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OPINION

The real impact of close passes on cyclists — my children were nearly left fatherless due to the actions of one callous driver

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road.cc Podcast host and reviewer George Hill was just out for a leisurely ride before experiencing the worst close pass in his two decades of riding

Anybody who is a regular cyclist has experienced it. That sudden feeling of something alongside you, that skip in your heartbeat when you’re not sure whether they’re doing it on purpose or if they’ve not seen you, the clenching of the bars and hoping you don’t get dragged under the wheels. 

Close passes are unfortunately an aspect of cycling that we have all experienced to varying degrees. 

I lived in London for 15 years, and close passes there are unfortunately common. To be honest the standards of driving were generally worse, the number of cars were a lot higher, and the streets a lot narrower, so it’s not surprising. However, all this meant that while close passes were almost a daily experience, they took place at much lower speeds. 

I recently moved to the Cotswolds, where the main roads are wider, cars drive faster, and the standard of driving is generally much better. Despite this, yesterday I experienced the worst close pass I have experienced in my 20+ years of riding. 

I set out to do a quick gravel ride before work. I was wearing a bright orange jersey, a red helmet, and even had a light and radar system. I decided to try a new route, and as is the way in many rural areas, the path I was following had become a ploughed field with no signs. After 20 minutes of trying to find my way out of what seemed to be the world’s largest field, I found the path again and was back on track. For some reason the path went through somebody’s garden, then back onto a road. 

I then had a lovely ride of a few miles in the late summer sunshine along quiet country lanes. Even on these thin lanes, every driver I encountered gave me plenty of room. Despite getting lost it had generally been a great ride. 

My final kilometre is along a relatively quiet A road, and after 300m it goes from 50mph down to 30mph, so there usually is very little issue with it. Not on this occasion, unfortunately. 

As I was riding I was aware of a big Luton van behind me. It slowed and passed me perfectly, completely on the other side of the white line. Then about 10 seconds later, a Transit pickup truck raced past me leaving all of 12 inches, at well over 50mph. 

To be honest, I didn’t even have time to do everything I mentioned in the first paragraph. There was no firm gripping of the bars, no increased heart rate. It all happened so fast that there was almost no reaction beyond a slight wobble.  

It took me a couple of seconds to understand what had happened and to shout the second-worst swear word, and my next action was to call the driver the worst one. I was angry and instantly fuming that somebody seemed to deliberately put me in that much danger for no reason, and appeared to have done it deliberately. 

This is the instant reaction that we’re used to, the one we see in videos, but it’s the part afterwards that has the real impact and the bit that drivers don’t see. 

I got home still pretty angry, put my bike in the garage and went to say hello to my heavily pregnant wife who had just dropped my two-year-old daughter at nursery. Then, I jumped in the shower and began to calm down and think rationally. 

It was only then I realised how close to death I had been. If I had moved to my right at all in that split second, my daughter would have lost a father and my soon-to-be-born son would never have met me. Everything began to run through my head, how my wife would have had the police arrive at the door, how she would have had to call my parents and sister. She would have had to explain to my daughter what had happened. The only thing that prevented this scenario was me not drifting away from the kerb, there being no obstacle to avoid, and there being no wind pushing me the smallest distance outwards. 

Due to the actions of one driver, my life was nearly ended and my family nearly left fatherless.

I was in shock to the extent that people at work mentioned it and asked if I was ok. I couldn’t think straight. To come that close to death through no fault of your own, all because one person decided that you’re not worth anything because you’re not travelling as fast as them, is not something you like to think about. 

This is the element that is not discussed enough when we see all the anti-cyclist rants on social media, or when people in positions of power like Grant Shapps demonise cyclists. The damage caused by vindictive messaging is more than just some nasty words, it has real consequences when poorly informed people begin to see cyclists as less than human. 

There is not a doubt in my mind that the person yesterday did it on purpose. They could not have missed a giant Luton van clearly passing a cyclist, it was a perfectly straight road, and there was perfect visibility. I was so lit up I would have stood out in a rave.

Their actions were inches away from orphaning my children, widowing my wife, and by chance alone they didn’t. That split-second decision caused me to have nightmares about what they did, and I know that for the next few rides I am going to be flinching whenever a dot appears on my bike computer telling me a vehicle is approaching.

