West Midlands Police say that helmet- and dash-cam footage provided by road users is now of such high quality that motorists accused of dangerous close passes are tending to admit their offences without question.
A total of 130 motorists have been pulled over during nine outings of a West Midlands Police road safety initiative operation to date, with eight prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.
One driver’s licence was immediately seized after they failed a road-side eye test.
The #GiveSpaceBeSafe scheme was launched by the force last September and sees plain clothes cops pedalling the region’s busiest roads on the lookout for motorists who pass too close for comfort.
Offenders are offered an on-the-spot educational input on safe overtaking using a specially designed floor mat.
But anyone who refuses to take part in the tutorial − or is deemed to have committed a particularly hazardous overtaking manoeuvre − can expect a date in court.
West Midlands Police has seen reports of close-passes halve since the scheme was introduced − and 16 police forces the length and breadth of the country are now considering embracing what UK Cycling described as the “best cyclist road safety initiative ever”.
PC Mark Hodson said: “Within a week of us announcing the initiative cyclists were telling us things hadn’t only improved, but improved considerably… there will always be close passes but they have become a rarity rather than commonplace.
“And the feedback we’re getting from drivers pulled over is almost wholly positive: they are recognising their mistake and taking on board our advice on safe passing.
“We held a seminar in Birmingham recently attended by representatives from 16 UK police forces − covering a population of 20 million people − and several have said they’ll be launching their own in 2017.
“We’re trying to change the way police forces approach cycling safety… and hopefully make the roads safer for everyone as a result."
West Midlands Police traffic cops have so far conducted the pedal patrols on major routes in Birmingham − like the Hagley, Pershore and Bristol Roads − but now intend to extend the scheme to parts of West Bromwich, Wolverhampton, Solihull and Coventry.
PC Hodson added: “Many of these were ‘close-pass’ offences but also for mobile phone use, jumping red lights, and endangering pedestrians. All offenders have been dealt with by way of an educational course or conditional offer of three licence points and a £100 fine.
“None of the people caught on camera have challenged the offences… that’s largely due to the great quality video evidence we’ve been provided.
“We will be launching a digital reporting portal for submission of third party camera footage to help people alert us to such offences.
“Our close-pass project has been really well received. Our aim is to create an environment where all road users can utilise a healthier, cleaner sustainable form of transport without feeling threatened by poor driving."
We reported this week how the Metropolitan Police will trial what they hope will become the ‘gold standard’ of close pass cycling operations in spring, with the aim of sending the message to drivers: any cyclist anywhere in London could be a cop.
Sergeant Simon Castle, of the Met’s Cycle Task Force, has confirmed to road.cc this week he has the green light to trial the operation, started by West Midlands Police, which uses a plain clothed officer to identify poor overtaking of cyclists, among other offences.
In the past, the Met has raised doubts about adapting the operation to London roads, but after police in Camden successfully trialled the operation in September 2016 Castle, who describes it as ‘best value roads policing initiative I’ve ever seen’, is now looking to design an operation that could be used at any time, any place in the capital, and is seeking input from cycling groups.
Sgt Castle told road.cc the success of the West Midlands’ operation is the enormous impact it has had with no financial cost to the force – just a few hours of operation time.
“What West Midlands have taught me is it’s not about the impact I have when I’m out there, they have a massive impact when they aren’t out there. That has been the Road to Damascus moment for me: I can be as effective when I’m not out there because there is a threat I might be there.
“You get this halo effect, let’s say we do a close pass operation for three hours in the middle of the day, but there will still be people in rush hour thinking: is that a cop?”
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.