Dangerous Overtaking – DfT acknowledges the problem but will not act.

Like many cyclists, I have been getting fed up with the small but significant percentage of drivers who pass far too close when overtaking, and like many others, I have been looking at how we might try to get things changed. This is a well-trodden path that, so far, seems to have led nowhere, but we have to try.

A big part of the problem is ignorance on the part of the drivers as to what the need is or why it is there; they tend to assume that as long as they don’t actually hit the cyclist everything is fine, and that it is reasonable to assume the cyclist will always be able to maintain a straight line parallel to the kerb when being overtaken (which it isn’t). Car overtaking a bicycle, leaving 8 feet of space. They are often quite hopeless at judging things like where the cyclist will be in relation to their car at the point where they start to pull in, resulting in their pulling in far too early. The current guidance in the highway code, however, is quite simple, requiring very little skill or judgement to execute: “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”. There is a picture alongside this rule showing clearly that, in the simplest case, the space between the overtaking vehicle and the kerb should be at least one car’s width plus a bit more. This picture is particularly good because it also shows how far a cyclist should be from the kerb when cycling in secondary position. Unfortunately, the wording in the code is actually quite vague. It could equally be interpreted to mean that, if you would leave six inches clearance between your car and the other when overtaking, then that is enough clearance to leave between your car and a bicycle, which is, of course, totally inadequate.

There are some campaigns to try to get the law changed, or at least to get the highway code changed to make the requirements clearer to drivers. One such campaign is the Three Feet Please campaign, on whose web-site there is a page that helps you to send an email to your local MP about the problem. I used this site before Christmas to write to my MP and was pleasantly surprised to receive a (paper) letter of acknowledgement and then eventually, last week, a reply with a letter attached from Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport. So, I started to read.

As I read, I started to be quite encouraged with the reply, quoting as it did figures about passing too close being the contributory factor in 25% of serious cyclist injuries and 29% of cyclist fatalities. It acknowledged the existence of the e-petition for a minimum of 3 feet passing distance to be introduced and mentioned another petition for 1.5m, of which I wasn’t already aware. It cited research showing that 50% of female and 35% of male cyclists felt intimidated when passed at narrow places on the road and mentioned that, at 30mph, most people found 0.5m passing distance dangerous. All promising stuff.

Then I turned the page over to the side that was signed by Mr Baker himself. This basically said that they consider the highway code guidance to be fine as it is, and finished by saying: “The Government, therefore, has no plans to make the proposed amendments to the Highway Code calling for a legal obligation to give 3 feet clearance”, adding in the signing off paragraph: “I hope this reply is helpful.”.

So, the DfT really doesn’t give a monkeys cuss about the antics of prats like this one:

or this one:

or this tosser:

or this idiot, whom I quickly caught up with anyway at the next lights:

or this ignorant twit, who thinks the existence of a narrow cycle lane gives him carte-blanche to ignore highway code rule 163 (and then moves into the outside lane anyway!):

or this impatient idiot who can’t wait just a few seconds to pass safely:

or this impatient Mr Toad:

or this lunatic, who also jumps the red light:

.. oh, I could go on like this for ages, but you get the picture.

Of course, it is probably sensible to realise that changing the highway code is unlikely to have any effect in any case, because these drivers probably haven’t read it for 20 or 30 years anyway.

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