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Concerns over contradiction of Highway Code, helmet advice and size of budget allocated to initiative

The voice of cycling organisations including CTC, British Cycling and Sustrans is notably absent from the launch this morning of a new road safety campaign from the Department for Transport (DfT) called Think Cyclist, which has the backing of motoring bodies the RAC, the AA and the IAM.

The press release announcing the initiative includes quotes from organisations such as the RAC, the AA and the IAM, as well as Mayor of London Boris Johnson, but curiously for a campaign focusing on the safety of cyclists, no representatives of cycling organisations were quoted.

However, road.cc understands that in formulating the campaign, which has been co-ordinated by the PR agency Forster, the DfT did consult with organisations including the CTC, British Cycling, Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign regarding the proposed key messages.

The initiative seeks to highlight the fact that motorists and cyclists are very often one and the same person – however, in two cases, the advice falls below the minimum standards stated in the Highway Code, which the campaign urges drivers to follow.

That, together with other issues including a recommendation that cyclists wear helmets at all times, are understood by road.cc to have proved major issues of contention during discussions between the DfT and cycling organisations in recent weeks ahead of the campaign’s launch this morning, and there are no quotes from any cycling organisations in this morning press release.

A spokesman from CTC told road.cc: "While the central message in the campaign is perfectly acceptable, CTC was concerned in its development at some suggested spurious safety advice given to cyclists.

"Pressure from the cycling organisations has improved the situation, but elements of this remain, such as the very weak suggestion that ‘half a car’s width’ is an acceptable overtaking distance. The Highway Code rule says to give ‘at least as much room as you would when passing a car’.

Referring to the budget allocated to publicise the initiative, he added: "£80,000 will mean that this campaign has very little reach and is very unlikely to have much effect on driver behaviour or perception.

"The Department could be doing more to strengthen messages to drivers through other, cheaper mechanisms, such as making cycling a bigger part of the driving test and on DVLA paperwork.”

The campaign encourages drivers to give cyclists “at least half a car’s width” of space – but that’s half the distance set out in the Highway Code, Rule 163 of which tells motorists to "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car."

Motorists are also advised to “Avoid driving over advance [sic] stop lines – these allow cyclists to get to the front and increase their visibility.”

The Highway Code, however, makes the situation regarding Advanced Stop Lines much clearer, with Rule 178 stating: "Motorists, including motorcyclists, MUST stop at the first white line reached if the lights are amber or red and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the marked area at other times."

The campaign was formally launched this morning by Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond, who replaced Mike Penning in that role following the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month.

Mr Hammond said: “We take the issue of cycle safety extremely seriously so we are launching ‘Think Cyclist’, a campaign aimed at both cyclists and drivers.

“With interest in cycling heightened by Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France and our cyclists’ extraordinary success at the Olympics and Paralympics too, we want to remind cyclists and drivers of the importance of looking out for each other to avoid accidents.

“Many people cycle and drive and a new Think! poll shows both road user groups agree that looking twice at junctions, as well as giving each other space on the road, are practical things that we can all do to help reduce the numbers of cyclists killed and seriously injured on our roads each year.”

In launching the campaign, the DfT pointed out that 80 per cent of adult cyclists hold a driving licence, while one in five motorists ride a bike at least once a month.

The campaign’s advice to motorists and cyclists respectively is:

When you’re driving

1. Look out for cyclists, especially when turning - make eye contact if possible so they know you’ve seen them

2. Use your indicators - signal your intentions so that cyclists can react

3. Give cyclists space – at least half a car’s width.  If there isn’t sufficient space to pass, hold back. Remember that cyclists may need to manoeuvre suddenly if the road is poor, it’s windy or if a car door is opened. 

4. Always check for cyclists when you open your car door

5. Avoid driving over advance stop lines – these allow cyclists to get to the front and increase their visibility

6. Follow the Highway Code including ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ signs and traffic lights

When you’re cycling

1. Ride positively, decisively and well clear of the kerb – look and signal to show drivers what you plan to do and make eye contact where possible so you know drivers have seen you. 

2. Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, like lorries or buses, where you might not be seen

3. Always use lights after dark or when visibility is poor

4. Wearing light coloured or reflective clothing during the day and reflective clothing and/or accessories in the dark increases your visibility

5. Follow the Highway Code including observing ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ signs and traffic lights

6. THINK! recommends wearing a correctly fitted cycle helmet, which is securely fastened and conforms to current regulations

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.