Undercover police in campaign to make roads safer for cyclists
Police pulled over drivers who got too close to an ‘undercover’ cyclist today in a crackdown on motorists who don’t give riders enough room.
Officers launched Operation Close Pass on Billacombe Road in Plymstock – stopping drivers and before giving them words of advice on how much life-threatening danger they are putting cyclists in.
The award-winning campaign has been widely praised by cycling campaigners and road safety experts across the country since it was unveiled by West Midlands Police (WMP) in September last year.
WMP said it recorded a 50 percent reduction in reported ‘too close for comfort’ offences in the following three months.
The guidance is there should be a 1.5 metre overtaking clearance between bikes and cars, but some drivers edge too close and can put cyclists at risk of injury or even death.
During the morning operation six drivers were brought into the Morrison car park where they were given guidance about passing cyclists and shown a specially-designed giant blue mat of the road. The mat shows the minimum 1.5m distance a driver should allow when passing the biker.
The rider had alerted colleagues in an unmarked police car and a police motorcycle rider when motorists overtook too closely, who then gave the offending driver directions where to pull in.
Approximately 3,430 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in the year ending September 2016, which was up two per cent on the previous 12 months.
The initiative will eventually be rolled out across Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police Alliance area.
Volunteer police cyclists will have cameras strategically placed at the front and back of their bikes to record passing traffic, which if necessary, can be used in court as evidence.
Offenders who are pulled over will be offered roadside education which includes use of the specially designed mat.
However, those who refuse the education route will instead receive a fixed penalty notice of £100 and three points on their license for the offence of ‘driving a vehicle without reasonable consideration of others’.
Sgt Gary Williamson, who heads up Plymouth police’s Serious Collisions Unit, said the hope was drivers would take the ‘educational’ route.
He said: “This is not about prosecution – this is about education of both car drivers and cyclists.
“This initiative came from the West Midlands Police and we’ve introduced it here as a result of campaigning by the local cycling groups, including the Plymouth Cycling Campaign.
“The response of those we pulled over was very good.
“There was a genuine ‘I didn’t realise’ by them all, which shows that it is about education rather than just enforcement. All of them were apologetic.
“We all live busy lives and it’s just about taking that extra thought when driving or riding.
“The Highway Code, rule 163 states that motorists should give the same room as if overtaking another car.
“We’ve taken the West Midlands Police line that it should be 1.5m, which is about the width of a car door.
“We are talking about vulnerable road users.
“We hear all these excuses and myths, like ‘I pay my road tax’ and ‘they’re not insured’ and we know there are a minority of cyclists who flout the road rules, just as there are a minority of drivers who flout the law.
“The one thing I would say to drivers is imagine the worst case scenario. It’s better to tut under your breath at the cyclists who has done something you are unhappy with than to knock them off their bike because they [cyclist] will come off worse every time.
“This is about respecting each other and care for our fellow road users. It’s one road and we’re all entitled to use it.”
Stuart Mee, of the Plymouth Cycling Campaign said he fully supported the police initiative.
He said: “It’s very difficult for people who don’t cycle to understand just how scary it can be on a bike on the roads.
“Drivers don’t always get it very often why it is we cycle in the way that we do. For example, sometimes we cycle in the middle of a lane and this is because there’s hazard on the inside.
“If a driver was to sit on a bike and have a car pass by at less than 1.5m they would know just how scary it can be.
“We’re both absolutely entitled to be on the roads and a campaign like this is just trying to make people more aware, to try and educate people, to get them to understand the dangers and difficulties that cyclists can face.”
Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, who attended the operation and spoke with officers involved and members of local cycle action groups, said: “Road safety is a priority for me within our Police and Crime Plan.
“I am delighted to support Operation Close Pass which is a great opportunity to educate and inform drivers and cyclists in order to make our roads safer for everyone.
“This initiative isn’t about penalising people – it is about educating drivers on how to interact safely with cyclists on our roads. Cyclists must also be responsible and the team will be working with them throughout the initiative.”
Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police Shaun Sawyer said: “As a motorist and cyclist I support this initiative as it seeks to educate motorists and cyclists as to their behaviours and perceptions on the road.
“At the heart of this, few cyclists would wish to wilfully obstruct the road, not least as many of them are motorists themselves. Similarly, few motorists would wish to jeopardise the safety of cyclists.
“On too many occasions lack of attention and courtesy leads to serious injury and fatality on our roads. This initiative is critical to our wider campaign of improving public safety, particularly in respect of young people.”