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By Spencers Solicitors

  Steven Barke    
  June 14, 2022

Cycling Accidents - Don’t Come Too Close to Me

Sometimes I don’t know how lucky I am to work at Spencers Solicitors. Our office is in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with the beautiful Peak District National Park, right on our doorstep.

Derbyshire is as ideal for cycling as anywhere in the whole of the UK, with stunning landscapes and some great climbs for the more adventurous cyclist.

Although I am biased, I believe I am in the best place in the country to cycle. However, I must admit that I am not alone. There are plenty of other scenic parts of the country that are brilliant places to cycle around.

With that in mind, it is perhaps a bit surprising that the UK has one of the lowest cycling participation levels in Europe. An EU report found that only 4% of people say they cycle every day, 10% cycle a few times per week, 17% a few times a month or less, and 69% say that they never cycle. The UK came 25th out of a total of 29 countries in terms of levels of cycling frequency.

Why is it that some people will never cycle? After all cycling ticks so many boxes. It’s the healthiest form of transport possible. It’s fun, it can be a family pastime and it’s an extremely economical mode of transport.

The percentage of people who say they never cycle varies over the years, but it always remains a high percentage. What doesn’t seem to change is the main reason those people give as to why they would never cycle on roads. Over a third of them consider it too dangerous to do so.

However, whilst every cycling accident casualty is one too many, Cycling UK has produced evidence that reveals that;

  • There were around 9.7 million cycle trips for every cyclist death;
  • The general risk of injury of any severity whilst cycling was just 0.05 per 1,000 hours of cycling.
  • The health benefits of cycling outweigh the injury risks by between 13:1 and 415:1

Cycling in the UK is still a relatively safe activity. I’d go as far as to say that statistically, it is positively not dangerous, relative to other forms of transport.

Why do so many people think it is too dangerous to cycle on the road?

There are several factors. These include;

  1. Sub-standard cycling infrastructure – still too few cycling lanes, for instance.
  2. The attitude of some road users towards cyclists, which can on occasion reflect itself in aggressive driving behavior in the vicinity of cyclists
  3. Traffic congestion – the sheer volume of traffic on the road.
  4. Poor driving techniques by other road users when in the vicinity of cyclists.

Dangerous maneuvers by road users that cause cyclists concern

I think there are two specific maneuvers by other road users that cause cyclists to concern above all others and are the two most widely cited by those who say they don’t cycle because of safety concerns.

One is the danger of being ‘doored’. Cyclists really do fear passing parked vehicles and having a door into their path. This is a topic that I have covered in my previous blog which suggested that adopting a method of opening a vehicle door, called the Dutch Reach, might reduce the number of accidents where cyclists are hit by doors flung open by motorists or their passengers.

However, probably the biggest fear that would be and actual cyclists both have, is that of being knocked from their bike by vehicles that attempt to overtake them without leaving enough space between their vehicle and the bike.

Government facts and figures show that around 75% of all cycling casualties (meaning those killed, those seriously injured and those with less serious injuries), took place at or within 20 metres of a junction. So is being injured in a cycling accident caused by motorists giving insufficient room when overtaking, not as much of a problem as we might think?

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Near misses

A scientific journal carried the findings of a report which was commonly known as 'The Near Miss Project.’ The reports’ authors investigated the incidents of near misses and related incidents that cyclists have experienced.

The main findings of the report were as follows;

  • Fear of injury is a barrier to cycling and experiencing non-injury incidents (near misses) may contribute to this.
  • UK cyclists experience very high rates of non-injury incidents, by comparison with any reported injury rates.
  • The most frightening incidents involve moving motor vehicles, particularly larger vehicles.
  • Problematic passing manoeuvres are especially frequent and frightening.
  • Higher rates are experienced in the morning peak time and by slower cyclists.

Problematic passing manoeuvres are referred to in the report as meaning ‘passes that were too close’ and it is further noted that these were ‘especially frequent and frightening.’

