When Mark Hodson gets on his bike in the morning, like many cyclists in the UK, he has come to expect a few close calls. Perhaps drivers will whizz past him too close, or someone will even try a ‘punishment pass’.
Luckily, Hodson is a West Midlands Police traffic officer, albeit in plain clothes, and just yards up the road a colleague in a police car is waiting to pull over drivers that give him less than 1.5m space when overtaking (a distance that increases for faster speeds and larger vehicles).
That driver will be offered a choice: prosecution, or 15 minutes’ education on how to overtake a cyclist safely. The worst drivers, or repeat offenders, will simply be prosecuted.
This tactic is part of a ground breaking new initiative launched by West Midlands Police, in partnership with Birmingham City Council, to tackle cycling safety.
The Highway Code states drivers should give cyclists at least the same amount of space as they would give a car, but often this is not the case. Over four trial days ahead of the scheme’s launch 80 people were pulled over for close passes.
This morning Hodson and his colleagues pulled over eight offenders within an hour – people who could have been prosecuted for their driving. Among those stopped were lorry drivers, and a pupil under supervision by a driving instructor.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s senior road safety and legal campaigner, praised the initiative. “This is the first time a police force has come forward with a plan to prioritise enforcement against close pass drivers. It is quite simply the best cyclist safety initiative by any police force, ever.”
He called the mix of education and enforcement “a simple but effective way to combat a long-standing concern”. He hopes other police forces around the country will follow their lead and is going to approach five police and crime commissioners looking for cost-effective ways to tackle road danger, with the ‘blueprint’ from the West Midlands.
He says the operation is cheap – costing £70 for a mat to demonstrate safe overtaking plus a police or community support officer to be the cyclist – and efficient: based on the West Midlands’ experience, 20 drivers can be prosecuted within two hours.
When asked whether it could be rolled out nationwide, a National Police Chiefs Council spokesperson said: “Police forces are committed to keeping the roads safe. Individual forces are always looking for the best ways to help their local communities, and the West Midlands initiative is a positive step. All forces aim to develop new and effective means of keeping people safe on their roads.”