Police initiatives to tackle drivers who pass cyclists too closely could prevent up to 28 percent of the crashes that kill and seriously injure cyclists, according to an analysis of crash data.
Dr Robert Davis, the chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, says close pass operations being rolled out by a handful of UK police forces could increase awareness of cyclists and help reduce situations where drivers ‘looked but didn’t see’ cyclists, a factor in some of the most serious collisions.
Although it is not possible to draw quantitative conclusions at the early stage in police operations, Davis argues that three of the five most common types of collision involving cyclists and a driver relate to close passing. He says driver driver education and enforcement would reduce these incidents, as well as tackling the intimidation that close passes involve.
After several police forces announced the roll-out of close-pass operations, Davis said: “Making drivers more aware of the presence of cyclists on the road in an operation like [West Midlands Police operation] ‘Give Space: Be Safe’ should relate to better driving with regard to cyclists generally. In other words, cyclists could benefit from being ‘looked out for’ and the avoidance of collisions where the driver ‘looked but didn’t see’.
“I think the data we have on ‘common conflicts’ in London indicates that close passing policing addresses behaviours implicated in a significant proportion of cyclist KSIs [killed and seriously injured] in an urban area like London, as well as addressing the purely intimidatory aspect of close passing.”
Davis referred to Transport for London’s Cycle Safety Action Plan, which describes three of the most common five scenarios in which a cyclist was killed or seriously injured 2011-2013. These were: cyclist hits open door/swerves to avoid open door of another vehicle; cyclist and other vehicle travelling alongside each other; and other vehicle turns left across the path of cyclist, responsible for ten, nine and nine per cent of KSIs, respectively, in that period.
Dr Rachel Aldred, Transport Planning lecturer and reader at the University of Westminster, whose Near Miss Project revealed regular cyclists experience one “scary” near miss per week, said although there is too little data at this stage to speculate on a potential reduction in collisions, close pass policing initiatives have the potential to improve people’s feelings of safety when cycling on the roads.
She said: “I'd agree that close passes are implicated in some of [the three scenarios mentioned above]. My near miss work has highlighted that close passes are a regular and important cause of fear and unpleasant experiences for people cycling, so aside from possible reductions in injuries, action on close passes could also help improve subjective safety.”
Aldred said another key element of the close pass operations is to help change the “climate of road policing and road behaviour more broadly” which, she said, is also important.
Since West Midlands Police came up with the Give Space, be Safe operation, forces from Avon and Somerset to East of Scotland and the Metropolitan Police in London, have said they will trial or roll out the operation on their beats. Many of these will begin trials in the Spring, while police in Greater Manchester have already begun trialling the operation on the city's streets.
Last month road.cc revealed the Metropolitan Police are looking to adapt a close pass initiative to London’s roads, in which they also plan to tackle manoeuvres such as drivers overtaking cyclists before turning left across their path, one of the manoeuvres Davis mentions as relating to close passing.
The five conflict types most commonly resulting in KSIs to cyclists during 2011-13 (from TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan)
1 . Other vehicle turns right across path of cyclist 243 (14%)
2 . Cyclist hits open door / swerves to avoid open door of other vehicle. 160 (10%)
3 . Cyclist and other vehicle travelling alongside each other. 146 (9%)
4 . Other vehicle turns left across the path of cyclist 125 (9%)
5. Other vehicle fails to give way or disobeys junction control and collides with cyclist 96 (6%)