So, if there is anybody reading this who wants cyclists to ‘get off the road’, or who feels like a ‘punishment pass’ is a justifiable reaction to the cyclist existing near them, I hope you can begin to understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end.

Unfortunately, given the callous way this person behaved, I have no doubt they would have probably laughed about the damage they caused when they got to work. Unfortunately, far too many people in this country and others would have laughed with them.

> Here's what to do if you capture a near miss, close pass or collision on camera while cycling

> Why does road.cc run the Near Miss of the Day series? 

George is the host of the road.cc podcast and has been writing for road.cc since 2014. He has reviewed everything from a saddle with a shark fin through to a set of glasses with a HUD and everything in between. 

Although, ironically, spending more time writing and talking about cycling than on the bike nowadays, he still manages to do a couple of decent rides every week on his ever changing number of bikes.

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55 comments

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peted76 | 4 months ago
4 likes

It feels like it's getting worse. 

It's not the 'amount' of close passes, there doesn't feel like a change there, but the deliberateness of odd 'really bad' pass.

I think this year has possibly been the most dangerous year for me on the roads.. I can vividly think of about five passes in the latter half of this year which have really shaken me.

I read the article above and thought 'twelve inches, what I've give for twelve inches' (Monty Python - Four Yorkshiremen sketch).. but seriously.. on my last road ride of this year a couple of weeks ago, me and a mate on a very social little loop on coutry roads.. there's a one car width down hill road/lane which sees very little traffic usually, either side of the road there's some very rough grassy ground and a ditch, it is straight and clear. My mate is in front by about 20meters going downhill, a van is coming towards us, the van doesn't slow down and passes my mate who has moved himself as far as he could possibly go to the very edge of the road (as you do), it was very close, but it was after the van passed my mate that he veers towards me, not by a lot, but it was clear the van had moved out from his previous line, I had nowhere to go I was already as far over as I could be, I'd slowed a little but in the time this all happened there was no time to stop, I ended up doing a sort of shimmy to push my body away from the van and it's door mirror and managed to somehow keep the bike upright, the van 100% would have hit me if I'd not moved my bodyweight, I felt the mirror go past my head, it all happened so quick and I have some peripheral memory of the van driver gesticulating behind the wheel..  but it's the 'commitment' of these passes which shakes me the most.. the driver I believe 'decided that he would push or scare me into the ditch', however no rational person could possibly conclude the outcome, what the driver did know is that in that split second that he was prepared to hit me with his van.  

We need some real action to change how cyclists are percieved. 

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wtjs replied to peted76 | 4 months ago
1 like

It feels like it's getting worse

Or, at least, it's not getting better!

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HoldingOn replied to peted76 | 4 months ago
1 like

peted76 wrote:

what the driver did know is that in that split second that he was prepared to hit me with his van.  

This. This is what scares me the most. Imagine this kind of scenario played out between two pedestrians - enough room for both to shuffle past, yet one gets so enraged at having to slow down, they lash out with a weapon. The sudden, explosive violence from some drivers is terrifying.

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hawkinspeter replied to HoldingOn | 4 months ago
1 like

HoldingOn wrote:

peted76 wrote:

what the driver did know is that in that split second that he was prepared to hit me with his van.  

This. This is what scares me the most. Imagine this kind of scenario played out between two pedestrians - enough room for both to shuffle past, yet one gets so enraged at having to slow down, they lash out with a weapon. The sudden, explosive violence from some drivers is terrifying.

They remind me of violent toddlers

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JLasTSR | 6 months ago
5 likes

The worst close pass I have ever had was a Porsche 911 not because he was closer to me than others but because he clearly did not know where he was in relation to me. It was on a national speed limit road and he was speeding I would estimate over 80mph. He passed me with probably 500mm of space maybe a little less at the mirror projection point and I felt the slipstream, but the really frightening thing was that he continued pulling out to overtake me when he was well past me in fact if he had got the timing right it would have been a good pass as he crossed completely into the other carriage way but only when he was about 250 metres in front of me. Unfortunately he started his overtake move when he was alongside me. That was when I realised he was driving the car well behind the speed he was travelling which made it just plain dangerous for everyone. The fact he missed me was purely random luck which the more I thought about it the more I thought strike a light that was a close run thing!

