Watch your space! (Some) Drivers dangerously overtaking cyclists

As the lorry thundered past me on a rural road, the resulting drag pushed my cycle to one side and nearly resulted in a fall.  Whether the fall would have been onto the pavement, or the oncoming traffic is speculation as thankfully I quickly brought the bike under control.  Although, as a newbie-cleat-wearer, the momentary terror caused by the wobble was intensified!  Sadly, this example is not a one-off, as most times I venture out on my cycle, either a car, a lorry, or a tractor, will inevitably fail to slow down, or give me much space as they overtake.   Having said that, I must herald the lovely lorry drivers I have also encountered; on a few occasions I have been taken aback when a lorry slows right down and patiently waits until they can pass safely!  I read a great article recently which included pictures of cyclists being overtaken by vehicles and certainly provided food for thought.

One of my pet hates is drivers not giving cyclists enough space, or failing to slow down, when overtaking: whether I am the cyclist, or a driver observing another driver’s lack of consideration.  Few motorists seem to have read, or pay attention to, the rules on overtaking in the highway code which stipulate that drivers should:

give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-213) and (214-215)

And few seem to consider what it is like for a cyclist as they streak past, inches from a cyclist’s side.  On a couple of occasions I have been bruised by passing wing mirrors and I often wonder why some drivers don’t think about the safety of cyclists when overtaking. Surely it is common sense and consideration to leave plenty of space? Or are some drivers so confident in their own driving ability that they think the space is adequate?   Think of the pleasant cycling experience we would have if part of the driving test included riding a horse and a bicycle to experience how terrifying it can be when drivers fail to show cyclists consideration!

Apparently helmet-wearing, gender and position on the road are all factors associated with how much space a driver tends to give when overtaking a cyclist.  Controversially, research from Bath University showed that cyclists not wearing a helmet were given 8.5cm more clearance by cars and when donning female wigs, the researchers were given even more clearance, (14cm) than apparent males in helmets.   However, the cyclists’ position on the road changed everything; cancelling the difference in space at times.  Dr Walker, the traffic psychologist from the University,  told the BBC that he thought the reason drivers give less room to cyclists wearing helmets is because they see them as “Lycra-clad street warriors” and believe they are more predictable than those without.

Quick to highlight the importance of helmet-wearing, the BBC also quoted a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents who insisted:

We wouldn’t recommend that people stop wearing helmets because of this research. Helmets have been shown to reduce the likelihood of head and brain injuries in a crash.

A friend, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell off his bike a few years ago (no car involved) when turning a corner and after being told at the hospital how lucky he was not to have suffered worse injuries,  he vowed he would always wear a helmet from then on.

I always wear a helmet so can not comment on drivers passing space with, or without, helmet; but I have found that if I hug the curb, drivers tend to think it is okay to speed past with very little space, whereas when I venture closer to the middle of the road, cars tend to slow down before overtaking.  Is this a case of you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t though: hugging the curb you are presumably less likely to be hit by a car, but closer to the centre you are less likely to experience the drag-wobble as vehicles would have to slow down? This is not a position for the faint-hearted though!

Perhaps the way forward is to scrap the lycra and don spike-encrusted cages…maybe after a few scratches, drivers might approach cyclists with more caution…not sure about going uphill dressed like that though!  Maybe instead we could settle for lots more cycle lanes and ones that are more than a few inches across!



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