In the U.K., police have started targeting drivers who squeeze past cyclists. Cycle cops from the West Midlands Police force will ride on the area’s busiest roads, equipped with helmet cameras. If a driver "close passes" them—overtakes without leaving enough space—then the cops radio ahead to their buddies, who will pull over the offending driver.
It sounds like a dream come true for cyclists. Having a car hurtle past you, or pull in sharply after overtaking (often as seemingly-deliberate harassment) is not only dangerous but frustrating, because you know that the driver will get away with it. Not any more. Any driver who is caught leaving less than the recommended 1.5 meter (about five feet) "safety zone" will be cautioned or prosecuted.
"Close passes by motorists are hazardous for cyclists and extremely intimidating," says David Cox, Chair of Trustees at the U.K. Cycling charity. "This may be due to ignorance of the Highway Code and carelessness but sometimes it is done deliberately and aggressively."
Warnings and publicity campaigns don’t seem top work, so the West Midlands Police have turned to prosecution to protect cyclists.
In a four-day trial last month, officers pulled over 80 drivers, giving them warnings and advice. They also prosecuted 38 drivers. Even the roadside advice session is great. It lasts for 15 minutes, and "involves officers illustrating the dangers of close passing to drivers on a full-scale floor mat that will be rolled out in the holding area." One can imagine a driver, already rushing and late for work, getting increasingly uncomfortable as they’re patiently educated by a cop, in full view of other drivers.
"Drivers need to consider that a cyclist they are overtaking could be a police officer—and if they don’t pass them safely they could be prosecuted," says West Midlands Police traffic officer and cyclist, PC Mark Hodson, in a statement. Some of the summer’s 38 prosecutions came from evidence supplied by regular cyclists using helmet cams. This policy will continue, so cyclists should wear cameras when they’re commuting, in order to gather evidence of bad driving.
According to the police, close-passing is the "single biggest deterrent stopping more people from taking to their bikes." Riding on a main road will never feel safe, even when cars pass a good distance away. Main roads should have separated bike lanes. But turning the law on dangerous drivers is fantastic. If nothing else, imagine the satisfaction of riding your bike past the police holding area and seeing the naughty car drivers lined up for some education.
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