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Small but potentially lethal number of drivers will pass too close whatever you wear

If you feel like some drivers will pass too close no matter that you wear and that you’re being given less space on the road than you used to, a new study says you’re right, and indicates very strongly that you’re not safer if you wear high-vis in the daytime.

Researchers from the University of Bath and Brunel University found that no matter what clothing a cyclist wears, around 1-2% of drivers will pass dangerously close when overtaking. They also found that compared to Transport Research Laboratory findings in 1979, drivers today on average pass 61cm (2ft) closer to cyclists - 118cm compared to 179cm.

The researchers conclude that there is little a rider can do, by altering their outfit or donning a high-visibility jacket, to prevent the most dangerous overtakes from happening. Instead, they suggest, if we want to make cyclists safer, it is our roads, or driver behaviour, that need to change.

The research was conducted by Dr Ian Garrard from Brunel University and the project led by Dr Ian Walker from Bath University. Ian Walker is famous as the sometime wig-wearer who discovered in 2006 that cyclists are afforded more space by drivers if they appear to be female or are not wearing a helmet.

In this study, the two Dr Ians were trying to find out if drivers gave cyclists more room depending how skilled and experienced they looked. They expected that drivers would give more space to a rider who seemed inexperienced and less space to a rider who looked highly skilled.


The range of outfits worn during the research

Dr Garrard used an ultrasonic distance sensor to record how close each vehicle passed during his daily commute in Berkshire and outer London. Each day, he chose one of seven outfits at random, ranging from tight lycra racing cyclist clothes (signalling high experience) to a hi-viz vest with “novice cyclist” printed on the back (signalling low experience).

He sometimes also wore a vest that said he was video-recording his journey, or a vest modelled on a police jacket but with “POLITE” printed on the back. He rode the same bike, in the same way, every day and over several months collected data from 5690 passing vehicles.

The vest that mentioned video recording persuaded drivers to pass a little wider on average, tallying with anecdotes from helmet-cam users that drivers behave better when they know they are being recorded. However, there was no difference between the outfits in the most dangerous overtakes, where motorists passed within 50 cm of the rider. Whatever was worn, around 1-2% of motorists overtook within this extremely close zone.

Dr Ian Walker said: “Many people have theories to say that cyclists can make themselves safer if they wear this or that. Our study suggests that, no matter what you wear, it will do nothing to prevent a small minority of people from getting dangerously close when they overtake you.

“This means the solution to stopping cyclists being hurt by overtaking vehicles has to lie outside the cyclist. We can’t make cycling safer by telling cyclists what they should wear. Rather, we should be creating safer spaces for cycling – perhaps by building high-quality separate cycle paths, by encouraging gentler roads with less stop-start traffic, or by making drivers more aware of how it feels to cycle on our roads and the consequences of impatient overtaking.”

The researchers point out that while they found that wearing high-visibility clothing made no difference to the space left by overtaking drivers, they did not try to find out if it made cyclists more visible at junctions or at night.

However, they note that there is surprisingly little evidence that high-visibility clothing for cyclists and motorcyclists offers any safety benefits in daytime. This would further support the idea that there is no easy fix for riders’ safety from asking them to wear bright clothing.

The reduction in average passing distance between 1979 and today “could be a result of greater traffic volumes since the 1970s,” say the researchers, “or reduced levels of  bicycling which mean that the average motorist is less likely to have experience of bicycling themselves, and so is less understanding of a bicyclist’s needs.”

It occurs to us that it could also be linked to the increased width of modern cars. A 1979 Ford Escort Mk II was 1570mm wide (5ft 2in) while the modern equivalent Ford Focus is 1823mm wide (5ft 11 1/2in). However, Ian Walker points out that there was no difference in passing distance between wide four-wheel drive vehicles and standard cars in his 2007 study.

The paper - The influence of a bicycle commuter’s appearance on drivers’ overtaking proximities: An on-road test of bicyclist stereotypes, high-visibility clothing and safety aids in the United Kingdom - will be published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

105 comments

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j1mmy76 [66 posts] 2 years ago
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What's with the floating head?

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William Black [193 posts] 2 years ago
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j1mmy76 wrote:

What's with the floating head?

Klingon cloaking device.

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tommyjz [14 posts] 2 years ago
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The most interesting thing I found in the study was for <100cm passes between the Police and Polite vests.
24% for Police and 43% for Polite.

That is a difference of one letter.

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The _Kaner [738 posts] 2 years ago
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1-2%...try cycling in rural Ireland you can increase that figure tenfold and you'd still only be half right....SMIDSY...more like...
YISYBICGAFYAC.....Yes I See You But I Couldn't Give A F@ck You're A Cyclist

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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I have a lot of respect for Dr Ian Walker, but we must be clear about what this study concludes. It is a record of passing distances when overtaking, and does not in any way dismiss the value of wearing hi-viz in helping to make cyclists more visible in certain situations, such as when squeezing up the inside of an hgv, for instance.

