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Police force calls for minimum passing distance - but is enforcement of existing law better?

Devon & Cornwall Police's senior traffic officer calls for change to Highway Code...

Devon & Cornwall Police’s senior roads policing officer has called for a minimum passing distance to be introduced to the Highway Code for motorists when they overtaking cyclists – although elsewhere police forces are being urged to copy their colleagues in the West Midlands and enforce existing laws against drivers who pass riders too closely.

West Midlands Police’s announcement last month that they would start prosecuting motorists for not giving people on bikes sufficient room was hailed by the charity Cycling UK as “the best road cyclist safety initiative ever.”

> West Midlands Police issues prosecution notices to 14 close-pass drivers

It has led to calls for forces elsewhere to follow suit, with Metropolitan Police officers in the London Borough of Camden already saying that they will do so, including deploying plain clothes officers on bikes.

> Camden police to copy West Midlands close-pass initiative

Chief Inspector Adrian Leisk, head of roads policing at Devon & Cornwall, told the Exeter Express & Echo: "I have been part of a number of conversations recently on Twitter with cyclists, many of them concerned for their safety on the roads due to vehicles and their close and dangerous passes.

"I am hoping that having these discussions will help raise awareness of the increased number of reports we are receiving on motorists putting cyclists lives in danger by overtaking too closely.

"We are asking motorists to be more considerate and to consider the safety of the cyclist as they do not have the protection of a metal work if a collision occurs that a vehicle drive has.”

Under Rule 163 of the Highway Code, motorists are told that they should “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.”

Chief Inspector Leisk told the newspaper that the force is “pushing for a change” in that rule to introduce a minimum safe passing distance, similar to the 1.5 metres that motorists in South Australia now have to give cyclists.

"We police over 22,000 kilometres of road network across Devon and Cornwall meaning we can't be everywhere at once,” he continued.

"We will take police action when suitable, but this is about trying to get a change in mentality and to get people to think about their driving habits.

"We are asking 'is that extra few seconds gained worth a cyclist's life?' – We are hoping that asking this will attract debate, and hopefully raise awareness and lead to changes the behaviour of drivers on our roads.

"Our message to all road users is just a little extra consideration can reduce the numbers of those killed or seriously injured on our roads."

In Leicestershire, the county’s police and crime commissioner, Lord Willy Bach, has said he will raise the issue of following the West Midlands Police approach of prosecuting drivers with the head of the county’s police force, Chief Commissioner Simon Cole.

The issue had been raised with Lord Bach by Eric Ludlow of Leicester Cycling Campaign Group (LCCG) when the pair met last month, according to the Leicester Mercury.

Mr Cole said: "Any cyclist will tell you that a vehicle coming past sometimes just inches from your shoulder is a genuinely frightening experience.

"By combining education and the threat of prosecution in this way, motorists will learn to hang back until it is safe to overtake.

"LCCG is therefore urging Leicestershire Police to follow the example set in the West Midlands as a matter of urgency."

After their meeting, Lord Bach said: "It was a really good meeting: it's important that we work together to help cyclists stay safe on the roads and encourage other road users to 'think bicycle'.

"I intend to discuss the points raised with the Chief Constable to see what his views are and, of course, I shall watch the outcomes of the West Midlands scheme with interest, as I think will many others."

In a recent question and answer session on Twitter, Chief Constable Cole said, “Cameras – Law does need to keep up with technology, it is now omnipresent,” although it is unclear whether he was talking specifically about ones used by cyclists to film incidents such as close passes.

Welcoming the West Midlands Police initiative last month, Duncan Dollimore, senior road safety and legal campaigner at the charity Cycling UK said that police forces needed to prioritise enforcement of the law.

“This is the first time a police force has come forward with a plan to prioritise enforcement against close pass drivers,” he said. “It is quite simply the best cyclist safety initiative by any police force, ever

“West Midlands Police plan to combine enforcement and education to make sure drivers get the message that cyclists need space when being overtaken, and those who don’t give them space risk prosecution for careless driving.

“It is a simple but effective way to combat a long-standing concern and we hope other police forces around the country will follow their ingenious lead,” he added.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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