Drivers urged to give cyclists space in North East road safety campaign

Duncan Dollimore (third from the right) and the RSGB NE team
Road Safety GB North East (RSGB NE) together with police, fire officers, and the Police and Crime Commissioners from both Cleveland and Durham, have begun working together on a new regional initiative to help safeguard cyclists and educate road-users about safer overtaking and hopefully eradicate 'close passes'.

According to Road Safety GB North East figures, pedal cyclists only account for about 1% of the total miles driven and ridden around the region – yet sadly they make up 8% of road traffic casualties and 13% of serious injuries.

With cyclist casualties in the region peaking in July, August and September, as around a third of all collisions involving bikes happen over the summer months, RSGB NE has launched its campaign at a time when collisions and injuries involving cyclists typically increases.

Between 2012 and 2016 there were 3,044 cyclists reported as injured on North East roads. However, actual numbers could be much higher as incidents resulting in slight injuries, or where no other vehicle was involved, are unlikely to be reported to police.

Paul Watson, Chairman of RSGB NE, said: “During the summer, we see cyclist casualties increase, but the majority of collisions are preventable. If everyone was a little more cautious and alert, slowed down and gave each other space, a lot of accidents could be avoided.

“I don’t believe drivers knowingly put cyclists at risk, but perhaps they’re not looking for them, or maybe they are unaware of the dangers of close pass overtaking. People overtaking too close to cyclists is a cause of a number of collisions, however, there may be numerous near misses that we know nothing about. We are asking all road-users to look out for each other and to help safeguard cyclists.”

Cleveland and Durham Road Policing Unit have received a Close Pass safety mat from Cycling UK, which they will use to demonstrate to drivers the minimum space they should allow when overtaking bikes. Motorists should leave at least 1.5m of space between their vehicle and the cyclist when overtaking at speeds less than 30mph, and this should be greater in poor weather conditions or when the car is travelling at speed.

In the coming weeks, officers will take the mat to events across the North East to demonstrate safe passing distances in the hope that ‘close pass’ incidents decrease.

Close passes are unfortunately a regular occurrence for most cyclists, and can be especially off-putting for new and less confident cyclists.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK Senior Road Safety Campaigner

According to the RSGB NE, failing to look properly is the most common cause of cycle-related collisions – accounting for three quarters – with men aged between 35 and 44 being the most at-risk group.

RSGB NE is therefore passing out the following advice for drivers:

  • Take a second longer at junctions and roundabouts to look for cyclists.
  • Look over your shoulder to check your blind spot before pulling out.
  • Give cyclists at least 1.5m when overtaking, more in poor weather or when travelling at speed.
  • Look over your shoulder before opening the car door, or try doing it with your left hand - do the Dutch Reach (see video below). 
  • Be patient when travelling behind cyclists if it’s unsafe to overtake.
  • Be prepared for cyclists to move across the lane to avoid a hazard or take a corner.

They are also giving the following advice to cyclists:

  • Be seen. Use reflectors and ensure your lights are working in the dark/poor weather.
  • When preparing to turn left at a junction, avoid travelling along the left side of a lorry.
  • Position yourself in the centre of the lane at junctions and roundabouts.
  • Ride on the left edge of the traffic flow – at least 0.75m away from the kerb.
  • Look for drivers to react to you. If you don’t see a reaction, they may not have seen you.
  • Avoid riding or waiting in blind spots.
  • Overtake vehicles on the right-hand side when oncoming traffic allows.

Cycling UK has also published its own advice on how to cycle in traffic from our resident cycle trainer, Julie Rand. 

Ron Hogg, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I am very supportive of this important campaign. There are too many accidents on our roads involving cyclists. The advice being offered to drivers and cyclists can really help to reduce casualties.”

Barry Coppinger, Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “As a keen cyclist, I’m delighted to see the Close Pass scheme rolled out across the North East.

“We have had cyclists sadly die on Cleveland’s roads and several serious collisions, which is why it’s so important we educate drivers and cyclists to be more aware of each other. I encourage people to attend the events where the mats will be displayed to learn more about how to stay safe on our region’s roads.”

West Midlands Police launched the first Close Pass campaign last year to target drivers who overtook cyclists too closely. As a result, they saw a 50% drop in close pass offences in the first three months after the campaign. 

The initiative was supported by Cycling UK who called it the "best cyclist road safety initiative ever", and prompted us to launch our £12,000 ‘Too Close for Comfort’ fundraising campaign to enable specially-designed Close Pass mats to be distributed to every Police Force in the UK, which demonstrate a safe passing distance and can be used to educate drivers.

So far, 34 police forces out of 45 UK police forces are rolling out Close Pass campaigns.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's Senior Road Safety campaigner - who attended the RSGB NE campaign launched at North Durham Academy in Stanley - welcomed the RSGB's campaign saying: “Close passes are unfortunately a regular occurrence for most cyclists, and can be especially off-putting for new and less confident cyclists. Such dangerous manoeuvres are rarely done from a position of malice by the driver, but rather ignorance. That’s why Cycling UK is so supportive of initiatives like this run by Road Safety GB North East, which places education first.”