving, Cycling Scotland chief executive, said: “Cycling has huge benefits for both physical and mental health and to encourage even more people to cycle, we need to make sure people feel safe cycling on our roads.

“Our new TV ad campaign shows how it can feel to be close passed and increases awareness of the legal consequences for people driving too closely to someone cycling.”

Michael Matheson, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for transport, said: “Driving too close to a cyclist can put lives at risk.

“This campaign will help raise awareness of the importance of safe passing distances and remind drivers of the action that the police will take if cyclists are put at risk.”



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    Charles points are very interesting and Keith’s, I feel, are very valid. There is also no protection when the cycle lane width is barely that of the width of the handlebars – and then ahead the cycle lane finishes in favour of parked vehicles so, if the traffic flow is slow cyclists come zipping down the inside and then, often without any apparent reference to the prevailing traffic, promptly ride outside the parked vehicles, very often squeezing through a gap. Also, if anyone in a parked vehicle opened a door they would have no chance. A variation on that, of course, is one of the associated dangers with parked vehicles – those parked against the flow in two way traffic, where the driver’s position is against the kerb and he/she often cannot see whether or not it is safe to emerge until a good part of the vehicle is out into the traffic flow (also potential conflict with cyclists) – and this manoeuvre is now effectively condoned by the DVSA on the standard driving test even though it is a DO NOT in the HC and potentially highly dangerous.

    Nigel ALBRIGHT
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    “… leave at least a car’s width when passing a cyclist”? Yet rule 163 of the highway code ( says “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 215)” and the accompanying image shows a car passing a bike with about three-quarters of a car width gap.

    We need consistency on this, not the current confusing and contradictory messages. Is it:

    * 1.5m (
    * a car width ( which could be anything from about 1.4m to 2.1m for a normal modern car
    * as much room as you would when overtaking a car (HC Rule 163)

    Or should we simply say something like “if you need to pass a cyclist choose an appropriate speed and matching gap size that would ensure safe passing even if the cyclist wobbles or swerves to avoid an obstacle”. After all, motorists passing parked cars in a narrow street can do so quite safely with only an inch or two to spare if they are going slow enough.

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

    Perhaps a driver can picture and judge a ‘car’s width’ easier than having to estimate a given measurement and also gives an extra margin as well.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (2) | Disagree (3)

    Yes Hugh, it does seem that the message is meant to say leave a car’s width, which means to me to leave around 1800mm or so. That is an unreasonably large gap for which one may risk “legal consequences” (a prosecution) if they don’t comply. I’m sure that interpretation of a distance wont stand up in court and if someone is unfortunate enough to be prosecuted for failing to leave a car’s width/1800mm or so, I do hope they will argue the point in court.
    I am happy to leave a car’s width or more when overtaking cyclists on a 60mph country road but at 20-30mph around town? Seems to me that the Wales Active Travel guidance mentioned by Guzzi has it about right.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

    Doesn’t it mean what it says Pat i.e. leave the width of a car between the passing vehicle and the cyclist, or have I missed your point?

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Don’t worry about a car’s width Pat, The Welsh Government Active Travel Design Guidance clearly states 600mm minimum between the bike handlebar-end and a car. So no car width space enforcement in Wales.

    Guzzi, Newport
    Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

    …”for failing to leave at least a CAR’s WIDTH when passing a cyclist.”

    is this a typo? Measured from where to where? More clarity required.

    I hope it gets tested in court soon.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (7) | Disagree (0)

    What happens when the said police officer passes on the inside of a row of moving vehicles with less than 3ft space.

    There seems to be no appreciation that cyclists can also put themselves in danger by passing close on the left and place the powered vehicle in a difficult position.

    Will these cyclists then face a similar prosecution.

    Agree (11) | Disagree (12)

    “Indicated personal priorities, impatience and a sense of entitlement were at the forefront of thinking when driving”…

    Is it any wonder that UK drivers assume this attitude, as it is exactly what all UK children have had hammered into them about motorists from almost as soon as they can walk – first as pedestrians and then, when they are older, as cyclists.

    Surely a better model would be to teach children that as pedestrians and as cyclists they have *exactly* the same priority as motorists to use the roads, and that they should expect to be able to use them when and where they like. That way they wouldn’t be brain-washed into thinking that when they become motorists they have a greater entitlement to road space then other road users, and so would be less likely to assume that mantle.

    Charles, Wells
    Agree (13) | Disagree (4)

    “Indicated personal priorities, impatience and a sense of entitlement were at the forefront of thinking when driving” …sadly an attitude that too many drivers have with regard to all other road users, not just cyclists and which can lead to risk-taking and collisions.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

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