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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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Sriracha | 8 months ago
11 likes

Phew! Viscerally well written.

Mobile phone driver? That was my first thought. Driving with their outlook set to detect motor vehicles ahead only - literally the occasional glance up from their screen, enough only that they would know if a vehicle was looming in their horizon, nothing more.

I see it so often. Walking to work, I counted ten drivers on their phones. One nearly ran me down on a pelican crossing - the way was clear in his mind, no vehicles in contention with his path; didn't see the light, didn't see me. Another veering towards the kerb - I'm betting a filtering cyclist would have been a casualty. I saw a rear-ender in stop-go crawling traffic; how is that possible?!

Of course they don't put the phone back in the glove box when the traffic clears.

I see it from the top deck of a coach on the motorway, HGV drivers watching a video, the occasional glance up to monitor the distance of the HGV in front, that's it.

I'm pretty convinced that mobile phones are involved in much or most of these cases. The rest are quite likely just malicious.

It scares me just how little attention mobile phone use at the wheel receives. It's a pandemic, it's everywhere. Of course, it's not texting these days, so a simple call/sms history reveals nothing to Plod. They need something more sophisticated, a sort of "phonealyser" that can be administered on the spot at every incident, an inseparable twin to the breathalyser.

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brooksby replied to Sriracha | 8 months ago
1 like

Sriracha wrote:

Walking to work, I counted ten drivers on their phones.

I totally get that it's a difference of scale of threat - like cars vs bikes - but count how many pedestrians are also wandering along watching only their phone screens and assuming that everyone else will walk around them...  I can't believe that they all change their behaviour too much once they get behind the wheel of a car.

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Sriracha replied to brooksby | 8 months ago
5 likes

Funnily enough, I made a phone call whilst walking today. And it is scary how little I was aware of my surroundings or my progress - especially scary when I know drivers do the same, quite legally, on their handsfree.

Where I am there is hardly anyone else on the pavement, I don't think I could manage the same on a busy pavement. And I was done before I needed to navigate any junctions. But it is 100% legal for car drivers (my count of 10 above was of people visibly holding their phone, couldn't guess how many more use handsfree).

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Patrick9-32 | 8 months ago
13 likes

Stuff like this is why it should be easy to lose your license. You can be sure this person who doesn't give a shit about human life doesn't obey speed limits. If they lost their license when they were inevitably caught speeding and then went to prison when they were inevitably caught driving without a license they wouldn't be able to put other people's lives at risk for fun. 

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HLaB | 8 months ago
6 likes

Good article George and I hope it hasn't shook you up too much! I like to think that around 60% of people care, 39% are negligent pr1cks (but not mallicious) and just 1% or less are vindictive b@stards (deliberately close passing etc).   I would try in my mind to class this as one of the negligent pr1cks whose vision was momentarily blocked by the van and failed to observe properly the rest of the time!  And way up things genenerally against, that being cycle fit saved my life when I was struck down with cancer in my early 40s.

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Steve K | 8 months ago
9 likes

Great article.  I doubt there's anyone here who has not had similar experiences.  It's depressing that - even writing on here - you felt the need to emphasise the bright clothes/lights etc you had (that's not a dig at you, though).  You would have been entirely visible even if you'd been in all black.

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HoldingOn | 8 months ago
9 likes

Putting words to my fears better than I could, thank you.
I used to drive, but never had the fear of leaving my children one parent less. Cars are built to protect the people in it. We are constantly fed how safe it is.
As you say - cyclists don't have that protection, so a driver getting too close to you while you are driving is an annoyance. A driver getting too close to you while you are cycling puts the fear of death into you.

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HoarseMann | 8 months ago
9 likes

One of the worst close passes I experienced happened on a ride where I'd spent most of the time off-road too. Sometimes it seems there is no escape from idiot drivers.

I would have ranked that as the worst I'd had in 20 years (up to that point - a year later a van driver tried to ram me off the road). The near-death experience kept me off the bike for a good few months. Like you say, there's an impact and you definately feel like a victim afterwards (not a witness as some police forces seem to regard it).

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chrisonabike replied to HoarseMann | 8 months ago
9 likes

HoarseMann wrote:

Like you say, there's an impact and you definately feel like a victim afterwards (not a witness as some police forces seem to regard it).

The more I think about this one the less I understand it.  Can't imagine "I saw someone stealing my car!" "Can't put you down as a victim though; they didn't steal you".

Or "They were shooting at me!" "Not really - all you can say is they were shooting near you.  No evidence they meant to hit you, and after all, they didn't hit you, did they?  Thanks for the witness statement though, we'll call if we need you..."

Slightly different things but again it's strange we pre-emptively discount any emotional impact on the victims here but (once it's got to court) in the mitigation phase we *do* take into account the emotions / impact on the convicted ("they will have to live with this").

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Sriracha replied to chrisonabike | 8 months ago
9 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

it's strange we pre-emptively discount any emotional impact on the victims

It's beyond that. If there is emotional impact on the victim, the evidence is often that they swear, which counts against them.

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the little onion | 8 months ago
11 likes

A very well written, and absolutely true piece. I agree that a close pass in the final kilometres of an otherwise very pleasant ride can put a real dampener on the whole thing. And I recognise the fact that it can be just a few centimeters that separates a scary, swearing-inducing experience from one that could well be fatal.

 

I've started using a camera on my commute, which is on reasonably busy suburban roads. I think I get about 1 close pass every thirty minutes of riding that is worth the effort of processing and sending to the police, on average. And in 100% of cases, I get a note from the police saying that they are taking further action. They never say precisely what, other than to say it might be an educational course, points, or a court appearance. So to my mind, that's one driver every 30 minutes of commute who has been corrected, punished, and hopefully will tell their friends about their experience. And very gradually, we reduce danger to cyclists.

