Safe cycling advocate Cycling UK is calling on police forces across the UK to adopt a new initiative from West Midlands Police to target ‘close pass’ drivers who put cyclists at risk.
The charity supported the police during the initiative’s summer pilot, which saw non-uniformed officers cycling on busy routes to look for drivers who didn’t leave a safe 1.5 metre gap when overtaking cyclists. Now officially launched, two officers will work together to pull over drivers overtaking cyclists inappropriately. Offenders will take part in a roadside educational briefing and repeat offenders, or those deemed particularly dangerous, could be prosecuted.
“Studies showed that the danger of close passing was one of the biggest things deterring people from cycling in the city,” the West Midlands Police said in an email to The Spoke. “In the last 4 years there had been over 500 serious or fatal incidents in the West Midlands. The cyclist was very rarely at fault.”
Cycling UK is excited about the prospect of the initiative becoming more widespread. “The whole of the UK could benefit,” said Sam Jones, Campaigns Coordinator for the charity. He told The Spoke that with funding for traffic policing heavily reduced across the UK compared to other areas, this was a cost effective way of supporting cyclist safety.
There appears to be a need for such schemes. Almost 15,000 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the UK between 2010 and 2014, according to the Department for Transport. However, the risk is greater in certain areas. Cyclists in London and the North West were 50% more likely to be involved in an incident that resulted in death or serious injury than in the West Midlands.
The Metropolitan Police, in answer to The Spoke’s questions, said that it’s Cycle Safety Team now has 33 full time officers deployed to “casualty hotspots”. The team “targets the offences and locations of greatest risk to cyclists”. This includes close passing.
Ruth Owens, who cycles on busy London roads to get to work each day, thinks that anything to make the roads safer is a positive thing. “It should be safe enough on regular roads to use those roads,” she said.
However, Andy Smith, another regular London cyclist, highlights that it is a two-way relationship. “What I see more is cyclists going through red lights. It’s an equal responsibility – you’re both using the road.”
Cycling UK is hoping to work with West Midlands police to produce a ‘How To’ guide for other police forces, as well as an online tool for citizens to use to encourage their police to give the idea a go. The organisation believes the project has potential. Jones explained that when it launched on Friday, using just two police officers, 8 people were pulled over within the first hour. “One was a driving instructor giving a lesson. The police were very angry.”