The Government has rejected calls for legislation to be enacted requiring motorists to leave at least three feet passing distance when overtaking cyclists despite a petition on the Prime Minister’s official website attracting 2,600 signatures in favour of such a move.
Last October, we reported on how Tom Amos had set up a petition, 3feet2pass, on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s website, www.number10.gov.uk. The petition attracted the support of Florida-based cyclist safety campaigner Joe Mizereck, who has successfully led moves to have such a law enacted in a number of states across the US.
The petition sparked a lively debate here on road.cc, with many readers suggesting that the UK should adopt laws similar to those in force in several fellow EU member states including Germany and Spain that require motorists to leave 1.5 metres, equivalent to around five feet, when overtaking cyclists.
Others argued that the focus should instead be on better enforcement of existing legislation to ensure the safety of cyclists, a view shared by cyclists’ organisation, CTC, which pointed out that the Highway Code already advises drivers to leave at least as much room when passing cyclists as they would when overtaking a car.
At the time, CTC Campaigns Co-ordinator Debra Rolfe told road.cc: “There’s very many ways that Britain differs from the rest of Europe in how it protects cyclists and this [the minimum passing distance] is only one of them. We feel like it’s a bit of a red herring and that legislating a minimum passing distance is not even going to begin to address the problems that we’re facing in the UK.”
She continued, “We feel that the major problem is the lack of traffic law enforcement and that’s why we’re running the Stop SMIDSY campaign” – which urges cyclists to report instances of bad driving – “and one of the things we’re calling for in the Stop SMIDSY campaign is increased resources towards road traffic policing.”
In rejecting the petition, a statement on the Number 10 website said: “The Government have no plans to introduce the proposed legislation. All drivers have a duty of care and consideration to other road users. Rules 163, 211 - 213 of The Highway Code advises drivers to give cyclists at least as much room as a car when overtaking and to give them plenty of room and pay attention to any sudden change they may have to make.
“Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words ‘MUST/MUST NOT’. In addition, the rule includes an abbreviated reference to the legislation which creates the offence. An explanation of the abbreviations can be found in ‘The road user and the law’.
The statement continued: “Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts (see ‘The road user and the law’) to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.
“The Code can be purchased from most good bookshops, price £2.50, or viewed online [here].”
Following today's announcement of the rejection of the petition, Ms Rolfe told road.cc: "It is clear that the Government needs to prioritise the level of traffic policing to increase cyclists' safety. Just think, if every driver followed The Highway Code there would be far fewer cyclists hurt on our roads. CTC Campaigns team continues to urge the Government to take all bad driving, not just overtaking, seriously."
Meanwhile, Tom Amos was understandably dismayed but not surprised by the decision, telling road.cc: "The news that the Government rejects the petition is disappointing although somewhat expected."
However, he believes that the reasons given for the rejection of his petition did show some inconsistency, saying: "Interestingly, the response seems to contradict itself. On the one hand, the writer suggests that the rules on distance between a motorist and cyclist are advisory but then goes on to state that many of the code rules are mandatory. How is this a relevant point when the writer recognises that this particular rule is only advisory? Why isn't this rule mandatory then?
"The response falls into the trap of advising cyclists to buy the Highway Code," he added. "Many cyclists, including myself, hold a driving license and are more than aware of the rules contained in it - we just wish that more drivers would read it and pay regard to it!
"As more countries sign up to legislation based on the 3 feet 2 pass rule, I remain hopeful that the Government will be forced to return to this issue in the future," he concluded.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.