Road Safety News

Petition calls for 1m passing distance to protect cyclists

Monday 23rd May 2016


A petition has been launched calling for a legal minimum passing distance when drivers overtake cyclists.

The petition, set up by Tony Martin on the Government’s petition website, has attracted more than 16,000 signatures and will run until 24 October. 100,000 signatures are required to trigger a debate in Parliament.

The petition calls for drivers to give a one metre clearance when overtaking cyclists on roads with speed limits up to and including 30mph, while on roads with higher speed limits the petition says the minimum passing distance should be 1.5 metres.

The Highway Code currently advises motorists to give ‘plenty of room’ when passing cyclists, and the Government says any legislation of this type would be ‘difficult to enforce’.

ETSC data on the ‘death rate per billion kilometres cycled’ shows an 'urgent need' to improve safety for UK cyclists. At 22.4, the UK figure is far higher than Norway (11), Denmark (12.1), Netherlands (12.4) and Sweden (14.4).

The Government has issued the following response to the petition: “This Government currently does not have plans to legislate on a set minimum space (e.g. 1 metre) on roads with a speed limit of up to 30mph when overtaking a cyclist.

“This type of legislation would be extremely difficult to enforce and the Government does not believe that it would add to the existing rules and guidance, including those set out in the Highway Code, which advises drivers to give cyclists ‘at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car’.

“We are keeping this position under review, and are interested in learning from the experience of places where legislation of this type has been introduced.”


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The CTC (brand name Cycling UK, subject to a challenge) had an AGM vote on a passing motion, actual votes cast directly on the motion were 1188 for the motion and 844 against, but the proxy votes leaving it to the AGM Chair to decide how to vote resulted in the motion not being passed. CTC Council agrees that close overtaking should be tackled and says “It’s hazardous for cyclists and extremely intimidating”. The Highway Code is a combination of legal requirements and advice, speed limits, drink drive limits and vehicle load limits are all precise. Not hogging the central lane on motorways is legislation on a specific driving practice. The UK driving culture is not working that well with about 1 in 22 vehicle passing cyclists in urban areas within 1.0 metre, based on detailed measurements by Dr Walker, changes are needed. Legislation for passing cyclists and horses may be feasible.
Colin Clarke

Agree (5) | Disagree (2)

I don't think this is a good idea and I believe the CTC (now Cycling UK) are also opposed. The UK approach to traffic interaction and safety is based on the Highway Code, and (mostly) not on detailed, prescriptive legislation for specific manoeuvres. This seems to have worked pretty well. I've heard that in countries where this minimum passing distance law has been introduced, eg Australia, it has added to the tension between cyclists and motorists, which rarely works in the cyclist's favour.
David Davies, London

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Sorry correction, looking again at the data. From the 20 close passes, 8 occurred on main roads and 11 on regular urban roads. The vehicle types were mainly cars with a couple of HGV's, LGV/minbuses, buses and taxis.
Colin Clarke

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

Seems to me from the last statement from Colin that the overriding consideration for wider vehicles ie. buses and HGV.s was the actual overall width of the carriageway and road space availability as opposed to the need to keep safe distance between themselves and the cyclists. If the roads were wider there should be less of a problem. We don't have much of a problem where I live... most cyclist ride on the pavements. The solution, make the roads wider.
R Craven Blackpool

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Detailed measurements of the clearance between vehicles and bicycle were taken in urban areas by Dr Ian Walker from Bath University who reported on 2355 vehicle passes. Approximately 107 passes were within 1 metre and 20 passing within 0.8 metre. That is approximately 1 in 22 passing within one metre and 1 in 80 passes were within 0.8 metre. He reported being hit twice during the tests. The mean overtaking distances ranged from cars at 1.33 metre to buses at 1.08 metre. Buses averaged 1.08 m and HGV’s 1.14 m and both are referred to by RoSPA as risk factors in passing too close to cyclists. From the 20 close passes only one was by an ordinary car, 8 were from HGV’s and 10 from short utility/pick ups type vehicles. The average distance for the 8 HGV’s was 0.68 metres. Driving habits need to change for some.
Colin Clarke

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Is this not just the horse story from a couple of weeks ago transferred to cyclists?

We have suitable legislation, that of driving without due care, which is already under enforced due to lack of resources.

When I first learned to drive, I was taught to give *all* road users suitable space, with suitable being a dynamic concept to account for many variables, space available, speed of everyone around, road layout, sight lines, how much space I have, how much space the other needs, even what I am driving is part of that dynamic value.

