Close passing parts of Highway Code could be beefed up, announces Department for Transport

The Department for Transport has today announced plans to update road safety laws to protect cyclists and pedestrians. This will include looking at rule 163 of the Highway Code which suggests that motorists should give cyclists (and equestrians on horseback) as much space as when passing a car. This is poorly defined in the Highway Code, and might be beefed up, making it clearer to motorists how to safely pass cyclists on the road.

Cycling UK welcomed this part of the DfT’s announcement. Policy director Roger Geffen said: “Most close passes come from a position of ignorance rather than malicious intent and it’s heartening to see the Government is acknowledging the problem of close passing with a review of the Highway Code.”

In July 2017, Cycling UK launched its Too Close for Comfort campaign, and has provided 38 police forces across the UK with close pass mats to conduct public awareness campaigns and road traffic operations.

The close pass mats are modelled on those used in West Midlands Traffic Police’s award-winning road safety operation – ‘Give Space, Be Safe’ – which targeted close passes.

Earlier than that Chris Boardman fronted an industry-sponsored video on how to overtake cyclists. This was paid for by the Bicycle Association, and across a number of platforms has been viewed over half a million times.

A survey of 2,000 people, carried out by ComRes on behalf of Cycling UK, recently showed that 52 percent of people weren’t aware of the current Highway Code recommendations to give cyclists at least as much room as a car when overtaking.

Cycling UK and many cycle campaigners are not so positive about the rest of the Department for Transport plans announced today because these “include clamping down on dangerous cyclists, following a campaign earlier this year to clamp down on dangerous drivers.”

However, the only detail in the DfT’s statement on how this will be accomplished is the announcement of a public consultation on the worth of introducing a “death by dangerous cycling” offence. This will be open for 12 weeks from today and follows a recommendation for a law change by Laura Thomas of law firm Birketts which was commissioned to look at the issue by the DfT.

Roads minister Jesse Norman said:

“In recent weeks we have announced a range of measures designed to protect vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. These include new measures to combat close passing, training for driving instructors, better collision investigation and £100 million in new investment through the Safer Roads Fund.

“Now we are taking further steps. These include a consultation on new cycling offences, further work on national guidance on cycling and walking infrastructure, and improvements to the Highway Code.

“All these measures are designed to support the continued growth of cycling and walking, with all the benefits they bring to our communities, economy, environment and society.”

Matt Briggs, whose wife Kim was killed by a cyclist in 2016, said:

“I welcome the government’s proposals for new legislation around causing death and serious injury by dangerous and careless cycling. This public consultation is an important step towards updating the arcane laws that are currently being used to prosecute cycling offences.

“I would urge people to contribute to the consultation and of course to support the proposed changes to the law.”

A death by dangerous cycling offence had been expected to be announced in March following a mainstream-media supported campaign by Briggs.

Kim Briggs lost her life after she was involved in a road traffic incident in London in 2016. She died a week after being hit by fixie rider Charlie Alliston, whose bicycle didn’t have a front brake, making it illegal for use on the public highway. Late last year, Alliston was sentenced to 18 months in youth detention after being convicted of the 1861 offence of “wanton and furious driving”.

After his wife’s death, Briggs launched a social media campaign to get cycle retailers to only sell legally-compliant bicycles, and for the government to add cyclists to the existing law against causing death by careless or dangerous motoring.

In 2015, two pedestrians were killed in Britain after being hit by cyclists; in the same year motorists killed 409 pedestrians.

Despite this disparity, the government announced a two-pronged cycle safety review in September last year.

Transport minister Jesse Norman said at the time: “It’s great that cycling has become so popular in recent years, but we need to make sure that our road safety rules keep pace with this change.

“We already have strict laws that ensure that drivers who put people’s lives at risk are punished but, given recent cases, it is only right for us to look at whether dangerous cyclists should face the same consequences.

“We’ve seen the devastation that reckless cycling and driving can cause, and this review will help safeguard both Britain’s cyclists and those who share the roads with them.”

A fully-fledged road safety review was promised by the government four years ago but it has yet to see the light of day.

Cycling UK believes the DfT’s announcement of a law change on “dangerous cycling” following a consultation would be merely “tinkering around the edges” of road safety, and instead the government should introduce its long overdue road-safety review.

Cycling UK’s head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore said: “The way in which the justice system deals with mistakes, carelessness, recklessness and deliberately dangerous behaviour by all road users hasn’t been fit for purpose for years.

“Adding one or two new offences specific to cyclists would just be tinkering around the edges, when what’s needed is a full review of all road traffic offences and penalties, something the government promised back in 2014 but have yet to deliver.

“If they’re serious about addressing behaviour on our roads that puts others at risk they should grasp the opportunity to do the job properly, and conduct the holistic review that’s long overdue, rather than attempt to patch up an area of legislation that’s simply not working.”

In addition to the Highway Code proposals and the death-by-dangerous-cycling consultation the government has also commissioned its Cycle Proofing Working Group to develop national guidance and best practice for cycling and walking infrastructure, “so that all road users can benefit from the best facilities.”

The government has also announced today that £1 million will be provided to support the pathfinder demonstration projects for repairing and upgrading sections of the National Cycle Network (NCN).

The DfT has also announced that it is gathering evidence on the effectiveness of current laws on pavement parking to address safety issues concerning cyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users.

The Department’s call for evidence on cycling and walking, which closed at the start of June, gave people the opportunity to share their views and opinions on ways to improve cycling and walking safety from improved infrastructure to education for all road users. The findings of the consultation will be shared in due course.

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