On UK roads, it’s reasonable to say that there can be a lot of prejudice directed towards cyclists. At times, fairly or not, cyclists can be regarded as an annoyance, and even sadly the victim of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour.
Due to these reservations towards two-wheeled road users, cyclists’ safety isn’t always a main priority for many, despite them arguably being the most vulnerable of all road users. After all, the statistics sadly speak for themselves: Brake, the road safety charity, found that 101 cyclists were killed on UK roads in 2017, and a further 3,698 were seriously injured.
Recently, cycling campaigners were delighted when a court in Northern Ireland refused to overturn a dangerous driving conviction into a lesser offence of “careless driving” relating to the “close pass” of a cyclist. Earlier this year, van driver Patrick John Kelly was banned from driving for one year after driving too closely to a group of 18 club cyclists partaking in a charity event in July 2018.
Although Mr Kelly was willing to admit to driving carelessly, the court refused this appeal.
The Urgent Need For Case Law Around Close Passes
Usually, motorists accused of passing a cyclist too closely are charged with the more minor offence of “careless driving” as opposed to “dangerous driving.” That’s why this case is so monumental; and with reports that one member of Spires Cycling Club affected by Mr Kelly’s recklessness was wobbling on his bike, and another was passed by a wing mirror just two inches away, it’s clear that there’s an urgent need for case law on the matter.
After being confronted by the cyclists at a petrol station, Mr Kelly insulted them further by uttering profanities towards them, and threatening to “get you ones next time.” It is hostile behaviour like this that helps to explain why just 2% of journeys in the UK are made by bike. How can we promote the healthy use of cycling when there is such fear and mistrust between the two parties?
That’s why David Bott is relieved to see a Judge finding in cyclists’ favour. A seasoned cyclist himself, he says, “The Highway Code states at paragraph 63, ‘Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.’ This almost never happens. It’s so common when I am cycling for cars to pass so close to me that I feel the wind caused by a car on my shin. It’s a very scary experience.
“This gives me no leeway whatsoever for error, and any stray move by either cyclist or car could lead to a catastrophe. So, I applaud the judgment made in this case, and I ask drivers to take heed of The Highway Code, and ensure to take care when overtaking.”
Unfortunately, the incident in Northern Ireland has had a lasting impact on two of the cyclists involved, as they haven’t returned to the road on two wheels since.
Cycling UK Support Court Ruling
Britain’s national cycling charity, Cycling UK, has been very vocal about their stance against the close and dangerous passes of cyclists. Their campaign, “Too Close For Comfort” gained a lot of traction, with the aim of raising awareness against the dangers that cyclists are up against on a daily basis.
Shockingly, police consider that 25% of serious collisions between cyclists and four-wheeled vehicles occur due to close passes. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why 62% of Brits consider cycling on our roads “too dangerous.”
Officers at West Midlands Police dressed in plain clothes on bike to monitor dangerous passes, and those found guilty were educated on how to pass cyclists safely. Those considered to be seriously risking a cyclist’s safety were prosecuted. Thankfully, the charity’s campaign was a roaring success, with the rate of collisions involving the death or serious injury of cyclists dropping by a respectful 20% within its first year.
Police recommend anybody wanting to report a close pass to contact their local force via calling 101 or by visiting their local police station.