Operation Close Pass in Gloucestershire – Blog
Police are running an operation across our region, including Avon & Somerset and Wiltshire as well as Gloucestershire, to identify people who drive inconsiderately, carelessly or recklessly, particularly around people on bikes.
The operation, which was pioneered by West Mids Police, uses non-uniformed officers riding bikes equipped with cameras. They can alert colleagues to driving they witness that falls significantly below the standard required to pass a driving test. Those drivers will be stopped and offered a choice between education at the roadside or points and a fine or, for more serious offences, notice of prosecution.
Why it’s Important to Support and Protect People Cycling
Trips by bike currently account for about 2% of the journeys we make nationally. It’s a bit higher in Gloucestershire at 4.2%, and up to 8% in Cheltenham, but still well below neighbouring countries that, with very similar travel needs, are making 25% or more of their trips by bike.
Of all the trips we make in the UK, about 45% are between 1 and 5 miles. This is a distance that can be cycled by most people without the need to wear special clothes or do special training. Around town those trips could be cycled steadily in little more and often less time than it takes to drive and park. Yet currently around 70% of those 1-5 miles trips are made by car or van, as are nearly 60% of 1-2 mile trips, and over 80% of school trips 1-5 miles.
This matters because our travel choices have costs and benefits both for us individually and for our wider communities. The costs to communities are becoming increasingly apparent. We have all experienced congestion, some on a daily basis, with those who have no option but to drive stuck in queues behind those who could have left the car at home. It’s not just annoying; estimates suggest the costs of congestion could rise by 63% to £21 billion annually by 2030
The costs of physical inactivity may not be so obvious but studies show the bill to our services and industry at £6.5 billion annually. Active travel has been shown to be the most effective and sustainable way to incorporate regular moderate exercise into our lives.
Evidence has been around for years showing that switching more of our shorter trips from car to bike would have large benefits for society. Why are so few choosing the healthy, affordable, clean and space efficient option? For most people, safety concerns are a major barrier.
Road Risk- Real and Perceived
The majority of us feel that, in current conditions, it’s just too scary to mix with motor traffic on a bike. That perception is greater for women and older people so the conditions are effectively discriminating against them making those choices.
While there is lots of evidence that cycling is safer than we think (e.g. 29 million miles is ridden for each cycling fatality) and it only has risks comparable to other everyday activities, this hasn’t changed how people feel.
News stories of cycling casualties will naturally increase anxieties but, surprisingly, it is the near misses that go largely unreported rather than the actual collisions which can cause most concern.
This study shows that a regular commuting cyclist should only expect an incident that causes any sort of injury once in 20 years but a “very scary” near miss once a week.
Feelings matter because they profoundly influence our choices. Those for whom cycling could be a practical option but don’t because it just feels too scary clearly have some justification. Instead we choose to stay in our cars and miss out on all the benefits a switch to cycling could bring.
Who is Responsible?
Of course everyone who uses our highways to get around takes on some responsibility for their own safety and for others. The question is how is that responsibility shared? It is complex and there are many ways of looking at it so let’s consider a few.
Who is causing collisions?
A study of police reports of collisions involving cycles found that most result from human error and that most of the people at fault were driving.
It concludes that while “a large minority of crashes involving cyclist injury involve cyclist behaviour in whole or part…the ‘urban myth’ implying that cyclist behaviour is the main cause of cyclist injury does not stand up to scrutiny”
Who has the greatest potential to cause harm?
We regularly see data presented to show the risk of being harmed when using different modes.
At a glance this can give the impression that walking or riding is “dangerous” while driving is “safe” but this applies only to the users of each mode and takes no account of the potential harm that others are exposed to when sharing the road with them.
As the potential to cause harm comes mainly from the speed and mass of the colliding object it is reasonable to use kinetic energy (½ x mass x speed²) as an analogue. Comparing a bike and rider at 100kg, a family car 1200kg, a van 3.5 tonnes and an LGV 40 tonnes, it’s not too surprising to see how potential harm increases with the size of the vehicle.
What is more striking, and perhaps surprising, is how that potential harm increases with speed.
It is reasonable to equate our level of responsibility to our potential to cause harm. These illustrations show just what we take on when we get behind the wheel and how, by switching from car to bike for short trips, we can reduce that responsibility and the risk to those who share the roads with us.
We will all have seen examples of people on bikes behaving inconsiderately, carelessly or recklessly. While this can be annoying, frustrating and scary for more vulnerable road users, the evidence and the physics show that the increased risk resulting from it is less than appearances would suggest and what risk there is falls mainly on the cyclists themselves.
This doesn’t mean we take it lightly. At present the Road Safety team in Gloucestershire are training over 4,500 cyclists every year to deal with other road users more consistently, confidently and considerately using the National Standard for Cycle Training. This Close Pass operation will go a small way towards raising awareness of the issues and educating drivers proportionately to the level of road risk they can pose to others.
What do the Insurers say?
In the hard, commercial world of insurance there is no room for sentiment. Actuaries calculate the risks and their results determine our premiums. A quick search online shows that anyone can get cycle insurance with £1m of third party cover for less than £15 a year. That’s without any personal risk profile or no claims discount so is presumably calculated to cover the worst case scenario.
As it is so low cost, public liability cover is included in the membership of many cycling organisations and home insurance policies. The statistics are clearly showing the actuaries that people on bikes, even if they are sometimes reckless or inconsiderate, are a relatively low risk to others.
Why Target Close Passes?
The Near Miss report quoted above found that the “problematic pass” accounted for nearly a third of the reports (nearly half in rural areas) and is the most common type of incident that is likely to be very scary.
Gloucestershire’s own statistics show that “overtaking, same direction” is the second most common recorded motor vehicle/cycle collision type (22% of the total) with drivers deemed by the police to be wholly responsible for over 80% of those.
It is clear that this is the cause of many collisions and much of the avoidable fear and anxiety that scares potential cyclists off their bikes. It is also clear that it stems more from thoughtlessness and lack of understanding than it does from malice. The object of the operation is to raise awareness and educate to improve understanding. Prosecution will be reserved for the small minority whose behaviour is deliberate or too dangerous to be addressed in 15 minutes at the roadside.
In the West Midlands police area this operation was found to reduce the reports of dangerous close passes by a half within months of the roll out. This is a step towards making our roads a more civilised space and safer space in our communities.