Road.cc journalist Sarah Barth, in a recent article, described the enhancement to visibilty (of a rider wearing hi-viz) when viewed through the mirror of an hgv, as "astonishing".

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Guyz2010 [304 posts] 2 years ago
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The last 3 days I've noticed the same car passing me on roughly the same spot and getting from close to uncomfortably close. Got half the car reg so far....they'd better watch out.

What can be useful is an 'innocent narrow wiggle' if you can hear a vehicle approaching from behind, kinda makes the think a bit!  13

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pjclinch [90 posts] 2 years ago
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But we come back to the point here that squeezing up the inside of an HGV is not the brightest idea in the firmament, and if wearing hi-viz encourages that particular flavour of numptiness then it's not actually helping.

c.f. "risk compensation"

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GoingRoundInCycles [133 posts] 2 years ago
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"High vis clothing doesn't make cars pass you more safely, says new study"

What a weird piece of research. Does anyone seriously wear Hi-Vis because they think they will be overtaken with more courtesy?

Why not, get guinea pigs to take a drive in a simulator. Don't tell them the real purpose of the research so that they are not especially on the look out for anything. Project footage of cyclists riding in a variety of traffic and weather conditions onto the screen and into the rear view and side mirrors. Use eye tracking hardware/software to detect how quickly drivers notice them. See if there is a significant difference in response times dependant on the clothing the cyclist is wearing. Make sure you include colour blind drivers as well.

That might answer a real question.

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OldRidgeback [2589 posts] 2 years ago
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Idiot in a Vauxhall shot past me this evening with a bout 30cm to spare. I noted the car had a baby onboard sticker int he window, so asking others to look out for the vehicle and be careful, but not giving a stuff about anyone else in other words. I caught it up at the next set of lights of course, and considered giving the driver a few suggestions on safe driving techniques, but then couldn't be arsed.

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Joeinpoole [439 posts] 2 years ago
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Neil753 wrote:

... in helping to make cyclists more visible in certain situations, such as when squeezing up the inside of an hgv, for instance.

Classic!

I do hope you'll be wearing your precious helmet when you're "squeezing up the inside of an HGV" though. That way you'll be nice and safe.

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nick h. [35 posts] 2 years ago
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This is why I consider a really good mirror (e.g. the Mirrycle) to be more valuable than a helmet or hi-vis clothing. You can check all the overtaking vehicles without losing concentration on what's happening in front of you. Looking over your shoulder is a poor substitute.

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jova54 [649 posts] 2 years ago
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Neil753 wrote:

.... and does not in any way dismiss the value of wearing hi-viz in helping to make cyclists more visible in certain situations, such as when squeezing up the inside of an hgv, for instance.....

So that's OK then. If you're wearing hi-viz it's safe to squeeze up the inside of an hgv as you're more visible.

I think NOT!

If there is little or no value in wearing hi-viz in the most dangerous situation for cyclists, being passed by 1500kg of metal, glass and plastic, then there is even less value in any other situation.

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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Joeinpoole wrote:
Neil753 wrote:

... in helping to make cyclists more visible in certain situations, such as when squeezing up the inside of an hgv, for instance.

Classic!

I do hope you'll be wearing your precious helmet when you're "squeezing up the inside of an HGV" though. That way you'll be nice and safe.

Ah, Joe.....

As an hgv driver I know that keeping well away from lorries, when I'm on my bike, is the best policy. But when I'm driving my artic, and coping with the multitude of cyclists who do indeed "squeeze up the inside", quite often in dark clothing, I would prefer it if they at least wore hi-viz whilst attempting such a foolish stunt.

Incidentally, Joe, I don't actually wear a helmet in traffic because, like many other cyclists, I believe that cycling is an inherently safe thing to do. Although I would always wear a helmet off-road, I feel that motorist's perception of me as a helmetless cyclist means that they give me slightly more room when they pass, more than compensating for the increased risk of injury if I fall.

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Joeinpoole [439 posts] 2 years ago
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^^^ Fair enough! I thought I remembered you as one of the helmet-wearing zealots. Must have been someone else.

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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Joeinpoole wrote:

^^^ Fair enough! I thought I remembered you as one of the helmet-wearing zealots. Must have been someone else.

No probs mate.

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jacknorell [960 posts] 2 years ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

Idiot in a Vauxhall shot past me this evening with a bout 30cm to spare. I noted the car had a baby onboard sticker int he window, so asking others to look out for the vehicle and be careful, but not giving a stuff about anyone else in other words.

I've noticed this before as well, quite a number of times...

