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“Read the Highway Code – that is not a safe pass”: Police say post advising drivers to give cyclists “an arm’s length” of space while overtaking was published “in error”

“Motorists should always give cyclists at least 1.5 metres when overtaking and always be cautious when approaching vulnerable road users,” Thames Valley Police said in response to the social media backlash

Thames Valley Police have apologised and issued a reminder to motorists that they should leave cyclists at least 1.5 metres of space while overtaking, after a social media post and image appearing to advise drivers that an “arm’s length” of space was enough to pass safely was fiercely criticised by cyclists – prompting the force to claim that the advice was posted “in error”.

On Thursday morning, Thames Valley Police’s Roads Policing Unit posted on X, formerly Twitter, that motorists should afford cyclists space on the roads and only pass when it is safe to do so.

However, the image published alongside the advice provoked quite the stir on the social media platform, with Thames Valley Police sharing an image of a cyclist standing beside a car with his arm outstretched, appearing to indicate that a solitary arm’s length is enough for motorists to pass safely – despite the Highway Code instructing drivers to leave at least 1.5 metres (and more at higher speeds) while overtaking cyclists.

Thames Valley Police criticised for 'safe' overtake post (Thames Valley Police Roads Policing)

“Is this a close pass?” one road.cc reader who got in touch with us asked of the image. “As one commentator has put it, the average human male arm length is 78cm – but this seems to be condoning an arm’s length as a proper passing distance, which is weird to me.”

In response to the police’s post, Cycling Mikey – the cycle safety advocate and camera cyclist – wrote: “This is not a safe pass – Thames Valley Police are showing here a dangerous close pass. The Met have prosecuted many similar passes as a result of my videos.”

Mikey, along with several other cyclists on X, shared a photo of a safe pass on a cyclist illustrated in the Highway Code, which the cycling campaigner noted is “closer to 2m than the 0.7m the Thames Valley picture wrongly shows as a ‘safe pass’.”

Others similarly questioned the force’s understanding of the Highway Code’s guidance on overtaking cyclists.

“This is not a safe pass,” agreed Jerry. “The driver has not used the full width of the road nor left an absolute minimum of 1.5m.

“Please read the Highway Code, rule 163, which shows what a safe overtake looks like.”

In response to the criticism, Thames Valley Police deleted the post, which they claimed was “tweeted in error”, and replaced it with one featuring the Highway Code’s recommended image and what the force called “the appropriate guidance”:

“A post was issued on one of our social media accounts with incorrect information, this has now been removed and updated,” a spokesperson for Thames Valley Police told road.cc.

“We apologise for the confusion the original post caused. Motorists should always give cyclists at least 1.5 metres when overtaking and always be cautious when approaching vulnerable road users.”

> Police social media team face backlash for "victim blaming" posts reminding cyclists to wear helmets

While the decision to replace the advice has earned praise from cyclists on social media, this isn’t the first time that Thames Valley Police have been criticised for their social media output concerning cyclists.

In 2022, the social media team for TVP’s West Oxfordshire branch were on the receiving end of a backlash from cyclists following what many deemed to be their “victim blaming” choice of wording on posts relating to a collision.

The posts said that officers “attended a collision involving a cyclist and a car”, after which the cyclist was transported to hospital by helicopter, and ended by warning those out cycling to “please remember to wear a helmet!”

Many on Twitter criticised the lack of clarification over whether the car was being driven by a person or not at the time of the collision, and suggested that the closing reminder about helmets could be irrelevant, considering that regular cycling helmets are not rated to protect against impacts from vehicles.

“When people get stabbed, do you ask the general public to ‘remember to wear stab vests’?” Freddie Jackson wrote on what was then Twitter in response to the posts.

“I’m sure the tweeter meant well, but it was a misguided bit of advice,” added Simon. “The only situation I can think of where it might be appropriate is if the car was stationary, so didn’t cause the collision, and would have had no driver.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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23 comments

Avatar
brooksby | 1 week ago
5 likes

Not to do with cycling, but to do with the HC: pedestrianising toward a junction in central Bristol. Four or five blokes crossing ahead of me. A car approached down the main road, the driver intending to turn right into the road I wished to cross.

i started out into the road but the driver carried on - I raised my arms, shouted what do you think you're doing? as the driver came to a stop about a foot away from me. The driver wound down her window and shouted that she couldn't just wait in the road to turn, could she. I asked her who she thinks has priority, to which she replied that SHE did. I said she was wrong, but she just wound her window up and sped away.

I had to Google it when I got back to the office to make sure I'd not imagined the changes to the HC...

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eburtthebike replied to brooksby | 1 week ago
2 likes

Had the same a few times, crossing a T-junction, driver doesn't want to stop and shouts abuse for my temerity in following the HC, which they clearly don't know.

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quiff replied to brooksby | 1 week ago
0 likes

It's the triumph of hope over experience, but I tell them to have a look at rule H2. Most won't give it another thought, but if just one or two doubt themselves and actually look it up like you...  

