CTC rejects calls to back minimum passing distance - but what do you think?

Vote in our poll to help us discover what Britain's cyclists really think

by Simon_MacMichael   November 16, 2009  

3ft Please jersey UK

The cyclists’ organisation CTC has rejected calls to throw its weight behind a campaign to introduce a five-foot-to-pass rule in the UK, and says that its priority is to improve the levels of enforcement of existing traffic laws.

Last week on road.cc, we reported how cycling safety campaigner Joe Mizereck, whose website www.3feetplease.com has helped have a three-foot minimum passing distance introduced in a number of states in the US, had backed moves to seek a five-foot minimum in the UK, and had thrown the gauntlet down for CTC to do likewise.

Such a rule would bring the country into line with several other EU member states where a 1.5-metre minimum passing distance has been adopted, such as Germany, Spain and, other than in urban areas where it is 1 metre, France.

Mizereck, who dreamt up his campaign’s ‘3 feet please’ cycling jersey, had initially suggested on road.cc that CTC back Tom Amos’s petition to have a similar rule implemented in the UK. But on learning that 1.5 metres was the law elsewhere in Europe, and that a separate petition had been launched seeking five-foot clearance, he agreed that it made sense for cyclists here to push for a minimum of five feet.

CTC doesn’t share his opinion, however. Its campaigns co-ordinator, Debra Rolfe, told road.cc: “If we thought it was a good idea to support this, we’d be supporting it because we work for the cycling community and that’s what we’ve been doing for 130 years.”

According to Rolfe, “There’s very many ways that Britain differs from the rest of Europe in how it protects cyclists and this [the minimum passing distance] is only one of them. We feel like it’s a bit of a red herring and that legislating a minimum passing distance is not even going to begin to address the problems that we’re facing in the UK.”

She continued, “We feel that the major problem is the lack of traffic law enforcement and that’s why we’re running the Stop SMIDSY campaign, and one of the things we’re calling for in the Stop SMIDSY campaign is increased resources towards road traffic policing.”

As for Mizereck and his 3-foot-please campaign, Rolfe maintains that “sometimes with policy changes, they can’t be summarised on a T-shirt.”

But given the number and nature of comments road.cc has received on this subject during in recent weeks during our coverage of the three-foot petition and subsequent moves to seek a five-foot minimum instead, it’s clear that there are a lot of British cyclists out there who would like to see some kind of minimum safe passing distance enshrined in law.

It’s clear that irrespective of Mizereck’s involvement, it’s an issue is now a hot topic of debate in the UK cycling community, so tell us what you think – is CTC right in its current stance, or would you like to see them press for a minimum safe passing distance when overtaking on British roads?

We’ve put a poll up on road.cc, which you’ll find here, and we’re very interested in finding out what you think.

30 user comments

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Quote:
As for Mizereck and his 3-foot-please campaign, Rolfe maintains that “sometimes with policy changes, they can’t be summarised on a T-shirt.”

But you can summarise them by dressing someone up as a lion then?

Spinning on a wheel

Hammy's picture

posted by Hammy [97 posts]
16th November 2009 - 14:46

4 Likes

3 feet is probably enough if you're being passed at 30 mph by a car.

No way is it enough if the overtaking vehicle is a truck travelling at 70.

I'm sceptical about yet another law, personally - look how the law on handsfree mobiles is enforced now...

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

John_the_Monkey's picture

posted by John_the_Monkey [422 posts]
16th November 2009 - 15:11

3 Likes

LOL @ Hammy

Perhaps all we all need is a 5ft stick sticking out the right of our bikes, and then, if a car hits - we know they are too close?

jobysp's picture

posted by jobysp [145 posts]
16th November 2009 - 15:31

4 Likes

I do not see how starting a whinging campaign against motorists will help. The last thing cyclists need is to create bad feeling with motorists. And as is often stated, most cyclists are motorists as well in any case.

CTC will not be giving their support to the 3 feet campaign? Frankly, that's no great loss.

I guess it's important for Ms Rolfe to remind us that the CTC have been working in cyclist's interests for 130 years because otherwise one might actually wonder what they do.

posted by Tom Amos [246 posts]
16th November 2009 - 15:57

2 Likes

I am not surprised by Ms. Rolfe and the CTC's decision. It's not their idea and it should have been their idea a long time ago. I know it. They know it. We all know it. So I get it. But, here's what I cannot get, how they can allow their pride to get the best of them and lose their focus on doing what's good and right for cyclists. Pride is a terrible thing, especially when lives are at stake...and let there be no question about this, lives are at stake.

