Motorists challenged to pass the cycle safety test

Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service have joined forces with Thames Valley Police to remind drivers about how much room they need to allow to safely overtake cyclists on the roads.

Most drivers behave well around cyclists. However, research by Bath and Brunel universities found that regardless of what cyclists wore to make themselves more visible, around 1-2% of drivers will pass dangerously close when overtaking. Those drivers can have a significant impact on the cycling experience for many.

The latest cyclist casualty statistics show that in the past five years (2013-2017), 27% of cyclist casualties in Oxford were due to cyclist losing control - and this can be fatal if it happens when a vehicle is passing too close.

The team took up residence outside GoOutdoors just off the Abingdon Road and spoke to cyclists to advise on the best ways to stay safe, providing hi-vis gear free where it was needed.

They also staged a special operation where motorists who had overtaken a police cyclist dangerously were invited to speak to a police officer about the dangers of the close pass. The photo above shows you just how close some cars got.

One van and four cars were stopped for close passes and the drivers elected to receive education. Additionally the team also stopped two people on mobile phones, one person parking on zig-zags, and a motorcyclist was given ticket for careless driving for pulling out in front of motorcyclist cutting him up. One driver was stopped with no licence.

130 cyclists stopped during the event and were given free lights and hi-vis items to help them be safer on the roads. 

A right to be on the road

Andy Ford, Road Safety Manager at the county council’s Fire and Rescue Service said: “Cyclists have as much right to be on the road as cars and to travel safely.

“We share responsibility for taking care of each other on the road. Those of us inside vehicles can sometimes forget how vulnerable cyclists are, particularly if they aren’t confident, experienced riders.

“How would you feel if a cyclist fell off their bike just as you passed, would you regret not allowing enough space to avoid hitting them?

“The key piece of guidance about passing cyclists is you should give them at least as much room as you would do when overtaking a car. At a minimum, the passing space needed is 1.5 metres.”

Highway Code Rule 163 tells drivers to give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.

Education - getting the message across

In the coming months, Thames Valley Police will be sending plain-clothed officers on bikes to educate drivers who overtake cyclists too closely. Offenders will be pulled over and officers will explain what they did wrong and the potential consequences.

Sgt Rob Heard said: "This was a successful week working with our partners to help raise awareness to all road users on sharing the road together, looking out for each other and what dangers can arise from not be visible and riding without lights, to how dangerous and intimidating close passes of cyclists can be. 

"Ultimately we are about making the roads safer for all and make sure we all get to our destinations safely. We will be continuing these operations throughout the year.

"We are developing a mechanism to accept third party footage from initially vulnerable road users and identify and process any offences appropriately that may be detected, we hope to have this system in place later in the year."

Real life experience

Oxfordshire County Council's cycling Champion, County Councillor Suzanne Bartington (pictured above), is a keen cyclist and has been knocked off her bike in the past. She said: "The roads are there for everyone and I think everyone really wants to share them in safety.

"I cycle and drive and I know that it can sometimes seem hard to remember how vulnerable cyclists can be, but there's really no choice - you have to allow enough space to pass safely.

"I saw some of the people who were being spoken to by the police following a close pass and when they saw the video and were told of the consequences if they hit a cyclist the message hit home. It was really pleasing to see people leaving with a positive message and hopefully a slightly different attitude."