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bikes replied to the little onion | 8 months ago
0 likes

Is there a way to find out what action was taken? What if all they do is send a letter, and perhaps one driver can receive multiple letters and it doesn't change anything.

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wtjs replied to bikes | 8 months ago
4 likes

Is there a way to find out what action was taken? What if all they do is send a letter, and perhaps one driver can receive multiple letters and it doesn't change anything

It is my opinion that the police lie about this all the time, and that even when they claim to have taken action, they have mostly done nothing at all. I am fighting Lancashire Constabulary and the Information Commissioner at the Information Tribunal over this one:

https://upride.cc/incident/4148vz_travellerschoicecoach_closepass/

where the police claimed to have taken action (this was before OpSnap Lancs hit on the plan of refusing to reply in any way to any reports of offences against cyclists, or reports of any other traffic offences for that matter) and have since put in a great deal of time and resources into refusing to tell me what action they took. The bus company abandoned the registration of the offending bus, so it's probably registered as something else, and it's highly likely that private arrangements were made to take no action whatsoever against the driver

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the little onion replied to bikes | 8 months ago
0 likes

i suspect that, unless it goes to court, there are legal reasons why they can't tell me directly in individual cases. If I recall, and someone more informed than I may pop up, you don't have a right to be told an outcome unless you are classed as a 'victim', which would require not just a close pass but an actual collision.

 

I guess you could put in an FoI about how many video submissions have been put in by cyclists within a time period, and what outcomes there were.

I'll be honest - it has crossed my mind that the police might lie about this, because I've caught them out lying about collisions etc in the past (and actually got a formal apology!). However, the other week I had a close pass by a bus, and sent the footage to the police and the bus company. The bus company director (who dealt with the issue well) confirmed that the police had been in touch.

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hawkinspeter replied to the little onion | 8 months ago
2 likes

the little onion wrote:

i suspect that, unless it goes to court, there are legal reasons why they can't tell me directly in individual cases. If I recall, and someone more informed than I may pop up, you don't have a right to be told an outcome unless you are classed as a 'victim', which would require not just a close pass but an actual collision.

I reckon if someone was invested enough, they could challenge the "not a victim" verdict of police forces for close passes. Maybe a court case claiming that they are denying you your rights by not classifying you as a victim, despite you being on the receiving end of a law-breaker and (emotionally) suffering because of it.

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richliv replied to the little onion | 8 months ago
1 like

Good it was dealt with. I had a close pass from a Gregorys of Shepton Mallet lorry in Trowbridge a few years ago now. Overtook me and realised the traffic coming the other way prevented it so nearly crushed me against a wall - literally cms in it. I was so angry and rang the firm next day. They promised to deal with it and get back to me - never heard anything so I'm sure it was really "p**s off" really. Probably they thought it was just a whinging cyclist but they really have no idea how dangerous this kind of driving is.

The really worrying thing is that everyone has at least one of these anecdotes and usually several.

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Pingz | 8 months ago
12 likes

Yesterday I got driven into on my commute to work, straight wide road, bright orange jacket, bright dynamo rear light. I came out of it alright, frame cracked. Driver didn't stop, had to chase her down. This is on the back of being shouted at to get off the road 3 times in the last week. My experience is that things are getting worse in my local area of South Wales, which is a contrast to a weekend riding in Shropshire where I had a pretty pleasent experience of corteous drivers. 

It's a pretty depressing state.

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NOtotheEU replied to Pingz | 8 months ago
3 likes

Glad you weren't hurt badly. I'd have been hit by this VW 2 days ago if I hadn't swerved off the road the moment I saw this in my mirror.

 

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NOtotheEU replied to NOtotheEU | 8 months ago
5 likes

Good news, just had this email;

Thank you for your submission via NextBase on the 11/09/23. I have reviewed your submission and I have reported driver for prosecution. I will be in contact if I need any further information from you.

Not so good news, the driver who came after me with a golf club admitted the offence and has received a community resolution with an anger management course as he was a first time offender. At least I don't have to go through a trial though.

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chrisonabike replied to NOtotheEU | 8 months ago
2 likes

I'm glad to hear - though not so much on Grimace and Vomit with the golf clubs. First time *reported* because the victim remained conscious / wasn't intimidated, more like. At least when they're in bother again (what are the odds...) then in theory there's something in the record. (I have been told by more knowledgeable people this is very useful, I've no personal experience).

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NOtotheEU replied to chrisonabike | 8 months ago
2 likes

I was shocked they weren't already known to the police too. If it's genuinely a one off (unlikely) then hopefully no one else will be on the receiving end in the future and if it's a regular thing then at least they are known to the police now.

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chrisonabike replied to NOtotheEU | 8 months ago
2 likes

It may just be a "first appearance in a leading role"...

Maybe comes down to "what we know vs. what we can prove"? Plus if you nicked *everyone* in certain circles who would you get your information from?

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wycombewheeler replied to NOtotheEU | 8 months ago
4 likes

NOtotheEU wrote:

Not so good news, the driver who came after me with a golf club admitted the offence 

At least he did come after you with a two tonne range rover, the police would have put it down as "just wanting a word with you"

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perce | 8 months ago
11 likes

Couldn't agree more and glad you are ok. I had a similar experience with a liveried van at the weekend, the driver of which seemed to find it amusing to inch nearer and nearer to the kerb in what seemed a deliberate attempt to knock me off my bike. I got in touch with his employer who seemed genuinely sorry for what had happened and assured me action would be taken against the offender. As you say most drivers are pretty good giving plenty of room but then you encounter someone like that and it makes you wonder what's going through their heads. Take care.

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ktache | 8 months ago
9 likes

I feel for you George.

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