Whilst the incidence of actual cycling accidents, is still relatively rare, the incidence of near misses, is an almost daily fact of life for active cyclists.

The fear of cycling accidents being caused by problematic passing manoeuvres led to calls for there to be a more defined position on a minimum passing distance for vehicles that overtake cyclists.

The law on keeping a safe distance when passing cyclists – as it was

The Highway Code contains provisions relating to the overtaking of other vehicles and the recommended best practice.

I have highlighted the word ‘recommended’ because in the Highway Code there is an important distinction between the use of the word ‘recommended’ and the word ‘must’.

If the word recommended is used it is just that – a recommended or advised practice. However, the Highway Code may still be used in court, to help establish a person’s liability under the civil law, should they have driven in a manner other than as recommended by a specific rule of the Highway Code.

If a rule uses the words ‘must’ or ‘must not’ then these are mandatory rules i.e. compulsory and if a person drives in a manner which is in contravention of a ‘must’ rule, then they open themselves up to the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Rule 163 of the Highway Code previously read as follows;

Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should;

(amongst other provisions)

  • not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
  • move quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in
  • give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).

And Rule 212 read as follows;

  • When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules 162 to 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.
  • Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.

The rules laid down no mandatory requirements and were vague in terms of recommended practice e.g. allow plenty of room.

The New Highway Code Rule on overtaking cyclists

In January 2022 the Highway Code was been updated to include new fines and points for dangerously overtaking cyclists. The new edition of the code states that drivers should leave a gap of at least 1.5 meters when overtaking a cyclist at speeds of up to 30mph and give them more pace when overtaking at higher speeds. Drivers who are caught breaking the rule could face a £100 fine and receive three penalty points.

What will the new rule mean in practice?

It sounds like a bit of a cliché and perhaps even a ‘cop out’, but in this instance I can really only say that it remains to be seen how this will affect cycling accident statistics in the long term, motor vehicle driver’s attitudes and practices when overtaking cyclists and whether it will lead to cyclists feeling less vulnerable when out on the road. Will it eventually lead to more of those people who say they feel that it is too dangerous to cycle on the road, to take up cycling after all?

In the more immediate future, it might;

  1. Make drivers think more carefully when approaching cyclists and erring on the side of caution when deciding whether they can safely overtake or whether they should hold back (when in the past they might just have taken a chance that they could get past the cyclist). Hopefully drivers will do it because the law says that they must be a specific distance away from the cyclist as they overtake. Alternatively, they will do it because they don’t want to get prosecuted.
  2. Mean that errant drivers do get caught and prosecuted more regularly. If the law is to have a deterrent effect, then it needs to be applied and the public need to know that it is being applied.
  3. Make it clear to all road users that cyclists are in the category of vulnerable road users. They are human beings travelling on the road, with minimal bodily protection and their welfare depends to a huge extent on the safe and reasonable driving of other motorists.
  4. Reduce the risk of cycling accidents or those near misses that occur on a very frequent basis.

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident that wasn’t your fault, then contact our highly experienced bicycle accident claims solicitor, Steve Barke at Spencers, on 08000 93 00 94 for a totally obligation-free chat. Steve will be able to advise you on your prospects of making a successful cycling injury compensation claim and answer any questions that you may have. This initial telephone consultation will be entirely free. If you decide that you would like us to take on your claim, in most cases, we'll be able to do this for you by means of a No Win, No Fee personal injury claim. Call Spencers now or enquire online if you prefer to contact us via our website contact form.

Steve Barke

About the author

Steve is our resident cycling expert and solicitor who qualified in 1998 and has over 30 years experience in representing clients throughout the UK who have suffered catastrophic, complex serious injuries including amputations; whole body burns, and long term disabling psychological conditions as a result of serious workplace and road traffic accidents, in particular, catastrophic injuries in the steelworks and factories of South Wales; Kent and the Midlands.

In addition he has been an advocate at inquests representing families of loved ones who have died as a result of accidents. Steve goes that extra mile for clients exhibiting excellent client care.

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