I’ve written about three behaviours that act as the greatest deterrent to novice cyclists. These are often given colloquial names by cyclists like “tailgating”, “close passing” or “left hook” but they also cause crashes. As a cop I prefer to call them unsafe following, overtaking and turning. Are they illegal? Oh, yes. You probably haven’t heard of them because they’re not what we call specific offences. They are all subject to the Highway Code’s guidance, which “may be used as evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts”.
Normally, we report these offences using section 3, Road Traffic Act, often called “careless driving”. The actual wording says “driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons.”
What does this actually mean? Section 3ZA2 says, “a person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if the way he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.” Hardly a fool-proof definition in itself, which is why the Highway Code is used as guidance. Alternatively, as our friends in the West Midlands succinctly put it, you can simply ask, “what would happen if I did that on my driving test – pass or fail?”
But there’s more. What about the “reasonable consideration”? Section 3ZA4 tells us, “a person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving.” Unlike “due care and attention”, this requires someone else to be a “victim” of the driving behaviour but that person need only be inconvenienced, not placed in potential danger.
It doesn’t take much thought to realise how many driving behaviours fall into this category, does it? So why are they so depressingly common? Partly, I think the answer lies in a lack of empathy. Drivers just don’t realise how it feels to be subject to a close pass because only a minority of them cycle. We’re busy reminding them of the Highway Code guidance with our plain-clothes patrols but I thought it would also be interesting to place this in a different context. Now, as an investigator and family liaison officer with too much experience of dealing with the bereaved, I thought long and hard about this. I’m loath to trivialise the acts that can wreak such havoc but many ordinary non-cycling people just don’t understand the intimidating effect of their behaviour on those who feel vulnerable. The same people have no idea that a small miscalculation or a moment’s inattention can result in death and misery. I wanted to highlight the contrast between attitudes to behaviours behind the wheel and those in a non-road setting. Are people more likely to “get it” if they see it from a different, more familiar perspective? That’s why our new video clips are so interesting. Perhaps people will pass the rider wider because barging in is rude rather than because it’s dangerous. Maybe the reason for hanging back is that they don’t want to appear creepy, but does the motive matter? I’d argue not.
Despite knowing the right thing to do, I suspect some people tailgate or overtake when it’s not safe due to perceived pressure from the driver behind. Ever helpful, I’ve got a solution for that, too. Our friends at the London Cycling Campaign and Havebike have produced car stickers to put in the rear windscreen that simply say “I give space for cyclists”. We’ll give them to drivers and give them away at Exchanging Places events (because most cyclists are drivers).
Traditional enforcement work results in penalty points, fines and bitter drivers. The aim of all this work is to produce better drivers. And, as a result, safer people, regardless of how they choose to travel.