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DfT's new Think Cyclist campaign fails to get cycling organisations on board

Concerns over contradiction of Highway Code, helmet advice and size of budget allocated to initiative

The voice of cycling organisations including CTC, British Cycling and Sustrans is notably absent from the launch this morning of a new road safety campaign from the Department for Transport (DfT) called Think Cyclist, which has the backing of motoring bodies the RAC, the AA and the IAM.

The press release announcing the initiative includes quotes from organisations such as the RAC, the AA and the IAM, as well as Mayor of London Boris Johnson, but curiously for a campaign focusing on the safety of cyclists, no representatives of cycling organisations were quoted.

However, understands that in formulating the campaign, which has been co-ordinated by the PR agency Forster, the DfT did consult with organisations including the CTC, British Cycling, Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign regarding the proposed key messages.

The initiative seeks to highlight the fact that motorists and cyclists are very often one and the same person – however, in two cases, the advice falls below the minimum standards stated in the Highway Code, which the campaign urges drivers to follow.

That, together with other issues including a recommendation that cyclists wear helmets at all times, are understood by to have proved major issues of contention during discussions between the DfT and cycling organisations in recent weeks ahead of the campaign’s launch this morning, and there are no quotes from any cycling organisations in this morning press release.

A spokesman from CTC told "While the central message in the campaign is perfectly acceptable, CTC was concerned in its development at some suggested spurious safety advice given to cyclists.

"Pressure from the cycling organisations has improved the situation, but elements of this remain, such as the very weak suggestion that ‘half a car’s width’ is an acceptable overtaking distance. The Highway Code rule says to give ‘at least as much room as you would when passing a car’.

Referring to the budget allocated to publicise the initiative, he added: "£80,000 will mean that this campaign has very little reach and is very unlikely to have much effect on driver behaviour or perception.

"The Department could be doing more to strengthen messages to drivers through other, cheaper mechanisms, such as making cycling a bigger part of the driving test and on DVLA paperwork.”

The campaign encourages drivers to give cyclists “at least half a car’s width” of space – but that’s half the distance set out in the Highway Code, Rule 163 of which tells motorists to "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car."

Motorists are also advised to “Avoid driving over advance [sic] stop lines – these allow cyclists to get to the front and increase their visibility.”

The Highway Code, however, makes the situation regarding Advanced Stop Lines much clearer, with Rule 178 stating: "Motorists, including motorcyclists, MUST stop at the first white line reached if the lights are amber or red and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the marked area at other times."

The campaign was formally launched this morning by Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond, who replaced Mike Penning in that role following the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month.

Mr Hammond said: “We take the issue of cycle safety extremely seriously so we are launching ‘Think Cyclist’, a campaign aimed at both cyclists and drivers.

“With interest in cycling heightened by Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France and our cyclists’ extraordinary success at the Olympics and Paralympics too, we want to remind cyclists and drivers of the importance of looking out for each other to avoid accidents.

“Many people cycle and drive and a new Think! poll shows both road user groups agree that looking twice at junctions, as well as giving each other space on the road, are practical things that we can all do to help reduce the numbers of cyclists killed and seriously injured on our roads each year.”

In launching the campaign, the DfT pointed out that 80 per cent of adult cyclists hold a driving licence, while one in five motorists ride a bike at least once a month.

The campaign’s advice to motorists and cyclists respectively is:

When you’re driving

1. Look out for cyclists, especially when turning - make eye contact if possible so they know you’ve seen them

2. Use your indicators - signal your intentions so that cyclists can react

3. Give cyclists space – at least half a car’s width.  If there isn’t sufficient space to pass, hold back. Remember that cyclists may need to manoeuvre suddenly if the road is poor, it’s windy or if a car door is opened. 

4. Always check for cyclists when you open your car door

5. Avoid driving over advance stop lines – these allow cyclists to get to the front and increase their visibility

6. Follow the Highway Code including ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ signs and traffic lights

When you’re cycling

1. Ride positively, decisively and well clear of the kerb – look and signal to show drivers what you plan to do and make eye contact where possible so you know drivers have seen you. 

2. Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, like lorries or buses, where you might not be seen

3. Always use lights after dark or when visibility is poor

4. Wearing light coloured or reflective clothing during the day and reflective clothing and/or accessories in the dark increases your visibility

5. Follow the Highway Code including observing ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ signs and traffic lights

6. THINK! recommends wearing a correctly fitted cycle helmet, which is securely fastened and conforms to current regulations

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Phytoramediant | 11 years ago

All sensible advice aside from the inevitable 'If I hit you it's your fault for not wearing a helmet' one.

