Officers in the West Midlands have reported a 50 per cent drop in poor overtaking since they launched a close pass operation last year.
Operation Close Pass was launched by West Midlands Police in September 2016 by officers concerned traditional cycle safety operations weren’t tackling a major fear among cyclists, of close overtaking by drivers. A plain clothed police officer cycling radios close passes to a colleague who pulls the driver over and educates him or her, as well as deciding whether further action is required, such as referring the case to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The scheme was called the “best cyclist road safety initiative ever” by Cycling UK, and the Road Danger Reduction Forum presented officers with an award last year.
In a blog published yesterday, West Midlands Police wrote: “The numbers of close pass due care offences we receive have dropped by about 50% since the #GiveSpaceBeSafe initiative took effect on our regions roads”.
“Within a week cyclists were contacting us to tell us things had had not only improved, but improved considerably,” the blog notes, adding though there will always be close passes, “they have become a rarity rather than commonplace”.
“Admittedly the huge press attention helped, but if our future efforts to protect vulnerable road users have half the impact that this operation has had we will be guaranteed success each time.”
WMP say the operation is a good use of limited police resources, and is cost neutral – officers used their own bikes, and Cycliq gave the officers Fly cameras to test.
Officers say in 99 per cent of cases feedback from offenders was good, with around one per cent facing prosecution for poor driving judgement and skills.
However, it adds, “we still get the same amount of red light, mobile phone and other offences via third party footage though, no change there yet!”
The blog also identified what Bob Davis, RDRF Chair, describes as “risk compensation” by drivers, whose vehicles can protect them from even high speed crashes.
Davies, who presented West Midlands Police with an award in Parliament last year for the operation, told road.cc: “We have supported it because it is a harm reduction scheme, because it’s looking the question of intimidation and seeing it as a problem, which historically the police haven’t done.”
“It’s addressing the issue of people feeling intimidated by close passing. It’s associated with people being hit from behind or getting doored because they feel they have to ride in the door zone, so it’s associated with injuries for cyclists, but we also like it because it goes beyond casualty causation.”
The blog describes how driving standards are worsened thanks to improved safety features in motor vehicles, or risk compensation.
“What is apparent from Op Close Pass is how little attention drivers actually pay to what is going on around them. This is because of a number of factors but primarily because drivers have little to fear when it comes to their own personal safety on the road. The modern motor vehicle is a fine feat of engineering, it can be driven into a brick wall at 50mph and the occupants can walk away relatively injury free.
"This 'security' has, however, endangered vulnerable road users where it protects the driver. Drivers with their subliminal feeling of safety relax, pay less attention, start practicing poor driving, they speed, don’t pay attention, all to the detriment of vulnerable road users.”
WMP also attribute a fall in policing levels to a decline in driving standards. In the West Midlands the operation is now a part of the everyday duties of police, but this year police will use fire service staff to free up officers for other issues the operation has highlighted.
Helmet camera footage is also being accepted as evidence by WMP, something the force feels is essential to tackling close passes, making the threat of detection possible at any time. The force is launching a digital reporting portal for submission of third party camera footage. The blog notes its success will be judged by KSI (killed and seriously injured) statistics for the region.
West Midlands Police is running a close pass operation training session tomorrow, to which 18 police forces from across England and Wales are invited. Road safety campaigners, and many cyclists, hope more police forces will replicate WMP's work.