West Yorkshire Police are accused of victim blaming after telling a cyclist his actions contributed to a dangerous close pass by a taxi driver, because he didn’t use a cycle lane.
The remark was made by a West Yorkshire Police officer in response to footage of a close pass submitted by university lecturer George Holmes, who was cycling back from a police station. The officer said Holmes’ road positioning “contributed to poor decision making” by the driver because he didn’t use the cycle lane, taking up primary position in the road instead.
The response was met with concern by road safety experts who believe the officer’s advice is categorically wrong, and road.cc now understands West Yorkshire Police is investigating the incident in question and training a “force-wide video submission team”, to improve officers’ understanding of submitted evidence.
In footage seen by road.cc Holmes, a lecturer at Leeds University, was cycling home from a local police station on 22 December 2019, where he was reporting a minor collision, when a taxi driver overtook him at close proximity, at speed.
That evening Holmes submitted the video to West Yorkshire Police by emailing their dedicated road safety enforcement team, Operation Steerside.
Cyclist's road positioning "prevents vehicles passing safely"
On 2 January a PC Hitchcocks replied to tell Holmes his primary road positioning outside of the cycle lane “prevents vehicles from passing you safely.”
“At no time do you utilise the cycle lane while cycling along the carriageway,” PC Hitchcocks wrote, adding “while certainly not an excuse for their manner of driving, I believe your road positioning has contributed to their poor decision making. Any solicitor acting on behalf of the driver would definitely raise issues and ask difficult questions of your road positioning.”
The police officer said he would not take action, and referred the taxi driver to the Hackney Carriage Unit instead.
However, both the national cycling charity, Cycling UK, and a close pass policing expert at West Midlands Police say the officer’s comments go not only against guidance on safe overtaking in the Highway Code, but also legal requirements for safe driving standards, and that Holmes was riding as he should have been under the circumstances.
According to the Highway Code, drivers must give a cyclist as much room as they would another car when overtaking, while cyclists are not required to use a marked cycle lane.
Yorkshire Police reviewing incident
West Yorkshire Police say they are now conducting a review of this incident and as such are unable to comment (since the review is ongoing, road.cc is unable to show the footage itself).
West Midlands Police PC, Mark Hodson, who co-founded what is considered the gold standard of policing operations for cycling safety, said there was “nothing wrong with the cycling at all,” adding, “I would have done exactly the same.”
He said the taxi driver’s close overtake in Holmes’ footage was a “clear offence”.
Hodson added: “It is not the responsibility of the road user in front to facilitate a safe and lawful overtake by a user behind.”
"Victim blaming language"
Holmes described the West Yorkshire Police officer’s response as “outrageous.” He said: “Firstly, I believe it’s wrong in law, because it’s implying cyclists must use cycle lanes, even though there’s a parked car in it. I can’t jump my bike over the cars.
“It’s victim blaming language,” he added, “suggesting it’s my fault and I shouldn’t be on the road in the first place.”
“They are basically saying cyclists who don’t use cycle lanes can’t expect any protection from police.”
Holmes said he bought his camera after he was assaulted by a dog walker on the nearby City Connect cycle route, but rarely submits footage as he forgets to charge the battery.
Following requests from Holmes to rethink his decision, PC Hitchcocks referred to Operation Steerside guidance on submitting camera evidence that “it is your responsibility as a driver to uphold the law (i.e - not commit offences yourself),” adding all decisions are final.
Hitchcocks added that “there was no need to have taken up [primary] position when a lane for your specific use has been provided and was clear of hazards,” before adding there was no implication cyclists must use a cycle lane.
Keir Gallagher, Cycling UK campaign's lead on close passes, said the organisation was concerned at the police officer’s response, but it understands West Yorkshire Police officers dealing with such footage in future will be better trained.
Gallagher said: "From the footage Cycling UK has seen, George was riding according to the teachings of Bikeability, and we are therefore concerned by this officer’s response and the suggestion that George was in any way at fault.”
He said the case highlights the importance of well-trained roads police officers.
Gallagher said Cycling UK has worked with West Yorkshire Police via its Too Close for Comfort campaign, and “we know they take the issue of close passing extremely seriously.”
“We believe the steps they are taking to develop a force-wide video submission team are very positive, as this will improve consistency and enable more effective training, so that all officers reviewing video evidence can effectively identify dangerous passes, and are familiar with Bikeability,” he added.
As the matter is under review by West Yorkshire Police road.cc has not published footage of the incident.