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Setting the Guidelines For Motorists When Overtaking Cyclists.

Group of people cycling
14th May 2014

It’s probably the case that most cycling accident claims involving motorists who fail to see a cyclist when turning left or do not leave enough road space to the cyclist when overtaking.

Unfortunately, there is no prescribed ruling for this most deadly of road manoeuvres - just vague guidelines. According to Rule 163 of the Highway Code the advice is to "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.”

In the Department for Transport's £80,000 'Think Cyclist' campaign, unveiled in September 2012, drivers are offered slightly better advice to "Give cyclists space – at least half a car’s width." Once again, there’s no reference to a measure of what a car width standard is simply because no two cars are likely to be identical.

Cyclists will often take matters into their own hands to prevent motorists performing negligent or reckless overtaking by cycling as far away from the kerb as possible so forcing overtaking vehicles to have to change lanes.

While occupying between a third and a half of road lane space might provide vital added visibility to drivers in both directions as opposed to being almost hidden by ‘hugging the kerb’, it unfortunately does not help to improve motorist’s attitudes towards cyclists.

The question of how much room should a passing vehicle really give a cyclist and whether this distance changes with vehicle size and speed is generally answered by cyclists themselves who have been known to advocate a ‘three foot’ rule of thumb. But how safe can a cyclist feel when a HGV looms alongside just two or three feet away as opposed to a small city runaround?

According to Think Cyclist at DirectGov, the number of cyclists reported to the police as seriously injured in a road accident increased by 16 per cent to 3,085 despite their traffic levels estimated to have risen by 2.2 per cent over the same period. So the situation for cyclists has not been improved significantly by taking a more assertive approach.

The ‘Think Cyclist’ checklist for motorists reads as follows:

Look out for cyclists, especially when turning and make eye contact if possible so they know you’re aware of their presence.
• Use your indicators to signal your intentions so that cyclists can react.
• Give cyclists at least half a car’s width space. If there isn’t sufficient space to pass, hold back. Cyclists may need to manoeuvre suddenly if the road is poor, it’s windy or if a car door is opened.
• Always check for cyclists when you open your car door.
• Avoid driving over advance stop lines which allow cyclists access to the front and increase their visibility.
• Follow the Highway Code including ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ signs and traffic lights.