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Left_is_for_Losers | 6 months ago
1 like

The very nature of cycling is that it is not exactly for the faint hearted...descending at high speed, little to no protection in crashes, a lot of pain, and generally not the sport or transport mode for wimps. 

Part of the thrill of cycling is the day to day avoiding the hustle and bustle - in London, there's nothing better than slipping through gaps between cars waiting at traffic lights to beat them all. 

If you're put off by a couple of sketchy incidents then I'm sure there are other, gentler sports such as chess you could take up. That's very low risk. 

In more seriousness - generally to avoid close passes, when I know someone is coming up behind, I move over, closer to the middle of the road, then when they overtake, pull back in to the side (if possible) to mean that if their original line was close, it is better for me to move over and get more distance between me and the car. 

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Billy1mate replied to Left_is_for_Losers | 6 months ago
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That isn't really possible on a 50mph stretch of road because the closing speed even when detected early with a Garmin Radar it is not far enough away to take a more primary position to then create the space but I do get your approach. The best one could hope for is a lifesaver and hope the approaching vehicle see the look and might slow down or change their position but as always it's in the hands of another motorist. Personally I'd be trying my hardest to stay straight and not move about too much. Either way it is quite harrowing.

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to Billy1mate | 6 months ago
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Agreed, that on a national speed limit road, which I mostly ride on, some cars will come barrelling past, and not a lot you can do but move over if possible to alleviate any close passes. 

It's more when you get a car tailing round a corner, and then go for a tight gap to get round, by forcing them a longer way it gives you a little more room and breathing space. 

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jimxc | 6 months ago
13 likes

This article sums up exactly how I felt the day I quit road cycling a few yrs ago. It was the final nail. Usual lunchtime loop around Chester and country roads, 35min. First incident right out of the gate towards lights, I heard him coming, accelerating hard, as the lights were on green and he wanted to make it, I got there first and was in the primary as I knew what was coming and took the position in attempt to keep myself safe, thinking he'd be blocked but no, he came past so fkn close and cut right in to squeeze through otherwise he would've crashed. I had to swerve hard to the curb or I would've been toast. I was beyond angry. I shot after him and as we all know we often catch them at the next hold up. And so ensued a massive argument. Absolutely ZERO recognition of what he'd done. All the usual tropes. Swearing, angry AF, threatening. He drives off and at the next lights he stops on the pavement to block me! I just ride around and say to him you would NOT have done that if I were a car. He had nothing. I continued on, shaken and ranting to myself. Then, coming back down my road towards the end of the ride, within the final km, I'm going straight on past a side road. I see a car coming and as I get to the junction and then half way across the side road, he's looking right at me and then turns at speed into it. No indication of course and he just misses me, must have been by mm. Remember I'm all riled from earier so I swing round and he's parked up at the shops so I ride right up to him. He was a nasty piece of work, he comes right into my face threatening me, denying he was anywhere near me telling me to FO now before he loses his sh1t. People are watching the argument. I'm trying to hold it together telling him look, you almost killed me. I've got kids and you looked right at me. You clearly saw me. He didn't give a flying fk. I left, swearing at him and felt horrible because of it. I got home and said that's it I'm done. Almost died twice and through the actions of others, my two girls would be fatherless and my wife alone. Even writing this it's all coming back. The absolute denial and aggression sickens me. People have said oh they've won if you stop. That's BS. You have to weigh it up. Now I just MTB away from cars and it's getting worse and worse out there. Can't even say "stay safe" to fellow riders as it's out of our hands. It won't change until it's taken seriously and real prosecutions are happening. Lengthy driving Bans. Crushed cars. Huge fines.

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Morgoth985 replied to jimxc | 6 months ago
4 likes

Awful.  How lovely some of our countrymen are.

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polainm replied to jimxc | 6 months ago
9 likes

Plan for Motorists. The sound of a barrel being scraped for votes and a final slide into Daily Mail Britain. An arrogant, ignorant, racist country with zero social conscience. If there is any good left in society I am now shocked when I experience it. 

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brogs | 6 months ago
7 likes

I completely understand how this made George feel. It caused me to revisit the worst close pass I have experienced personally, now 10 years ago. It did result in prosecution and conviction: https://youtu.be/GcGMcWqf53g?si=EvbLIdt83f6GHnz1 (It's all over fairly quickly so I recommend you freeze frame the pass whereupon you will be able to see how close he is at very high speed).

