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Hedge-blog: How to drive considerately around cyclists

14th September 2014

When riding my bike, I've never thought that a driver was deliberately out to injure me. Nevertheless, almost every time I go cycling, I experience inconsiderate or dangerous behaviour by drivers. So it seems that there are a lot of people who simply don't know how they should be driving around cyclists.

Where does the fault lie? With driving instructors and testers, who have produced generations of drivers who don't know how to treat cyclists? With local authorities and highways engineers, who have built roads that don't accommodate cyclists? With the police, who don't do anything about low-level infractions on the roads? Or with the government, which hasn't paid for cycle infrastructure, or for campaigns to educate road users?

Probably the  answer is all of the above.

I hope that all of those people will begin to take action, to make the roads safe for cycling. In the meantime, these are my tips for drivers, on how to drive considerately around cyclists.

1. Overtaking

The biggest issue by far, for me, is fast, close passes. The problem would be resolved if everyone stuck to the Highway Code, and left plenty of room when overtaking.

The relevant rule is rule 163 of the Highway Code, and the accompanying photograph of a car overtaking a cyclist.

Rule 163 is pretty comprehensive. It says, about overtaking generally:

  • don't assume that you can simply follow a vehicle ahead which is overtaking; there may only be enough room for one vehicle
  • allow plenty of room; move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in
  • give way to oncoming vehicles before passing parked vehicles or other obstructions on your side of the road
  • give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see rules 211-213)

Rule 213: 'Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.'

If all drivers overtook like the one in the Highway Code photo, there would be no problem. Many do, especially when it's easy to do so. However, when it's a choice between slowing down and waiting to overtake, or doing a close or dangerous pass, too often drivers' impatience wins out.

From my experience driving and cycling, I would make these suggestions for practical situations.

a) Rule 163 applies all the time, not just when it's easy to give lots of space. If the road is narrow, and there's oncoming traffic, or an upcoming pedestrian refuge, so that you can't leave plenty of room, this is not a good reason to overtake anyway, giving less room. Instead, wait until you can overtake leaving plenty of room.

b) Rules 163 applies all the time, not more on Sunday mornings, and less on Friday afternoons. Of course, during the working week, people are sometimes in a hurry - to get to work, to take children to school, to pick children up from school, to get home, to take a child to a piano lesson, or for a million other reasons. However, these are not good reasons to take risks with other people's lives with dangerous overtakes, or even to frighten them with unnervingly close overtakes which don't result in injury or death. 

Even when you're in a hurry, be considerate and patient. There's every chance that a dangerous overtake won't get you where you're going any quicker, it'll just mean you wait a bit longer in a queue at the next traffic lights.

c) On country roads, there may be blind bends or blind rises ahead. Don't overtake if you can't see whether there's oncoming traffic. Wait until you can see far enough up the road.

d) Large vehicles such as 4x4s, tractors, vans, minibuses, and lorries can be more unnerving to cyclists, when they pass fast and close. They are louder, bigger, and create a more significant airwave. If you're driving one of these vehicles, try to be aware of this, and be especially considerate when passing. 

Also, these vehicles are usually wider, so make sure you judge the width of your vehicle well, and you know where the near side is, and how much space you're giving when passing. In the same way, if you have attached a trailer to your vehicle, you must be aware of it, and leave extra distance when pulling in after an overtake. 

e) When there are parked cars, don't expect a cyclist to cycle right next to them, to allow you space to overtake. It can and does happen that people open the door of their parked car without looking, leading to cyclists being 'doored'. Allow cyclists to 'take the lane' if necessary in this situation. Instead of driving aggressively right up behind a cyclist, back off and leave them a bit of space.

Road with parked cars

Generally, try to have the right mindset. When you come across someone cycling, is your overriding thought that you must get past them as soon as possible at all costs? Or do you accept that you may have to slow down and wait until it's safe to pass?

2. Oncoming cyclists

The same principles apply when you're passing cyclists coming in the opposite direction. Try not to pass fast and close, as this can be dangerous and will be intimidating.

a) On narrow roads, if there's only just enough space, and you're going to pass close to the cyclist, slow down.

b) If the cyclist moves over to the left, that is not a good reason for you to take more of the road, or even drive in the middle of a country road. Be considerate, and leave plenty of room between you and the cyclist.

c) Similarly, where the road is narrow because of parked cars, don't keep going fast if that will mean that you pass very close to a cyclist. Also, apply the same rules as you would when passing another car - don't just assume that you have priority over someone on a bike, because you're in a car. If a cyclist gives way to you, give a wave of acknowledgement, just as you would if it was another driver.

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