New advice to drivers on how to overtake cyclists is dangerously different to that given in the Highway Code.

DfT unveils road safety advice that swerves away from the Highway Code

Stephen Hammond, the new road safety minister, has this morning unveiled the Department for Transport’s £80,000 ‘Think Cyclist’ campaign. However, a tips section for drivers on how best to overtake cyclists differs from the official advice given in the Highway Code. 

Rule 163 of the Highway Code states "give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car" and illustrates this advice with a photograph of a motorist leaving a full car’s width when overtaking a cyclist.

In the new ‘Think Cyclist’ campaign drivers are advised to "Give cyclists space – at least half a car’s width."

The new advice also has differing advice on ‘advanced stop lines’, the cycle-only boxes found at many traffic lights and junctions. ‘Think Cyclist’ says "Avoid driving over advance (sic) stop lines’ but rule 178 of the Highway Code says "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."

‘Must’ in the Highway Code is when the rules refer to a legal requirement.

The rest of the DfT campaign is good, solid advice, pointing out that "drivers and cyclists have more in common than is often realised."

A press release said "With 80% of cyclists holding a driving licence, and 1 in 5 drivers cycling at least once a month , they’re often the same people."

Stephen Hammond was recently appointed as road safety minister following the sacking of Mike Penning. Hammond signed off the new DfT campaign, which was produced by Forster, a communications agency.

Hammond said: “We take the issue of cycle safety extremely seriously. 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 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.”

Cheryl Campsie of Forster defended the use of the ‘half a car’s width’ analogy:

"It’s important when you’re driving to give other road users plenty of space. The Highway Code doesn’t specify how much space as it’s important that road users take all the circumstances into account when overtaking. However, we would expect cars to give at least half a car’s space when overtaking a cyclist."

This is the first time that the DfT’s Think! campaign has targeted cyclists and drivers together.

The campaign will be working with motoring and cycling organisations nationally and locally to help to get safety messages to their members, said a statement from the DfT.

Motoring organisation bosses are quoted on the DfT press release but there are no quotes from cycling organisations.

"They did consult [us] and we gave them considerable feedback, pointing out the errors," said Chris Peck, CTC’s policy coordinator.

"You will see from the press release that none of the cycling organisations offered a quote to the DfT. We certainly don’t agree with the line on overtaking."

RAC technical director David Bizley said: “Many of our members are cyclists as well as drivers and we are keen to see greater awareness of the needs and risks presented by modern road use to, potentially, vulnerable cyclists.”

AA President Edmund King said: "As fuel prices rise and fitness moves higher up the agenda there will be more cyclists. Drivers need to think more about cyclists on the road."

Here’s the Think Cyclist advice in full:

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

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