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Number of dangerous close passes nearly halved during pilot scheme encouraging drivers to ‘give cyclists space’

Road signs instructing motorists to leave a minimum distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists were installed on the Links Road near Longniddry last year

A trial of new road signs in East Lothian, advising motorists that they should leave a minimum gap of 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists, has led to a significant reduction in the number of ‘dangerous’ close passes since the scheme was introduced.

The pilot project, developed and led by Cycling Scotland, saw road signs installed last year on the Links Road near Longniddry, instructing drivers to “give cyclists space”. The recent updates to the Highway Code recommend that drivers leave a minimum passing distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking a cyclist at up to 30mph, and to leave a greater distance when travelling at higher speeds. 

As part of the trial, cameras were set up to record the distance between overtaking vehicles and cyclists before and after the signs were installed.

According to Cycling Scotland’s results, the proportion of what the organisation termed ‘dangerous’ close passes on the Links Road was reduced from over 50 percent of all overtakes to 29 percent after the signs were put in place, with 56 of the 196 overtakes recorded during the trial deemed to be dangerous.

The number of close passes considered to be ‘extremely dangerous’ also dropped from one percent (six of the 856 overtakes recorded before the signs were introduced) to zero.

Following these results, Cycling Scotland confirmed that the pilot scheme will be extended to other roads before potentially being rolled out across Scotland.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, claimed that the success of the scheme in East Lothian proves that “driving behaviour can change”.

“We know from the results of countless surveys that the perception the roads aren’t safe enough puts many people off cycling, and being overtaken too close whilst cycling is particularly intimidating,” Dollimore said.

"But this pilot shows that when drivers are reminded of the need to leave more space, their driving behaviour can change."

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Cycling Scotland’s Chief executive Keith Irving told the Scotsman: “The results of this initial road signage pilot project are really positive and we look forward to extending the pilot to several more roads to analyse the results and expand the evidence base on where signage can help road safety.

“With more people taking up cycling, especially in the last two years, it’s more crucial than ever that we improve safety on our roads.

“Every week in Scotland, at least four people are seriously injured while cycling and too many people are intimidated by close-passing vehicles. For Scotland to achieve net zero emissions, we need more journeys by bike, so we have to tackle safety concerns that are the major barrier.”

Scotland’s active nation commissioner Lee Craigie, who also took part in the project, said: “It has always felt uncomfortable for me to extol the personal health and environmental benefits a person on a bicycle might achieve without also acknowledging many of our roads feel too dangerous to share with motor vehicles.

“While we await a network of safe, segregated cycling infrastructure across Scotland, there is a lot we can be busying ourselves with to help more people understand how their actions might cause their fellow road users to feel.

“The significant findings of this project suggests education on safe passing distances might help establish a more mutually-trusting and caring culture between road users.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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