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Department for Transport to review Highway Code with aim of providing clearer guidance on how to safely overtake cyclists

Cycling UK welcomes move aimed at reducing number of close passes

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said that it is reviewing the Highway Code with the aim of providing clearer guidance to motorists on how to overtake cyclists safely and reduce the number of close passes bike riders experience.

News of the review was contained in a press release from the DfT this morning announcing the opening of a consultation into potential reform of the law regarding careless and dangerous cycling.

> Government opens dangerous and careless cycling law consultation

Currently, Rule 163 of the Highway Code says, among other things, that motorists should “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car,” and is accompanied by the photograph shown above.

Campaigners have urged however that there should be greater clarity over the minimum safe overtaking distance that drivers should provide.

The award-winning Operation Close Pass launched in late 2016 by West Midlands Police and since adopted by many other forces across the UK suggests that 1.5 metres should be the minimum space given.

> West Midlands Police outline how their award-winning Operation Close Pass will evolve

In today’s announcement, the DfT said that it is “looking at updating parts of the Highway Code, including measures to counter the dangerous practice of ‘close passing’ which puts people off cycling, and would benefit other vulnerable road users like horse riders.”

The news was welcomed by Cycling UK, which last year launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to buy ‘close pass mats’ which enable police officers to show drivers who have been seen overtaking cyclists too closely what the safe passing distance should be.

So far, 38 of the 45 police forces in the UK have received mats under Cycling UK’s Too Close For Comfort initiative.

However, the charity has highlighted research it commissioned earlier this year which showed that one in two drivers in the UK are unaware of the provisions of Rule 143 regarding how much space they should give cyclists and as’s own Near Miss of the Day series demonstrates, close passes are a daily occurrence for many riders.

In response to today’s announcement, cycling UK’s policy director, Roger Geffen, said: “Most close passes come from a position of ignorance rather than malicious intent and it’s heartening to see the government is acknowledging the problem of close passing with a review of the Highway Code.”

The DfT also said today that it aims to provide new design guidance for local authorities for cycling infrastructure.

Geffen said: “This is a vital move in the right direction. At present, the confusing plethora of often-contradictory design guidance is clearly failing to ensure safe and sensible designs.

“Too many cycle facilities in the UK are still worse than useless, and in some cases even downright dangerous,” he added.

Simon joined 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.

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vonhelmet | 5 years ago

You could make any law you wanted, but there’s like three traffic cops in the whole country, so it’s basicslly toothless.

Awavey | 5 years ago

It won't matter a jot what's written in the highway code on close passes,it's just a sop to get cycling organisations to accept introducing a bunch of new laws on cycling without grumbling too much,and so a politician can make the claim 'we've made the roads safer for you...' If they go down the route of recommended distances as you can't measure the distance reliably of a close pass how do you prosecute someone if they claimed they were actually 1.51metres from you, or you were 76cms from the kerb instead? And It can't be anything like you must give room,because how much space is room ? the whole purpose of these new dangerous cycling laws is apparently prosecutors don't like using laws that aren't specific enough. So it's a waste of time because nothing will change on drivers behaviour as there won't be flurry of prosecutions on it as it will be totally unenforceable anyway,even before accounting for the fact like with the using a mobile phone whilst driving law,there is no one around to enforce it anyway

HoarseMann | 5 years ago

It’s the wording in the Highway Code that is too vague. “As much room as 'you' would give a car” makes it sound like a personal choice! Not many seem to understand the significance of the accompanying photo.

As there's no definition of what constitutes 'close', the police are not interested unless there's injury or at least avoiding action taken by the cyclist.

The other problem is that much of what is taught in Bikeability is not in the Highway Code, such as appropriate use of primary/secondary position. So some motorists will see perfectly legitimate cycling as an illegal and dangerous manoeuvre, leading sometimes to a “punishment pass”.

Clearer wording in the Highway Code and a way of making prosecution feasible for close passes would be welcome. But the real problem is the lack of visible road policing, it feels like the Wild West out there sometimes. If they are not going to up the numbers of police, then they need to find a way of making dashcam/bikecam evidence carry more weight for prosecutions. At least that would be some deterrent. 

BehindTheBikesheds | 5 years ago

The HC is so fucked up and disgustingly bias toward the tin canners as to be one of the reasons why people are dying/seriously injured and not feeling safe whilst simply going from A-B.

It is used as an absolute against people on bikes yet rules like travel at a speed you can stop well within the distance you can see to be clear is totally ignored not just by the motorists but by police, by CPS and by judges, yet it's one, if not the most important statements in the HC, it should be a 'must' and backed by law, because by not doing so you are actually braking the law because you put fear of harm in the minds of others and pose a very real threat (to motorists as well as the more vulnerable) as we see by the numbers being killed/SI due far too often because people failed to abide by that rule.

But you know, bells and hi-vis, 'dangerous cycling' and making out people riding bikes should only be 75cm from the kerb.

I was overtaken a few months ago by two police motorcyclists far too close for the speed they were going (60mph), they stayed well within the lane  and were (just) within the border of 1.5m from the centre of my wheel (which I don't agree with anyway), they had all of the opposite lane to use, it would have been so easy for them to move into the opposite lane yet highly trained police thought it was okay to buzz a vulnerable road user at high speed. If that was 30mph then that wouldn't have had the same effect on how it made me feel but it wasn't.

That to me is were the 1.5m rule is bullshit, if I come past an old granny who is doing 10mph and give her 3-4 feet from the outside of her far right part of her body whilst I do 20mph in a car then that is one, it however is not fine when you're in a much bigger vehicle travelling 30mph. It os not fone when that same granny is cycling on a road and someone comes past at 40, 50, 60mph and gives that same space.

This is the crux f the problem, the politicians are utterly fucking clueless as to what the problems are or if they are aware then they are deliberately ignoring it and/or diverting away and pushing the blame elsewhere.

Not just reprehensible bit complicit in death and harm to society as a whole.

the little onion | 5 years ago

Local authorities should be liable for corporate manslaughter if they design fatally flawed cycling infrastructure.

brooksby | 5 years ago

Of course, this all might horribly backfire: I don’t have to imagine too hard to see local authorities and the dft saying “the road isn’t wide enough for motor vehicles to give 1.5 metres of space when passing a cyclist- well, not without inconveniencing a motorist! - so we’d better just ban cycling on this road, hadn’t we?”

hawkinspeter | 5 years ago

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that "provide new design guidance for local authorities for cycling infrastructure" is a complete waste of time as local authorities never bother following the guidance.

Grahamd replied to hawkinspeter | 5 years ago

hawkinspeter wrote:

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that "provide new design guidance for local authorities for cycling infrastructure" is a complete waste of time as local authorities never bother following the guidance.

Yes, it should read prosecute local authorities for providing inadequate or dangerous cycling infrastructure.


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