Of the 286 reports of careless, inconsiderate, or dangerous driving around cyclists considered by West Midlands Police in 2022, only one resulted in a prosecution, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.
According to the figures released by West Midlands Police, the pioneers of the award-winning and now-ubiquitous Operation Close Pass, 213 of the alleged close passes submitted last year resulted in no further action being taken.
Meanwhile, 69 drivers captured on video committing close passes were offered a National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS) course as an alternative to prosecution.
The FOI request, submitted by Chris Smith, also revealed that 5,551 submissions of video evidence relating to potential driving offences were received by West Midlands Police in 2022, over 2,000 more than the number submitted in 2020, and almost 1,800 more than 2021.
However, in contrast, only 872 – or just under 16 percent – of those reports resulted in a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) being issued to the driver in question, 593 and 338 fewer than in 2021 and 2020 respectively, when fewer reports were submitted.
A separate FOI request from October 2022 also found that, with third-party submissions increasing every year, reviews at West Midlands Police – which, according to the WMP, take an “average of 60 minutes to run from receipt to conclusion” – are currently carried out by three business support assistants.
Launched in 2016 and devised by officers Steve Hudson and Mark Hodson, West Midlands Police’s Operation Close Pass – where plain clothes officers on bikes monitor overtaking drivers, with anyone found to be carrying out dangerous manoeuvres facing education or enforcement – was quickly lauded by organisations such as Cycling UK as the “best cyclist road safety initiative ever”.
Introduced just as cities like Birmingham were trying to reduce air pollution and get more people on bikes, the operation helped WMP officers collect data used to identify and target the riskiest manoeuvres carried out by motorists around cyclists, and the ones likely to scare people off cycling.
Officers claimed the tactic drove down cycling collision and injury rates, and the scheme was soon adopted by police forces across the country.
However, the scheme – and West Midlands Police’s approach to poor driver behaviour around cyclists – has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with both Hudson and Hodson, the clear driving forces behind the tactic, stepping away from their roles.
In 2021, transport journalist and road.cc contributor Laura Laker questioned whether West Midlands Police had “lost its way” when it came to ensuring the safety of cyclists, and that the visibility of Operation Close Pass – both on the road and through the absence of clear messaging on social media – had started to recede.
According to the recent FOI request, between August 2020 and December 2022 Operation Close Pass was run 22 times in 15 different locations.
During those operations, 211 close passing or dangerous motorists were stopped, with 145 being offered education and advice related to safe driving around cyclists, while 66 were processed.
According to the Close Pass Cycling page on the WMP website, the operation aims to “proactively target ‘close pass’ drivers who endanger riders”.
The site continues: “Rules of the road say motorists should give cyclists at least the same space as vehicles when overtaking.
“Anyone encroaching inside that safe passing distance – widely considered to be a minimum of 1.5 metres – runs the risk of being prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.”
In February, however, West Midlands Police’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety of cyclists (and prosecuting dangerous drivers) was again questioned after one Coventry-based cyclist claimed that a motorist – who committed an extreme close pass on him before slamming on his brakes and appearing to deliberately reverse into the rider – escaped punishment because an officer from the force’s Traffic Investigation Unit deemed that the collision was not captured clearly enough in the video.
road.cc reader James said that he had originally submitted the clip to WMP’s ‘Non-Stop Self Reporting Collision Form’. After receiving no response for several months, he later contacted the force’s Traffic Investigation Unit, who asked him to resubmit the footage.
However, while James claimed that an officer informed him that there was no “clear video” of the collision, West Midlands Police told road.cc that the driver was not prosecuted simply because the two-week window for issuing a Notice of Intended Prosecution had expired by that point, and that the cyclist was invited to “pursue an allegation of assault”.
“The video footage of an incident in July last year was submitted to us via our website in November,” a spokesperson for West Midlands Police said.
“Our traffic office contacted the cyclist within 48 hours to advise him that if he wanted to pursue an allegation of assault, he would need to report that to us via 101, but the timeframe for us to issue a Notification of Intended Prosecution (NIP) for a traffic offence had expired.”
West Midlands Police has been contacted for comment.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.