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Avon and Somerset Police confirm roll out of the close pass operation in an evidence-based approach to tackling dangerous driving and protecting those on foot and bikes

Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which covers Bristol and Bath, and a population of 1.5 million, is the latest UK police force to confirm they’ll introduce a close pass operation this Spring, tackling one of the major safety concerns of cyclists – poor overtaking by motor vehicle drivers.

The decision was taken following a demo day on Friday 13 January, run by the operation’s inventors, West Midlands Police, and attended by 16 forces across England and Scotland. Greater Manchester Police, who also attended, say they are still looking into the health and safety implications of the operation, which uses a decoy, plain clothed police officer cycling to identify close passing drivers for education, or prosecution.

Edinburgh, as well as Hampshire Constabulary, which operates its road policing unit in collaboration with Thames Valley Police, confirmed to road.cc this week they will also roll out the operation.

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Chief Inspector Kevan Rowlands, who is head of road safety at Avon and Somerset Police, says the operation will likely focus on the streets of Bristol and Bath, once the force has sourced the necessary cameras and education mat.

Ch Insp Rowlands told road.cc: “We have been following what West Midlands Police have done and the success they have had in their area. We went to the demonstration day and have taken the decision it is something we should be doing across the Avon and Somerset area. We will be working in partnership with our tri force roads policing unit.”*

Avon and Somerset Constabulary will target danger spots based on multiple data sources, via an integrated command and control IT system that can collate information from its fixed penalty unit, intelligence, community speed watch and collision data, as well as a dedicated cycling near miss reporting site, which has been running for about six months.

Most near miss reports to the website have been from Bristol and Bath, which also have the highest pedestrian and cyclist casualties of the Avon and Somerset area. Though the site can accept camera footage, those looking to report a close passing driver to police will for now need to attend a police station to make a statement with the unedited footage.

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“If you want to know where collisions are happening … that gives us a really good intelligence-led basis for targeting the close pass operation,” said Ch Insp Rowlands.

“We are dealing with issues in the areas where cycling is deemed to be particularly dangerous, and we will deal with all kinds of dangerous behaviour and offer advice or prosecution, depending on which is appropriate.”

 “I hope the outcome will be that motorists understand the need to give cyclists more space; the ultimate outcome is that less cyclists are killed and seriously injured on our roads.”

As with the West Midlands, Avon and Somerset officers on the close pass operation will be on the lookout for drivers using mobile phones, and speeding.

West Midlands Police say there has been a 50 per cent reduction in close pass complaints since its introduction in September, and the operation has captured the public’s and the media’s imagination.

Part of the appeal, Ch Insp Rowlands says, is the focus on educating drivers, and that it’s evidence-based, targeting known dangerous locations, and uses few staff – he estimates it could be carried out by between three and seven staff.

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He says the operation in the West Midlands has effectively broadcast the need to give cyclists room, and he hopes this will be replicated in Avon and Somerset, and “highlight the dangers of passing cyclists too close and the need to give them adequate room - because they are vulnerable road users.”

Ch Insp Rowlands says improving cyclist safety on Britain’s roads has to be about more than policing, however.

“This isn’t the solution to the whole problem,” he says. “It’s a piece of the puzzle”.

 “This needs to go alongside road engineering separating cyclists from traffic when you can, and that is something we will be working with our local partners on.”

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police told road.cc they are still evaluating with local partners how they might implement the close pass initiative.

“As there are many issues to consider, the primary one being of health and safety concerns, there is no set date for when a conclusion will be reached,” the spokesperson said.

* The tri-force roads policing unit is a collaboration between Avon and Somerset, Gloucester and Wiltshire constabularies, and though there has been no mention of the latter two also running the operation, road.cc is seeking clarification on this point.