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IanMK | 1 week ago
3 likes

TVP used to be quite good. I often received updates from them on action taken after submissions and even the occasional phone call. In the last few months it's been nothing. I even had a close pass go to the magistrates court in April and despite the letter they sent saying I would be informed of the outcome, and me chasing them, I have heard nothing. I wonder if there's been a change in management because I don't believe that any of the people I used to speak with would make such a crass mistake.

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wtjs replied to IanMK | 1 week ago
3 likes

TVP used to be quite good...

We've also heard of other forces going backwards and no longer taking offences against cyclists seriously- I think we've heard this of Gloucestershire, and West Midlands. My guess, and it's difficult to know about other areas other than by reading reports on here, is that forces see that the really bad ones like Lancashire and Scotland get away with 'it's the gay, woke lycra-clad cycling menace's own fault for cluttering up the roads, cycling at busy periods, after dark and during royal funerals, causing traffic jams and pollution, knocking countless pedestrians and wheelchair users down etc. etc., and decide to save effort and follow suit. Lancashire already has its own Highway Code containing virtually no road traffic offences and TVP is just investigating whether it, too, can get away with subverting the legislation and HC by making up its own standard for a 'safe pass', so that any pass is OK because 'it was only a foot inside the accepted distance, and the cyclist must have wobbled or the driver wouldn't have suffered that 'cyclist-collides-with-car' incident that he will have to live with for many years'. TVP has received some criticism, and has made a tactical withdrawal, but it's still what they really think!

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giff77 replied to wtjs | 1 week ago
3 likes

To be fair I think that a lot of police officers are frustrated with the guidelines laid down by the relevant prosecution bodies across the U.K. and the unwillingness by the same to pursue prosecution. Talks with various retired officers have revealed this as well as their frustrations with last minute guilty pleas and light sentencing. 

Granted there are apathetic officers and ranking officials who cascade inaction regarding road crime which is ironic as you would think that they would want to up their stats on successful action against crime. 
 

Strangely enough a high ranking PSNI officer has been venting his annoyance regarding the poor sentencing from the courts in Northern Ireland. 
https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/crime/top-policeman-criticises-the-sen...

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wtjs replied to giff77 | 1 week ago
1 like

I think that a lot of police officers are frustrated with the guidelines laid down by the relevant prosecution bodies across the U.K. and the unwillingness by the same to pursue prosecution

Oh yeah?! The police are always blaming the CPS, but the indisputable offences virtually never get that far because the police bin them. So these would have been impossible to prosecute then?

https://upride.cc/incident/px12dnd_stagecoach42_closepass/

https://upride.cc/incident/k7ddy_audia4_redlightpass/

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hawkinspeter replied to IanMK | 1 week ago
6 likes
IanMK wrote:

TVP used to be quite good.

Reminds me of the Vesta meals from the 70s

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mdavidford | 1 week ago
9 likes

It's not even an arm's length. It's an arm's length less a wing mirror.

On the other hand, though, the cyclist looks distinctly unimpressed by the situation, so maybe that was meant to be the point all along.

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ktache replied to mdavidford | 1 week ago
4 likes

Wing...?

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momove replied to mdavidford | 1 week ago
1 like

And less half the handlebar width.

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Backladder | 1 week ago
1 like

“When people get stabbed, do you ask the general public to ‘remember to wear string vests’?” Freddie Jackson wrote on what was then Twitter in response to the posts.

FTFY Freddie

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wtjs | 1 week ago
15 likes

Unfortunately, while the police have been persuaded to describe the first post as an error, it is what they actually believe and what they still (I'm guessing) usually don't act upon.

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Pub bike replied to wtjs | 1 week ago
7 likes

Institutionally anti-cyclist.

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open_roads | 1 week ago
10 likes

A good move would be for the police to scrap their useless social media roles and re-assign the budget to actual road traffic policing roles.

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Hirsute replied to open_roads | 1 week ago
3 likes

Some of them do post in their own time !

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andystow | 1 week ago
11 likes

If a cyclist holds out a cricket or baseball bat in their outstretched arm, it gives an excellent visual cue of approximately 1.5 m, and encourages safe passes.

Hypothetically.

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brooksby replied to andystow | 1 week ago
5 likes

I bet it would be even closer to 1.5 metres if that bat had a big pointy metal thing attached to the end…

Just sayin'

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momove replied to andystow | 1 week ago
0 likes

But how strong are your arms?! I could do that for about four seconds I reckon.

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andystow replied to momove | 1 week ago
5 likes
momove wrote:

But how strong are your arms?! I could do that for about four seconds I reckon.

I don't have huge arms, but I don't have cyclist arms, so maybe ten to thirty seconds? I've never tried.

I've gone over five minutes in a stein holding contest, though.

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Sriracha | 1 week ago
9 likes

They must have been thinking in terms of the "long arm of the law".

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eburtthebike replied to Sriracha | 1 week ago
2 likes
Sriracha wrote:

They must have been thinking in terms of the "long arm of the law".

The wrong arm of the law, surely?

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nniff replied to eburtthebike | 1 week ago
0 likes

The law is an ass, but a hoof would make short work of a wing mirror

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