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jimxc replied to brogs | 6 months ago
1 like

Gosh, nasty. That'd be curtains if you moved over to avoid a pot hole for instance. 

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belugabob replied to brogs | 6 months ago
3 likes
brogs wrote:

I completely understand how this made George feel. It caused me to revisit the worst close pass I have experienced personally, now 10 years ago. It did result in prosecution and conviction: https://youtu.be/GcGMcWqf53g?si=EvbLIdt83f6GHnz1 (It's all over fairly quickly so I recommend you freeze frame the pass whereupon you will be able to see how close he is at very high speed).

All of those passing motorists were too fast and too close. What is this obsession with keeping some part of their vehicle in the cyclists lane, instead of moving completely over to the other lane? Every homeward commute involves multiple people doing this, on the last bit of hill before home ☹️

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Rendel Harris replied to belugabob | 6 months ago
4 likes

belugabob wrote:

What is this obsession with keeping some part of their vehicle in the cyclists lane, instead of moving completely over to the other lane?

The really weird thing, I find, is that when one good motorist (and there are quite a few out there really) makes a really wide pass using the whole of the oncoming lane, all the drivers following them do the same; when one makes a stupid close pass, you can expect the next few drivers to do the same. Quite clearly too many people just assuming the person in front knows what they are doing and copying them rather than thinking about their own autonomous actions.

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polainm | 6 months ago
9 likes

In the 40+ years I've been cycling on UK roads (and European ones) I have had seven riding colleagues 'murdered' by thoughtless and stupid drivers. These murders brushed aside by the police and judges as 'accidents' and the worst penalty was £400/6 points. 

In the last ~10 years the level of vitriol poured over people who use a bicycle for transport has escalated unchecked to such toxic levels, it's not believed by ministers or DfT directors. This hatred is reinforced by the media, judges, CPS, policing, and breakfast show interviews. 

It's so bad, I always refer to these incidents as murder, or attempted murder because 9 times out of 10, it is premeditated - that is what a close pass is. 

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KnowThyInnerTube replied to polainm | 6 months ago
2 likes

As a cycling colleague used to say, it's assault with a deadly weapon.

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giff77 | 7 months ago
9 likes

Very poignant article for me. Reading it on the anniversary of being used as target practice. And emotions all up in the air.

Even since getting back on the bike after it all, still having to deal with involuntary flinches as somebody blasts by and doing my best not to have a complete meltdown while they allow scant inches space. Yet ironically remaining stoic. Even when a mirror catches my elbow and being grateful it wasn't a bonnet. The phrase "don't let the buggers grind you down" comes to mind and holding onto the fact that if I quit cycling they've won. 

As it goes, in general a good chunk of drivers are pretty competent with another group that are just plain inept. It is the small handful who ruin it for all road user as they simply drive with no care, consideration or courtesy to any road user. 

Great, honest article George. Stay safe out there and may you always have fair winds. And remember don't let them grind you down. 

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neilmck | 7 months ago
1 like

Plenty of complaints about lack of police action, what about a personal civil claim? Would such a claim for compensation for distress work in the UK? Often a civil claim has a larger impact on the criminal that the sentence from the criminal courts.

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hawkinspeter replied to neilmck | 7 months ago
2 likes

neilmck wrote:

Plenty of complaints about lack of police action, what about a personal civil claim? Would such a claim for compensation for distress work in the UK? Often a civil claim has a larger impact on the criminal that the sentence from the criminal courts.

That's an interesting idea, but wouldn't you have to demonstrate some kind of financial loss due to their driving? Maybe if you needed counselling services after being bullied on the road, you could try sueing them for the costs.

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neilmck | 7 months ago
10 likes

In the past French drivers were considered amongst the worst and Parisians even worst than that. However I cycle 50km a day through Paris going to work and as long as I take my place in the road (a metre from the curb) I never see these close passes or punishment passes that you are talking about. It sounds mad what is going on in the UK, this behaviour is not normal in the rest of the world.

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Robert Hardy replied to neilmck | 6 months ago
2 likes

Any reading of cycle posts on social media evidences the toxicity of cyclist hatred which when manifested is treated as utterly trivial or even justified by the police. Cycling need's to become a protected activity and those who participate require proper legal protection as do other minorities subject to dehumanising speech, threats of and actual violent acts.

