How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

Some time back I wrote a post called Give cyclists room. I have noticed over the following years that this post gets regular traffic, from people coming with search terms such as “How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?”. So I thought, as an ex-driving instructor and a regular cyclist, this would be a subject worth revisiting.

Let’s start with the basics, as a driver you should first ask your self two questions before overtaking: “Do I need to overtake?” and then “Do I really need to overtake?” Many drivers don’t seem to have the ability to consider their journey as a whole, instead they merely concentrate on the next 100 metres of road (if that much). Let’s be realistic, yes that cyclist might be going slower than you, but is it really worth putting their life at risk to get to end of that queue of stationary traffic waiting at a red light 10 seconds earlier? Most of the time the cyclist will probably catch up, pass you while you are sitting waiting for the lights to change, so what have you gained?

Likewise, on a rural road that group of cyclists might only be travelling at 20 mph and you may have to wait behind them for a mile before you can find a safe place to pass them. But in terms of your overall journey time, it will probably delay you by less than a couple of minutes. Therefore, unless your journey is genuinely part of a life and death emergency, there is probably no real need to overtake at all. They have just as much right to use the road as you do, and yes they are allowed to ride two abreast. When riding as a group, it is generally safer for all concerned if cyclists ride two abreast than than be strung out in a long line. If the road is clear and it is safe to overtake, then treat them as if you were overtaking a large vehicle which can not move out of your way.

Having decided that you are going to overtake, it is very important that you make make sure that:

  • the road ahead is sufficiently clear
  • other road users are not about to overtake you, and that
  • there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake

This is all laid out in Rule 162 of the Highway Code, which then goes on to say in Rule 163 “Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should: … give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”

Give vulnerable road users space

This is followed up in Rule 212 which states “When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules 162-167). If they look over their shoulder, it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or change direction. Give them time and space to do so.” So the advice in the Highway Code is clear. However, it is just that, advice, the Highway Code only tells drivers that they should give vulnerable road users space on the roads, not that they must. This is an important distinction, because where the Highway Code uses the word must, it is indicating the Rule is a legal requirement and there is a penalty if the Rule is disobeyed. Where the word should is used, failure to comply with the Rule “will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, but may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability”. It is perhaps unfortunate that the Highway Code isn’t a bit firmer on this, but this is what we have, unless Parliament can be persuaded to change it.

Many drivers consider themselves “good drivers”, some even consider themselves to be “advanced drivers”. However, before we go any further, I would like to make it absolutely clear that driving fast or simply being a member of the “Institute of Advanced Motorists”, does not make you in any way an advanced driver (although some advanced drivers may do these things). Advanced Driving is about recognising hazards in good time and responding to them appropriately, which generally means slowing down. Rather than trying to explain how this would work in real life situations, I have found these videos which show clearly how it should be done.


At the end of the day, it is important to remember that roads are not for cars, but are for people, however they choose to travel. Holding a driving licence confers on the driver no more right to the road than that of any other road user, but does permit them to operate potentially lethal machinery in a public space. This is a privilege and not a right, and one that comes with responsibilities.

Addendum: This post was accidentally lost and recreated from Google’s cache.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Possibly Related Posts: (automatically generated)

One thought on “How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

  1. I would like to give as much space as possible to bike riders when I see someone bike riding near my car. It’s better to keep appropriate distance, to make every thing safer during riding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
%d bloggers like this: