A close pass initiative to protect cyclists could be rolled out by 16 police forces across the UK, covering a population of more than 20 million people, after police from Somerset to Edinburgh attended a training session on Friday.
West Midlands Police devised a simple sting operation last year using a decoy, plain clothed police officer, in a bid to reduce close overtaking and poor driving around cyclists, since which time it has achieved widespread praise, and halved complaints of dangerous overtaking by local cyclists.
The 16 police forces that attended a training and Q&A session near Edgbaston on Friday, covering at least 18 policing areas, were Avon and Somerset, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Humberside, Leicestershire, Merseyside, Norfolk, Surrey, South Yorkshire, Sussex, Warwickshire, West Mercia, and West Yorkshire, and Police Scotland, covering a total population of almost 20 million people.
Following the training session, Hampshire Constabulary, which operates its road policing unit in collaboration with Thames Valley Police, say the scheme will be launched across Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Meanwhile, traffic police in the East of Scotland today confirmed they will be rolling it out in Edinburgh. Road.cc has contacted all forces that attended, but has not yet had responses from all of them.
A Hampshire Constabulary spokesperson confirmed roll out of the scheme to road.cc: “The ‘Close Pass’ initiative looks excellent and we are making preparations to use it across Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police areas. A launch date is anticipated soon.”
Meanwhile, East of Scotland Police today announced they will pilot their own close pass initiative in Edinburgh in the spring.
Chief Inspector Stephen Innes, Local Area Commander for Road Policing in the East of Scotland, said: "The safety of all road users, including cyclists who we recognise as a vulnerable group, is a priority for Police Scotland and we regularly run operations and initiatives to reduce casualties and educate all drivers, riders and pedestrians.
“We will in the spring be launching a new initiative focusing on the close passing of cyclists and are working with partners to pilot the scheme in Scotland's capital city."
Give Space, be Safe uses a plain clothed officer cycling, who radios ahead if a driver overtakes too close; the driver is then pulled over by colleagues and educated or, in the worst cases, written up for prosecution.
Norfolk, Suffolk, Merseyside, Warwickshire and West Mercia confirmed they are now looking into the scheme, and the potential for using it on their beats.
West Midlands Police’s Steve Hudson, one of two officers who devised the scheme, and ran Friday’s four hour Q&A session, told road.cc all 16 forces were positive about the initiative.
“Everybody that attended there showed a real keenness to take this on. I don’t think they realised how straightforward it was. It’s very rare that we look at a problem in a common sense way and just get on and do it, we usually have to go through so many levels of beaurocracy.”
“We have got a genuine feeling that it’s really going to take off.”
Hudson says the close pass initiative, “Give Space, be Safe” is a rare example of a straightforward policing response to a problem which, he says, has cost West Midlands Police nothing.
Birmingham City Council paid for the mat used to illustrate safe passing distances to drivers, while the Fly bike cameras were donated by Cycliq*, and the work was done in duty time. He believes mats could be purchased for other forces for £800-900.
Road.cc understands West Yorkshire Police, who sent four or five police to the meeting, already ordered their education mat and are planning on introducing the operation, while others are in discussions locally about the initiative.
A spokesperson for Merseyside confirmed its officers had attended the training session and “will look at progressing the initiative in the future.”
“However, full details are not confirmed at present”, the spokesperson said.
Warwickshire and West Mercia Police told road.cc they are going through the information from the meeting and will brief their chief officers “to see if this is a campaign we can deliver locally”.
The Warwickshire and West Mercia spokesperson added: “I think everyone is in agreement that it’s a great initiative but we’re very much in the information gathering stage at the moment.”
The Norfolk Constabulary press office told road.cc: “I can confirm that we sent officers to WMP to receive a brief on this initiative. It is too early to announce roll-out in Norfolk and Suffolk as we are currently considering all campaigns for the forthcoming year.”
Last year, North Wales Police launched their own close pass operation, called Operation Snap, following observations of what they described as "some awful very close passes and people pulling in and out of junctions, putting cyclists in danger".
Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, welcomed the growing interest in the initiative, but said more consistency is needed across the country.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Senior Road Safety officer said: “Cycling UK knew West Midlands Police were on to a winner when they rolled out their “Give Space, be Safe” campaign last year, which is why we backed it from the start. It’s a cheap, cost effective initiative that has proved highly effective at changing dangerous driving behaviour.
“It’s great to see so much interest in following West Midlands’ example, but Cycling UK is aware that a number of forces are still not getting their very simple message. We want to see more consistency across all police forces in tackling near misses, as these are not isolated incidents happening only in certain pockets of the country, but everywhere, every day".
Cycling UK told road.cc it is currently looking at how the charity can support a wider roll out of West Midlands Police’s close pass initiative and says it will be contacting all forces over the coming weeks to this end.
The way future close pass initiatives work may change over time, according to Hudson. A number of councils and a fire service attended the training session, and West Midlands are looking to pool resources with the local fire services, who can carry out the “chat on the mat”, to free up police resources to tackle other issues such as speeding and mobile phone use. West Midlands Police hope advice from fire service staff will elicit a more positive response from drivers.
Hudson was also keen to point out “99 per cent” of drivers he stops are responsible individuals who respond well to education.
Other larger police forces may look to pool resources with their local fire service, as fire services are given increasing responsibility for road safety, and in order to save money.
A handful of forces weren’t able to attend Friday’s event due to bad weather and rail strikes on the day. Of 38 forces contacted by West Midlands Police, inviting them to the meeting, Hudson said “pretty much all of them” got back in touch. He wouldn’t say which didn’t respond, in case emails had gone to the wrong email addresses in those cases.
*This article was amended on 19th January to say Cycliq donated the cameras; it previously said Madison UK donated the cameras. Madison UK has since taken on distribution of Cycliq and is now working with UK close pass operation police forces to provide cameras.