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antigee | 7 months ago
2 likes

Still reminding....use "punishment pass AKA cowards pass" or just "cowards pass" ...that's what is.

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Ninjago | 7 months ago
2 likes

Glad the writer is OK.

This is why I know cycle with front and rear cameras and why I report particularly agregious dangerous driving to the relevant police body.

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wtjs replied to Ninjago | 7 months ago
5 likes

This is why I now cycle with front and rear cameras and why I report particularly egregious dangerous driving to the relevant police body

Maybe you do, but it doesn't matter how many cameras you have if the police just file the reports immediately in the bin- which they mostly do. This is why you very rarely hear of actual prosecutions for close passing and why there have been so many NMotD examples on here- because the police ensure that there is no penalty

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Patrick9-32 replied to wtjs | 7 months ago
2 likes

Exactly, if these drivers knew that all that stood between them and a heafty fine and losing their job because they no longer have a license was either you not having a camera (out of their control) or them driving safely (in their control) you can be pretty sure most of them wouldn't take the risk. 

As things stand, there is no risk to the driver in this behaviour so the sociopaths who can't put themselves in the position of others literally don't see a problem with what they are doing. 

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rcdavies replied to wtjs | 6 months ago
0 likes

Perhaps I am 'lucky' in Devon but the local force have an active 'Operation Snap' in place. I regularly submit the worst passes (and other extreme driving behaviour) and get feedback on my case and the wider submission/action stats. Devon & Cornwall Police seem to be better at this than some other forces. From the Op Snap site: 

'If the clip is of a good enough quality and an offence is clearly shown then we will consider issuing an advisory letter to the owner of the offending vehicle, inviting them to an educational course, issuing a fixed penalty notice or, where appropriate, seeking a prosecution. 

If the footage shows a more serious offence, or we have evidence of someone committing repeat offences, then we will consider inviting them to an educational course, issuing a fixed penalty notice or, where appropriate, seeking a prosecution.'

Having also been assulted whilst riding, and only identified the culprit due to the quick thinking of a witness, I wouldn't ride without a camera now. Shouldn't have to but that is the world we live in. I do wonder if the Police action will lead to greater resentment of cyclists or will have a positive effect and cause the drivers to change their behaviour. 

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wtjs replied to rcdavies | 6 months ago
1 like

Perhaps I am 'lucky' in Devon but the local force have an active 'Operation Snap' in place

Maybe you are, but there are similar soothing words on the OpSnap Lancs site, it's just that they are nothing like the truth. I now regard phrases like 'we will consider' as convincing evidence that they're lying and that those things just don't get done.

Simlarly,  I have reviewed your submission and I have reported driver for prosecution means nothing at all as they have loads of ways of weaselling out and doing nothing at all.

I well remember these

https://upride.cc/incident/j111kdw_bmwgrancoupe_uwlcross/

https://upride.cc/incident/j111kdw_bmwgrancoupe_closepassuwlcross/

Driver of J111 KDW was supposedly due for prosecution, but 18 months later the Lancashire Weaselry made up new 'laws' and claimed that the absence of rear-facing video meant that they couldn't be sure when he crossed over to the right side of the road and abruptly dropped the prosecution. Lying is second nature to the police, at least in Lancashire, and even if every cyclist had front and rear cameras they would start asking for overhead drone video.

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stonojnr | 7 months ago
8 likes

I almost got wiped out last week by a driver, had a Luton van nearly crush me earlier in the year, had 2 reportable level close passes just on a 5 mile commute this morning, had to get Vine levels of shouty to stop a 3rd, and that's with a PassPixi displayed. It's just endemic.

And I've known several riders the past 2 years who were killed or seriously injured on roads I've ridden alot on, which really does make you question your own philosophy about cycling.

But none of the stats people quote ever show that aspect.

Edit - and we can add 1 more to the tally from the ride home tonight

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Arjimlad | 7 months ago
3 likes

You captured the feelings perfectly. Thanks. 

Every now & then I get a very nasty close pass which makes me question the wisdom of cycling to work and back, and they make my wife worry too.

I originally got a camera chiefly because I wanted there to be evidence, were I to be injured or worse.  We shouldn't need these things. Record & report only goes so far. 

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