As for the RoSPA report mentioned, I bet it contains little or no data about whether or not the cycle should have, or could safely have, been in a position for such a collision. I have mentioned my thoughts on this before.
steve, watford

Agree (14) | Disagree (2)

They have a similar law in France. I have seldom seen it obeyed and have never seen it enforced.
Robert Bolt

Agree (9) | Disagree (1)

Rod, you need to remember that it is not only the countries with a better road safety record than GB that have "presumed liability", as you call it, most of those with a worse record have it too. In fact the UK is one of only a handful of countries in Europe that do not have it. As there is no demonstrable advantage, in road safety terms, to having it, I'm not sure why you think it relevant here.
Charles, England

Agree (7) | Disagree (2)

Rod's comment on strict liability ties in with the thread in the 'sticky bonnet on Google's cars' story, where the more dominant road user (for want of a better expression) and presumed to be the motorised, faster moving road user, must learn to accept ultimate responsibility for their actions with respect to the slower moving, more vulnerable road users.

If we can't pass a cyclist safely due to lack of space, or oncoming traffic, well we just have to wait until we can (unlike the driver of a SUV behind me the other day who thought we should have both passed the two cyclists on a blind bend).
Hugh Jones

Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

An article may be published detailing some of the main issues.

European data on the death rate per billion kilometre cycled reported, Norway with 11.0 cyclist deaths, Denmark 12.1, Netherlands 12.4, Sweden 14.4 and Great Britain with 22.4. GB shows an urgent need to improve safety for cyclists.

More than half the states in the USA have passing laws. Some states in Australia, parts or Europe and Canada. How the laws are enforced and passing distance has been addressed but improvements could be made.

Queensland reported on the outcome from their passing law. The number of serious (fatal and hospitalisations) reduced from 674 to 485. The number of fatalities reduced from 23 to 10. The police reported; ‘In conclusion, from the perspective of police officers, the introduction of the MPD road rule has improved cyclist safety despite the difficulties of enforcement leading to few infringements being issued.’

RoSPA) reported;
‘In 2014 21,287 cyclists were injured in reported road accidents, including 3,514 who are killed or seriously injured.’ & ‘However, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) present a particular danger for cyclists, especially in London where around 20% of cyclist fatalities occur involve an HGV. These often occur when an HGV is turning left at a junction’. About one quarter of accidents resulting in serious injury to a cyclist involved an HGV, bus or coach ‘passing too close’ to the rider’.

Measurements of the clearance between vehicles and bicycle were taken by Dr Ian Walker from Bath University who reported on 2355 vehicle passes. Approximately
1 in 22 passes were within 1.0 metre. He reported being hit twice during the tests.
Colin Clarke

Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

Could someone explain how "advice to give motorists plenty of room" is easier to enforce than "give cyclists 1 metre"?

Surely if the gov was interested in learning then it would have found that in so many other countries it is "presumed liability" that provides the foundation for the interaction between vulnerable and non-vulnerable road users.
Rod King, Cheshire 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (10) | Disagree (8)

I prefer a responsibility of both road users to drive/ride safely. I personally think that if a driver is told to pass with a 1m gap then if they do that some may start to think that is safe and relax on other aspects of passing the cyclist. It is obviously far more complex than there is time to go into here but there are laws already out there to cover this.
Nick, Lancashire

Agree (11) | Disagree (2)

To be realistsic the distance one should give in overtaking would be the fall area. Similar to motorcyclists or horse rider who would fall or be thrown from their bikes or horses. That would be at least 30 ft in urban areas for a motorcycle and horse rider and at least ten foot for a bike. How's about that for being a safe distance.
R.Craven Blackpool

Agree (7) | Disagree (3)

Colin, this requested law sounds particularly impractical. How will the gap be measured? Won't it also need a complementary clause prohibiting cyclists from filtering down on the left of any vehicle to avoid a sub 1-metre gap being created in traffic and caused by the cyclist rather than the motorist?

And as we have seen with the mobile phone law; providing the law is one thing, getting anybody to comply with it is an entirely different matter.
Charles, England

Agree (24) | Disagree (4)

Parliament and MPs have a responsibility to make the road safe. Improving road safety is one of the most important duties of any government. They can provide a passing law and reduce deaths.
Colin Clarke

Agree (4) | Disagree (18)

Anyone raising a petition to support the government's common sense position on this? That's the one I will sign.
Pat, Wales

Agree (19) | Disagree (4)