So, where does this leave UK cyclists? You have a choice. Bow down and accept the verdict of the CTC or move forward and do what's good and right...act to save cyclists' lives by working toward the adoption of a law that requires motorists to give you at least 1 meter clearance in the city and 1.5 metres clearance in the country when passing you from the rear. You deserve to know that you have at least this amount of space protected by law. And as motorists come to learn that this is required of them, UK cyclists will be safer and fewer lives will be lost. Those two outcomes alone should be enough to move every UK cyclist into action...and I should hope, the CTC as well.

Do this for yourself and for all UK cyclists and make cycling safer for everyonem, please.

Joe Mizereck
joe@3feetplease.com

joemizereck's picture

posted by joemizereck [17 posts]
16th November 2009 - 16:02

2 Likes

To save the debate on details, why not call it 'Safe Passing Distance'?

To be honest if it goes to parliament, it is likely to be investigated in detail, and the final proposal is likely to be based on what has worked elsewhere, and and what is practical here.

The most important thing is to have such a law. In my opinion, it is exactly this sort of step/campaign that will will serve to start changing the attitude of the non-cycling public towards cyclists.

The CTC might say the wider problem is bigger than this and they'd be right, but wringing hands isn't going to help, and I doubt a single motorist I know has a clue what SMIDSY means - sad but true.

I'd be happier if the CTC started working on driver education, not chastisement - we need an ongoing campaign similar to the Think! Bike! campaign used to protect motorcyclists, as well as cyclist education to help with cyclist behaviour and safe road skills.

A scary TV campaign would make a big difference I think... Stop worrying about putting people off cycling already. We all love it too much to be put off, just make it safer!

[as an aside I think many safety issues for motorcyclists have a lot in common with cyclists - why not have cars pass not just cyclists, but scooters and motorbikes too at a safe distance - if we all work together we can probably achieve more]

posted by andyn [7 posts]
16th November 2009 - 16:45

2 Likes

The CTC have been at the forefront of a great many successful campaigns for cyclists rights over the years, and bring great value to the British cyclist.

Just because they don't back your campaign Tom, doesn't make them a worthless organisation, far from it.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
16th November 2009 - 16:53

2 Likes

@DaSy : You are trying to quote me on words that I did not actually write. Please be more careful in what you write in future!

posted by Tom Amos [246 posts]
16th November 2009 - 17:12

2 Likes

DaSy wasn't quoting you Tom, he was summing up the tone of your last post. you can't go on about how it's no loss that the ctc don't support you and how nobody would know what they did if they didn't shout about it, and then cry bloody murder if that's summed up as you thinking that they're worthless. can you?

and i'd echo DaSy, the CTC have done, and continue to do, a lot for cycling in the UK. so instead of handbags, let's have a look at their response shall we and see why their stance is what it is? it's clearly not about whether they think it's a good idea, and all about where they think they should focus their limited resources.

Barry Fry-up's picture

posted by Barry Fry-up [186 posts]
16th November 2009 - 17:31

2 Likes

Tom Amos wrote:
I guess it's important for Ms Rolfe to remind us that the CTC have been working in cyclist's interests for 130 years because otherwise one might actually wonder what they do.

Tom Amos, I was not trying to quote you, or put words in your mouth; the inference however, of the part I have quoted above is that the CTC did nothing tangible of benefit to cyclists.

I for one don't wonder what they do, and am very happy with the service they provide to the cycling community.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
16th November 2009 - 17:34

2 Likes

I'm all for the CTC and the work they do and it's a fair point from Barry about them having to focus their limited resources BUT (and you knew it was coming) in this case they are wrong.

If your resources are limited surely it's better to focus on one tangible thing that would make a difference to a lot of people and which with a bit of pushing should be reasonably attainable - namely a minimum passing distance that's the same as some of our more enlightened European neighbours. Yeah, it might be more honoured in the breach, but it would be law and it would make motorists think and it would help to educate them.

Whereas the whole SMIDSY thing lacks focus - that lion lacks bite!. Whatever you think of 3ft at least those jerseys clearly communicate the campaigns message. The only people who know what SMIDSY means are cyclists (and probably only a minority of them). andyn is right on that, I also agree with him about education being a better tool for change than chastisement - maybe they should get together with the Institute of Advanced Motorists on that score, they seem to be rather pro cycling.

Denzil Dexter's picture

posted by Denzil Dexter [140 posts]
16th November 2009 - 17:45

1 Like

Motorcyclists know what SMIDSY means as well, being at the sharp end for the same reasons.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
16th November 2009 - 21:00

1 Like

"The only people who know what SMIDSY means are cyclists "

I only know what it means because it was the name of a team on Robot Wars.

sponging-machine's picture

posted by sponging-machine [108 posts]
16th November 2009 - 21:39

2 Likes

This is what the current guidance looks like;

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_070314

It's WAY more than 3ft. It might be too much when the motor vehicle is moving slowly, but it's pretty much where you want them if they're going at a fair clip.

