As a cyclist when was the last time a car, truck or bus passed you too closely? This morning? Yesterday? Sadly in the UK this is a hazard every cyclist faces on a regular basis. This experience is said to be one of the greatest roadblocks to people who want to get out of their cars and commute by bike. Under the Highway Code, drivers need to give cyclists a car’s width when passing them, only a rare courtesy afforded cyclists by drivers these days. Now police in the West Midlands are striking back.
Over the coming year, policeman and women will ride their bikes on a number of busy roads. They will be ‘undercover’ – looking like any other rider, and certainly won’t be wearing bright yellow jackets marked ‘POLICE’ on their backs. They will however be carrying their radios and any car passing within 1.5 metres of them will have their details taken down and radioed back to a nearby police car who will pull the driver. In the worst cases the driver will be taken to court for dangerous driving, but for the most part, drivers will be asked to take a 15 minute roadside instructional course. If you gave the rider too little room because you’re ‘in a hurry’? The 15 minutes of your time will make you even later to your appointment!
This is the first regular sting operation of this kind in the UK by any police force. The West Midlands Police ran a pilot earlier this year and over four days stopped 80 drivers. Not a bad haul in terms of the amount of drivers stopped, but a very scary number from the point of cyclists – that a small police operation managed to stop 20 drivers a day shows just how regular the problem of close passing is!
In the West Midlands, there were 530 ‘KSI’ (Killed / Seriously Injured) accidents involving cyclists, of which 84% were in collisions with cars in 2015. Dealing with close passing is a potential lifesaver by virtue that enough people get pulled and educated, the problem should decrease. People also share their stories – telling mates down the pub that they got pulled for passing a cyclist too closely will put the wind up a few more drivers too.
Speaking of the issue, PC Mark Hodson, a West Midlands Police traffic officer said, “Cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces or obstacles like drain covers so it’s important to afford them plenty of room when overtaking. Some drivers get tunnel vision; they’re only focus is on getting from A to B as quickly as possible. They don’t pay any attention to vulnerable road users and we’ve attended some horrific scenes where cyclists have been wiped out by drivers who’ve not even seen them.”
It is high time that the West Midlands police force was copied by a number of other police forces nationwide. From the ordinary police officer’s point of view, attending an accident where a cyclist has gone under someone’s wheels is one of the worst jobs they have to do, and they attend to quite a few of these during their careers. Ultimately from the traffic officer bobby’s perspective they’d far rather be pulling drivers for what might happen than what has happened.