This is good advice for life - we should ALL wear helmets, ALL the time, just in case we might get hit by someone in a pub, or something land on our head from above... but if it's just cyclists, then it rather looks as if it's their fault.
So - a campaign to get people to wear a helmet all the time?
Yes. Sounds sensible - after all, it might make you look a bit silly but it would be dangerous to NOT wear it on that one in a million chance - and who'd want THAT on their conscience?

robbieC | 11 years ago

surprised that the Government is running a 'campaign' on this. Coalition mantra is that Gov should not do such things because they do not work - all have to be approved centrally by the Cabinet office and usually the answer is 'No'.

I wonder if the "nudge unit" were consulted or this is more of the DfTs famously poor quality research? Ideally should look at better ways to influence Motorist behaviour - the French road signs highlighted above are one such route and its cheap! If this was coupled with enforcement of existing laws, would work like smoking campaign

ColT | 11 years ago

I'm sure a better line would be to ask how much room a driver would allow for his/her daughter/son/wife/husband/whatever, if passing them on their bike. i.e. Make it personal and tangible. Half a car width is pretty meaningless, especially when most drivers are clueless about the width of their vehicles and/or the distance needed to stop.

The continuing growth in the use of phones while driving is pretty indicative of the priorities of many drivers, and it would appear that full attention to the task of driving is not one of them.

I still want to see the current cycling royalty fronting a high-profile campaign to raise the awareness of cycle safety, especially the need to allow sufficient room. Joe Public will perhaps listen to Wiggo, Cav, His Hoyness or Queen Victoria, whereas I'm pretty sure that a dull DfT message will be largely ignored. It needs to be done soon, though, before the memory begins to fade and the sideburns are removed.


Tony Farrelly | 11 years ago

Jederich is right the Highway Code advice on safe passing distance could definitely do with clarification. "Half a car width" is at least specific - trouble is it isn't very much. A Peugeot 405 is 1.7m wide - half of one is 850cm, in old money a tad over two and a half foot, or to use another analogy about the size of an average flat screen TV.

I know I don't feel very safe when cars, vans and lorries give me a TVs width of passing space as they hurtle pass above the speed limit on the two A-roads I commute. Usually about one a day gets that close - when it's a bus (which it often is) the backwash of air can knock me off-line.

BigDummy | 11 years ago

It doesn't have a moon-walking bear in it.

For that reason, I'm out.

gazza_d | 11 years ago

Bear in mind that the budget for this campaign is the same as the subsidy for 16 electric cars and you will see how little time, effort and money is being put into this.

The comment about wearing light or reflective clothing during the day - what about grey or black cars then?

This could have been so much better, had they got the cycling organisations on board properly and put some decent money up. the only people happy with this are the driving organisations, which speaks volumes.

I just think that it is a cynical minimal box-ticking exercise, which could lead to more victim blame when accidents happen.

Or maybe I've been watching too much "The Thick Of It"!

Beaufort | 11 years ago

Hi, first post :0

Speaking unscientifically, the thing that would make the most difference to me as a cyclist on the road would be drivers paying 100% attention to what they're doing. For me that is more important than speed as a factor of danger. I'd say that here near Folkestone, around 80% of drivers give me enough space when overtaking and the other 20% are a sliding scale of closer and scarier, regardless of their speed. Some of my closest calls have been with vehicles around the 25mph mark, their drivers not really minding the road totally.

As we acknowledge, hi-vis and helmets are personal choice and I choose both whenever I go out. I've had some scary near misses as a driver with riders in black with no lights in the dark. Just trying to give myself every chance out there.

Paul M | 11 years ago

I suppose we can hope that Steve Hammond will be an improvement on Mike Penning. Certainly he can't be any worse - thinking cyclists are safer here than in the Netherlands, I ask you!

Also the new transport secretary seems to have said some sensible things about speed - he emphasises that it is the principal cause of road deaths these days and he is clearly sceptical about increasing motorway speed limits.

I agree with other commenters that the HIghway Code's "as much as you woudl give a car" doesn't actually mean, textually, a car's width, but I think you have to read the photo alongside the words in the Code and the photo is pretty explicit. In any case, there are recommendations for the minimum space needed between a cyclist and overtaking vehicles (in cycle lane design guidamce from the DfT) which I think talk of 1.2m for a car passing at 20mph, and about 2.5m for a bus passing at 30. In general, bigger or faster vehicles require a wider margin in the design standards.

belgravedave | 11 years ago

Does anyone know how much Forsters were paid for the campaign, bet it was more than the £80k spent on advertising, what a waste of money.

joolsybools | 11 years ago

I guess half a car's width is ok if said vehicle is travelling at 20mph or less. At 30 or 40? Sorry, that's just not enough. How about a lorry or bus driver? Should they only allow half a car's width with their wide vehicles?

What about the 'wear reflective clothing during the day' advice. Should I go an buy a top with sequins or mirrors on? I guess they mean hi-viz (gah!) but don't know the terminology. Pretty poor from a Govt Dept imo and obviously not written by anyone who really knows anything about cycling. Plus ca change.