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

John_the_Monkey's picture

posted by John_the_Monkey [422 posts]
17th November 2009 - 11:58

2 Likes

@ John : I feel that Rule 163 of the Highway Code is at the heart of the problem. It specifies a good distance but how many urban motorists actually pay regard to Rule 163? Very, very few. Other cyclists have commented (not only myself) that the picture on that page is laughable.

What is the point of having guidance such as Rule 163 if no motorist follows it? That's why I back the 3 feet minimum law. Because 3 feet would be better than the current 6 to 9 inches that many motorists allow. The CTC have spoken out against the 3 feet 2 pass rule but they don't seem to acknowledge that currently motorists do not give adequate space. They criticise yet do not put forward any alternative suggestion.

Do I think that 3 feet is going to be some sort of panacea? No, but it's going to be a heck of a lot better than the current situation where there is NO minimum distance whatsoever.

posted by Tom Amos [246 posts]
17th November 2009 - 17:22

1 Like

I think having 3ft as the minimum passing distance is a worse situation than present. We need to support the 5ft petition. CTC need to back this. In the above article the CTC say

"We feel like it’s a bit of a red herring and that legislating a minimum passing distance is not even going to begin to address the problems that we’re facing in the UK.”

Then say..

“We feel that the major problem is the lack of traffic law enforcement and that’s why we’re running the Stop SMIDSY campaign"

A lack of law enforcement, but prefer not have a law put in place?

voujan

posted by voujan [13 posts]
17th November 2009 - 19:40

3 Likes

Voujan, Well, I am proud to say that I am not a member of the CTC and they do not represent my views. I am concerned that they might have undue influence on the Government regarding cycling policy. They state on their website that they represent "60,000 cyclists". That must be only a small proportion of cyclists in the UK.

I find their lack of support for a safe distance moronic. I have driven extensively on the continent where there is a specified distance rule. Their roads are not THAT different from the UK. When is the CTC going to give in and realise that if other countries are passing regulations, it can't be such a bad idea.

Paradoxically, their opposition to my idea has helped gained publicity for the petition.

posted by Tom Amos [246 posts]
17th November 2009 - 23:12

3 Likes

The CTC can't back every campaign that pops up on the Internet

There are problems with the 3 feet idea, mainly because it is already implied in current uk road regs but these are not enforced and secondly that 3 feet is not always the hard and fast minimum distance.

I did sign the 3 feet petition. I also support the CTCs SMIDSY campaign. We need to push for change on as many fronts as possible.

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [294 posts]
18th November 2009 - 10:09

2 Likes

Yeah, but the feeling you get from reading their comments is that they're not interested in backing anything that they didn't think of. And come on, dressing someone up as a lion is pathetic - what's that got to do with road safety?

Oh, and the 3ft bit is a red herring as the numbers in the poll show what cyclists want is a simple change in the law that would bring the rules on this aspect of road safety in to line with Europe where the passing distance is 1.5m.

hammergonewest's picture

posted by hammergonewest [105 posts]
18th November 2009 - 10:33

2 Likes

Vorsrung - I agree totally, I don't see why there seems to be this need to polarise this into the CTC either back us or they are against us.

The fact that there is already rules within the Highway Code that stipulate a safe passing distance, and as stated on the Directgov website "the Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts to establish liability".

So as the CTC state, the issue is enforcement. I would love to be given more room by motorists, but a law stating a set passing distance will make no difference if there is no enforcement of it, as evidenced by the current rule and lack of enforcement thereof.

I would like to see Tom Amos concentrate on his cause without the need to alienate the CTC and those of us who believe it does a good job, if they don't want to back you, just move on, I don't think it needs to be taken as a personal slur

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
18th November 2009 - 11:22

2 Likes

Hold on Dasy the current rule isn't enforced because it's unenforceable

Quote:
Although the specific distance isn’t defined, when asked what constituted “plenty of room,” the DfT spokesperson said that “Rule 163 of the Highway Code adds that a driver should give cyclists ‘at least as much room’ as you would a car,” and that there is a picture illustrating this in the Highway Code.”
Quote:

I'd say that is a completely subjective measure - whereas 1.5m isn't, which means in certain situations it will be enforceable

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4154 posts]
18th November 2009 - 12:13

1 Like

I'm not sure how this is ever enforceable without there having been an accident and using the rule/law to prove liability.

I have to admit to recently trying to judge exactly how much room I was giving a cyclist when I passed in my car, I know it was quite a lot, but was it 3, 4, 5 feet. Short of some sort of real time measuring device, how is it actually enforceable.

