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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.

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Give cyclists room

Give cyclists room

One of the things which puts people off cycling on the road is the tendency of some drivers to pass far too close. So how much room should a driver give a cyclist or other vulnerable road user when overtaking? Well, the Highway Code in Rule 163 says “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 user 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”.

Where does this leave vulnerable road users? Well it leaves them vulnerable without proper legal protection. In other countries, notable France and the USA (in 19 states) there are laws which require drivers to give cyclists road space, in the US at least 3 feet (0.9 m) and in France at least 1.5 m (4.9 ft). Shouldn’t it be the same in the UK? There is currently a petition to the Prime Minister to introduce legislation that would mean all motorists must allow a minimum of 3 feet in distance between their vehicle and any cyclist that they are driving past. If you would like to add your signature, you must do so before 06 January 2010.

Personally I would prefer that any legislation forthcoming apply to all vulnerable road users and follows the French model, requiring for a minimum distance of 1.5 m when overtaking. We all have an equal right to use the roads, drivers need to realise that they are not more equal than other road users. It is high time that we did something about the Sacred Bull in Society’s China Shop!

You don’t pay tax…

You don’t pay tax…

One of the more stupid statements made by motorists to cyclists is “you don’t pay tax”, sadly this is just not true. We all pay tax, as the old axiom has it: there are two things in life which are unavoidable, death and taxes. However, when challenged on this point, they go on to say that they alone pay something called “road tax”, and that the payment of this gives them a greater right to use the roads than anyone else. Again this is not true, here in the UK there is no such thing as “road tax”, there used to be a form of tax called the “Road Fund Licence”, but as I have pointed out elsewhere, this was abolished in 1936! We all pay for the roads through our taxes, so effectively we all pay “road tax”. Despite this, there is a widespread perception among motorists that they are somehow unfairly taxed, unlike those free loading cyclists and pedestrians who dare to use their roads.

So just how true is this perception that motorists are so unfairly taxed? Well in the financial year 2006-07 £28.43bn was raised from taxes on fuel and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). In the same year around £8.78bn went toward maintenance and £11.91bn new road building, but that is not the whole story. The cost of policing the roads and the expense incurred by the judicial system has been estimated to be £3bn. Also, the cost to the NHS of injuries due to road accidents crashes, according to figures from collated by RoSPA, was £9.93bn. So the total cost to government was £33.62bn, meaning there was a short fall of £5.19bn, which had to be covered from other non-motoring related taxation.

In addition there is the cost to businesses and other drivers due to delays caused by congestion, estimated by those rampant greens, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), to be about £19.1bn.

Even this does not cover the whole cost of motoring to the nation as a whole, there are a large raft of hidden costs borne by all UK tax payers, these include –

  • Noise pollution: in the form of lowered house prices, spoilt semi-natural areas, ill-health and disturbed sleep, estimated to cost £3.1bn. One case study was based on over 3500 property sales in Glasgow, suggested that property prices were depressed by 0.20% for each decibel increase in road noise. (also see Roads: traffic noise)
  • Air pollution (not including CO2): estimated to be between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year and this is likely to be an under-estimate! [Update: A conservative estimate for one type of air pollution (particulates) is that it reduces average life expectancy in the UK by around six months, worth £16 billion a year. DEFRA 2015] When looking at the costs associated with global warming, the figures are more difficult to pin down, but have the potential to dwarf our entire economic system. Transport contributes about 23% of UK domestic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and road transport is responsible for 93% of this.
  • Water pollution: in the form of run-off into rivers and drainage of leaking oil, break fluid, exhaust and soot from vehicles, rubber particulates from tyres and salt used in winter. Again estimated costs are uncertain, but are somewhere between £1bn and £16bn per year.
  • Costs to health due to lack of exercise: the British population is one of the fattest in Europe. The direct cost of obesity to the NHS is £0.5bn per year, the indirect health impacts of physical inactivity, estimated to be £10.7 billion per annum, and on top of that the indirect cost to the UK economy is at least £2bn per year.
  • Insurance: Car insurance is a competitive business. Figures released by the Association of British Insurers show that the payouts to road users were not covered by their premiums. The average shortfall for the five years from 1988 to 1992 was £626 million per year. In other words, insurance companies are charging more on other kinds of insurance to subsidise motorists.
  • The cost of repairing pavements damaged by illegal parking: this has been estimated to cost in the region of £234m a year and that does not include the cost of policing, installing bollards and other devices to stop vehicles parking illegally or the cost of compensation claims for trips and falls caused by this damage.

The simple inconvenient fact is that it is 18% cheaper to run a car now than twenty years ago. This shows that “the motorist”, far from being unfairly taxed, is being heavily subsidised by the non-motoring tax payers. So it is motorists that are the free loaders on Britain’s roads, not the long suffering cyclists and pedestrians.

Now I really must get back to filling out my tax return, if only I could get a rebate for not owning a car …

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