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jacknorell [960 posts] 2 years ago
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jova54 wrote:

If there is little or no value in wearing hi-viz in the most dangerous situation for cyclists, being passed by 1500kg of metal, glass and plastic, then there is even less value in any other situation.

That does not seem to be the most dangerous situation. Most deaths have been at junction, at very low speed overall. The poor chap in Bristol is of course an exception. But being overtaken seems to be safe-ish, but frightening at times, in city traffic.

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Leviathan [1885 posts] 2 years ago
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Saeco, sweet. Classic kit, 2002 I think. I love Red Thursdays.

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giff77 [1231 posts] 2 years ago
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jova54 wrote:
Neil753 wrote:

.... and does not in any way dismiss the value of wearing hi-viz in helping to make cyclists more visible in certain situations, such as when squeezing up the inside of an hgv, for instance.....

So that's OK then. If you're wearing hi-viz it's safe to squeeze up the inside of an hgv as you're more visible.

I think NOT!

If there is little or no value in wearing hi-viz in the most dangerous situation for cyclists, being passed by 1500kg of metal, glass and plastic, then there is even less value in any other situation.

If you're going to be a total tit by going up the inside of any long vehicle then hi viz will help the likes of Neil though most on this forum are quite happy to stay behind these particular modes of transport.

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giff77 [1231 posts] 2 years ago
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bikeboy76 wrote:

Saeco, sweet. Classic kit, 2002 I think. I love Red Thursdays.

Bike boy you need to get out more often  3

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badback [302 posts] 2 years ago
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This Tweet backs up the study's finding to a degree: https://twitter.com/niroads/status/405322909649891328/photo/1

If professional drivers can't see a bridge what hope has a humble cyclist got ?

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colinth [191 posts] 2 years ago
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The study is pointless bollax. I don't wear hi-vis because I think I'll get passed safely, I wear it so that the drivers who don't think to look for cyclists will see me, so hopefully avoiding smidsy's. I don't know anyone who wears hi-vis for any other reason than to be seen.

Mate of mine is a research scientist for a major drug company, he was telling me last week about how much pointless study is done because some idiot is willing to give phd's funding. You don't need hours of study or thousands of pounds of funding to work out that you can see a cyclist rom further away if he's wearing hi-vis.

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Denis B [8 posts] 2 years ago
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I have Mirrycle mirrors on all my bikes. A good mirror is probably the most underrated piece of safety equipment you can have on your bike for daytime riding. I ride quite often on a short section of the Trans Canada Highway here in Sault Ste Marie when riding to the east. Although the speed limit is 70 kph motor vehicle speeds are typically 80 - 90 kph. Shoulder checking simply does not allow me to see far enough behind prior to moving over to make a left turn (which is like making a right turn in the U.K.).

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Denis B [8 posts] 2 years ago
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I have Mirrycle mirrors on all my bikes. A good mirror is probably the most underrated piece of safety equipment you can have on your bike for daytime riding. I ride quite often on a short section of the Trans Canada Highway here in Sault Ste Marie when riding to the east. Although the speed limit is 70 kph motor vehicle speeds are typically 80 - 90 kph. Shoulder checking simply does not allow me to see far enough behind prior to moving over to make a left turn (which is like making a right turn in the U.K.).

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700c [859 posts] 2 years ago
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A close pass by a driver who has seen you won't harm you. Being taken out from behind by a driver who hasn't seen you probably will.

Wearing high visibility clothing might just make the difference between being seen or not, by an inattentive driver.

The authors assertion that this study is 'a very strong indication that you're not safer wearing high vis in the daytime' is completely erroneous and misleading.

I'm not sure what the agenda is here from road cc, but I suspect it's a reaction to recent calls for helmets, headphones, high vis etc for cyclists, which may be deemed as 'victim blaming' by some here in the context of recent deaths. This attitude is not helpful to our cause.

I'm not against anyone wearing dull clothes, headphones or going bare-headed when they ride, but publishing these articles with a misleading spin to them is not responsible or helpful.

Road cc can be a great source of entertainment and information but please be aware of the bias, spin and agenda pursued by certain authors on here when you come to read 'news' articles like these.

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Furry Mommy [32 posts] 2 years ago
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This is what I replied to the Road.cc Face Book thread on hi-viz:

"Mmmm...as can be seen from my profile shot, I do wear hi-viz whenever I cycle and while I agree that all cyclists "should" wear some form of hi-viz while cycling, I can really see this going pear shaped far too quickly...!!

Can you imagine the DfT regulations for this:-

1) how much (as a percentage) of a cyclist must have hi-viz clothing worn, when cycling...and should there be a difference for day time / night time riding??

2) should there be a British/ European Standard applied to hi-viz cycling clothing, as in to just "how visible" it is and at what distances it can be differentiated from??

3) if you're not wearing such suitable clothing and you are involved in an accident, how much of the blame should the cyclist share??

3) knowing the DfT how often would this be reviewed to reflect (pardon the pun!?) changes in technology etc??

And I could go on ad nauseam...but personally any cyclist that doesn't wear a at least one item of clothing that is either hi-viz or reflective while cycling on the roads of the UK is being a bit silly...especially in low light or poor weather conditions.

Never the less, even though I am lit up like a Belisha beacon (especially at night), wearing all sorts of hi-viz and >1,000 lumens of front lights and >200lumens of rear lights...motorists either still fail to see me, cannot judge my speed/distance away from them or simply don't give a tinkers cuss is still rather surprising!!

Though admittedly with my motorist's cap on (and not a lid)...often that little bit of hi-viz, reflectives etc that is worn by a cyclist does give me that much more time to calculate what can be done (safely), check the road ahead, slow down, accelerate to overtake (if safe to do so) etc...etc BUT at 30mph this can give me about 15yds a second to make up my mind...so therefore the greater time and distance a motorist has to see a cyclist makes that decision making process a darned sight safer!!

Seriously do the maths...if you can give a motorist 5 or even 10 seconds extra to decide what to do when approaching a cyclist - that is a significant distance, even at 30mph!!

As to lids...well I've commented enough on that one over the years, I think that they should be worn but they are NOT the cycling safety panacea that too many people believe them to be!"

Personally I do believe that wearing hi-viz and reflectives to be more important than wearing a lid as a safety precaution even with the results of this research...though this could be because I am have always cycled even though I passed my driving test in the 80's - and now cycle at least twice the mileage I drive!

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shay cycles [320 posts] 2 years ago
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Seems to me that people always have put too much faith in hi-vis. Research around motorcycles finds that it isn't really very useful.

I wear bright but contrasting colours, a bright yellow helmet with reflectives on it, I have awesome lights including some on my helmet, I always (yes always - just like when I'm driving) stop at red lights and I ride in good visible positions, make my intentions clear etc. BUT still they don't see.

I think I have the solution to being seen.

I need to wear black trousers, a black hoody, headphones, no lights, no helmet and ride on pavements except when jumping red lights; then miraculously, all of the drivers will see me, and even write to their papers about me and ALL the other cyclists!

 3

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comm88 [76 posts] 2 years ago
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What can you do when you're togged up in broad daylight with your hi viz sharp yellow jacket clearly visible and some fat old tart in a people carrier passes you within a loaf of bread's touching distance going uphill with a clear lane in front and 300m of clear visibility coming down the other away?

You gesture pointedly to the other unoccupied free lane and she stops in the road angling her vehicle so you can't get past inside or out without exposing yourself to imminent danger (it's very a fast hill coming down!) so that she can harangue you in front of her aged old mother and tell you that you were in the "middle of her lane" and "you cyclists are supposed to ride next to the kerb." Sure thing, cos that's where the potholes are, along with the detritus and debris of motoring and all the winter shale that so easily pierces your tyres. 600mm from the kerb is fine by Nicola Cooke and damn it - she should know!

All I said was: "Couldn't you see me? Just give me a bit more room!" It finished with me wishing that: "I sincerely hope your children are better behaved than you are."

But of course it fell on stoney ground. After all, she has the killer vehicle and by (her) definition has the absolute right of the road.

You can't argue safely with a woman (or man) who displays a serious lack of concern, or consideration and has the blaze of "I'll do you damage" in their eyes - whether you're in hi viz gear, or not!! You just shut up and cycle on, hoping she doesn't hurt anyone and, at some point, gets her comeuppance. But they never do, do they?

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Joeinpoole [439 posts] 2 years ago
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Furry Mommy wrote:

...but personally any cyclist that doesn't wear a at least one item of clothing that is either hi-viz or reflective while cycling on the roads of the UK is being a bit silly...

Go ride your bike in Holland or Denmark, the safest countries for cycling on earth by a country-mile, whilst wearing *your* precious helmet and *your* mandatory hi-viz ... and then reflect on how silly you will look amongst the charming Dutch/Danish girls riding their bikes in floral-print dresses with their beautiful blonde locks flowing in the breeze. You will undoubtedly look like the plonker you sound.

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Ridgebackrambler [16 posts] 2 years ago
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Just anecdotally, I've noticed the opposite. It seems to me that motorists give me more space when either I have lights on during the day or I'm wearing some form of high-viz clothing but maybe it's the cute wobble I also do!

Incidentally much of my cycling is done on back country roads and I'm amazed at the number of motorists who overtake on blind bends etc and then rather than terminate the manoeuvre when they see a car coming the other way, feel that's it OK to squeeze the poor cyclist into a ditch. There definitely needs to be an education campaign.

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