I can only see it as a useful retrospective tool to apportion blame.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
18th November 2009 - 12:20

3 Likes

A 'useful retrospective tool' is still useful and I reckon it would make motorists think. Bet there would be some helmet cam prosecutions too - that would get people's attention.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4154 posts]
18th November 2009 - 12:30

2 Likes

But that is my point with regard to the current Highway Code rule, it too can be used as a useful retrospective tool in the same way the 3 feet law could. If you hit the cyclist due to not giving enough room, you would be in contravention of either the old HWC rule or the new proposed law.

Helmet cam footage is very unlikely to ever be admissible in court, that is why they have to have the markings on the road by speed cameras, to give a real tangible evidence of speed or distance, not skewed by camera angle, lens type etc.

It is a laudable campaign, but I do see why the CTC would be reticent to back it.

Educating drivers to cyclists need for more room is the key, but passing a law will not automatically do this, and a TV campaign or whatever, could use the HWC rule as justification of the requirement in just the same way as an impossible-to-measure-on-the-go distance law could.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
18th November 2009 - 12:44

1 Like

Tom, I think at the heart of the problem is a government that's quite keen on law (as in passing legislation) and distinctly less keen on enforcement, particularly related to motor traffic.

Drivers in this country are probably the only sort of criminal that are asked politely not to break the law, see the "Please Drive Carefully" "Please Watch Your Speed" signs in a lot of towns. (There's a particularly nice one near me, in Astbury;

).

Passing another law which it will be entirely possbile to flout with impunity, (much like the law on not using a handheld mobile 'phone while driving) is the likely outcome. And personally, for the reasons I state above, I think 3ft is a bit bloomin' close still, if I'm honest.

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

John_the_Monkey's picture

posted by John_the_Monkey [422 posts]
18th November 2009 - 13:41

2 Likes

John_the_Monkey - I genuinely thought that sign was saying slow down so that you could avoid the rabbits, whilst okay to run down tortoises!

That is a bit too esoteric for me, I would be in the next county before it dawned on me what it was they were saying...

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
18th November 2009 - 14:42

2 Likes

Dasy,

Don't see why helmet cam footage wouldn't be admissable, shop cctv footage is used all the time. In my experience if the police have evidence which identifies a criminal they are more than happy to use it.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4154 posts]
18th November 2009 - 15:09

2 Likes

CCTV footage is normally showing a kind of binary contravention if you know what I mean; it's either on or off, thy're nicking something, smashing something etc, it's not a by degree type of offence.

It would require you to be able to prove via the video footage, that the offender was closer than the specified distance, which then brings into question all the calibration of equipment used to measure the distance, position of the camera etc. People have been cleared of speed camera tickets because the equipment was proven not to be in calibration or didn't have proof that it was, and that stuff is setup with just this in mind

If the video footage shows a clear enough contravention that there is actually contact, then use the current law to prosecute, and no-one seems to be showing many cases of that happening at present.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
18th November 2009 - 15:41

2 Likes

DaSy wrote:
John_the_Monkey - I genuinely thought that sign was saying slow down so that you could avoid the rabbits, whilst okay to run down tortoises!

Me too, I'm ashamed to say, although it did dawn on me that it was probably pretty unlikely that I'd encounter any tortoises!

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

John_the_Monkey's picture

posted by John_the_Monkey [422 posts]
19th November 2009 - 10:22

2 Likes

Dangerous overtaking is my biggest bugbear, but the actual passing distance is only one element in the equation. Good overtakers pause and slow down before they overtake, even if the road is clear and they could technically barrel right past. When drivers behind me on the road dip their headlights at night, even when there is no oncoming traffic, I know I have been seen and won't be overtaken carelessly.

The minimum passing distance completely depends on the speed of the overtaking vehicle. I don't mind being passed closely (but very slowly) by large vehicles in country lanes. At higher speeds, though, I really want motorists to move completely over to the "wrong" side of the road, not just to leave me 1.5 m.

But: some motorists move over to the "wrong" side of the road when they can't see what might be coming round the bend, over the hill etc. I have had too many close shaves with oncoming motorists who were overtaking a cyclist on their own side of the road by a generous margin and hadn't checked for oncoming cyclists.

I think there should be information campaigns on sensible overtaking and prosecutions for dangerous overtaking, but I think the campaigns should focus on waiting until it's safe to overtake rather than on passing distances. They are connected logically, of course: greater passing distances = longer waits. But I don't think drivers should learn a new, extra rule for cyclists ("give cyclists 1.5 m"). I think they should learn to overtake cyclists in exactly the same way they already overtake other vehicles.

posted by bambergbike [87 posts]
22nd August 2012 - 23:12

5 Likes