And no, I shall not mention the H word.

cavasta | 11 years ago

While cycling in the French Alps, I came across this clear and sensible road sign:

Something else we could learn from the French.

antigee | 11 years ago

agree with above think the highway code passing guidance is hard to understand "at least 1/2 a cars width" seems simple - mind you £80k isn't going to really impact that many people anyway

didn't really understand this: Use your indicators - signal your intentions so that cyclists can react

first bit yes - but so can react? - react defensively as in not filter or as in give way?? - reads like a get out for the "well i indicated left" and the cyclist was going faster than i thought" driver

Arno du Galibier | 11 years ago

Going in the right direction. The advice is pretty sensible over all. Could argue till the cows come home over helmet, but it's a detail over trying to make sure fewer people gets knocked off in the first place.

I read the highway code in the same way as Jaderich and Zoxed. Half a car space would do nicely for me.

notfastenough | 11 years ago

A previous study (sorry, can't recall who or provide a link) said that traffic-calming could include narrowing of roads, which turns cyclists into 'rolling speed humps', and pinch-points to reduce speed. I suppose they do reduce vehicle speed, but they also make conditions worse for cyclists.

Simon E | 11 years ago

Interestingly, I was just tidying my hard drive and came upon the DfT's Infrastructure and Cyclist Safety document, published in November 2011 (53kb). The very first point in the Main Findings section on page one is:

"Of all interventions to increase cycle safety, the greatest benefits come from reducing motor vehicle speeds. Interventions that achieve this are also likely to result in casualty reductions for all classes of road user. This may be achieved by a variety of methods, including physical traffic calming; urban design that changes the appearance and pedestrian use of a street; and, possibly, the wider use of 20 mph speed limits."

So while not looking properly, SMIDSY etc are all good things to point out, I think lots of people know in the hearts that the way to reduce casualties is to reduce vehicle speed. That won't go down well with the road lobby and pricks in BMWs, so a nice (and brief) tokenistic pink-and-fluffy, smiley-facey campaign would be much more agreeable.

But asking people to "be nice" while driving just doesn't work. If Hammond and his department really want to take cyclist safety seriously, as they claim, then they need to focus more on what's causing the casualties in the first place. And for the benefit of Daily Mail types, no, that's not a clampdown on cyclists RLJing or riding on the pavement.

notfastenough | 11 years ago

It's a start, but "quotes from organisations such as the RAC, the AA and the IAM" just screams CAR MENTALITY!

Still, moving in the right direction.

jarderich | 11 years ago

"The campaign encourages drivers to give cyclists “at least half a car’s width” of space – but that’s half the distance set out in the Highway Code, Rule 163 of which tells motorists to "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car."

We as cyclists are guilty of misinterpreting the highway code I think. We see that picture of the car overtaking the cyclist and the gap in between and think "aha - a vehicle's width between me and the car". But if it was two cars in the picture (instead of a car and a bike) there wouldn't be another car's width between the two.

I don't disagree that the ideal scenario is for a car to overtake a bike by crossing right over to the other side of the road, indeed I would encourage it, but technically "as much room as you would when overtaking a car" isn't that much.

You could argue that the DfT is being generous in this new advice.

Perhaps the Highway Code should be revised to be more specific.

zoxed replied to jarderich | 11 years ago
jarderich wrote:

...think "aha - a vehicle's width between me and the car". But if it was two cars in the picture (instead of a car and a bike) there wouldn't be another car's width between the two.

This is what I have been thinking: watching cars overtaking on narrow roads there is often very little space between them, and when cars overtake *parked* cars their wing mirrors sometimes clip !! I would take "1/2 cars width" over "as much room as you would when overtaking a car" any day !! Although use the other lane would be even better !!

Avatar replied to zoxed | 11 years ago

Maybe you are thinking in terms of vehicles rather than people. It's not about the distance between two vehicles, i.e. a bicycle and a car. It's about people. Obviously you can have quite a small gap between two cars, because the people inside the cars are relatively protected. You cannot have the same space between a car and the elbow of a person. This is whay drivers need to assume an 'invisble' small car around the person on a bike. I think this is what the image tries to convey.
In any case the point is that you need to move into the next lane, i.e. no oncoming/overtaking traffic, before overtaking a person on a bike. Once you do that, it really is not very difficult to give plenty of space.
There are some nice streets in London where this may not be required bcause they have wide nearside lanes.

Sarah Barth | 11 years ago

Er, £80k for a 'Think Cyclist' campaign.

In March 2012 a £1.2million 'Think Bike' campaign for motorcyclists was launched; this followed a similar one in 2010.

These included TV adverts, back of bus signs, all sorts.

Let's have some parity here.

The modal share of motorcycles, as a percentage of traffic on the road, was 1% in 2002.

In 2011 the modal share for bicycles was 2%.

Come on.

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