Close passing policing starts up in London

The main RDRF activity this year has been supporting the roll out of police operations targeting close passing of cyclists and related behaviours. Today we were pleased to attend and support the launch of the Met’s initiative in this kind of law enforcement, called “Space for Cyclists”, in south London.

RDRF Chair Dr Robert Davis with Duncan Dollimore of CyclingUK and Sgt. Andy Osborne of the Met’s Cycle Safety Team

Readers of will know why we support close passing policing: it addresses danger at source, and it regards intimidatory behaviour as a police matter whether or not a casualty results (although close passing is associated with the main kinds of manoeuvre which result in cyclist Killed and Seriously Injured casualties). It can be extended into other forms of policing addressing danger at source. In London, there is a timely link with the persistent reference to the phrase “road danger reduction” in the Mayor of London’s draft Transport Strategy .

In London the strategy originates in the MPS’ Cycle Safety Team – the UK’s only bicycle based traffic police team. (For a look at how it has developed and the approach behind it, see Laura Laker’s report on the pilot here). The site in Peckham Rye was chosen after liaising with the Southwark branch of London Cycling Campaign, which had been lobbying for policing of close passing of cyclists since 2016 and who advised on the location.

The Metropolitan Police Service’s Cycle Safety Team at the launch today

The launch of “Space for Cyclists”

For the launch today, see the account in today’s Press Release from the Met:

“We can’t be everywhere, but we could be anywhere,” said Sergeant Andy Osborne from the Met’s Cycle Safety Team of their new tactic to improve cyclist and driver safety, which has launched today, Friday, 21 July.

Cycle Safety Team officers from the Met’s Roads and Transport Policing Command will go to any location, at any time, on any borough, based on intelligence and complaints, to ensure drivers properly obey the rules of the road.

The officers will now be working be in plain clothes, wearing video cameras and riding unmarked bicycles donated by BMW, to identify and deal with the offences that most deter people from cycling:
o Unsafe following (tailgating)
o Unsafe overtaking (close passes)
o Unsafe turning (left or right turns across the cyclists path)

If officers encounter a driver committing any of these offences, they will identify them to a nearby, marked police motorcycle rider who will stop and engage with them.

In line with any police roadside stop, the driver will be required to provide evidence of insurance, a driving licence, pass a roadside eyesight test and have their vehicle checked for roadworthiness.

The driver will be reminded (through a short presentation) of the Highway Code rules regarding the offences and the standard of driving that they should reasonably be expected to attain (in particular, rules 126, 163 and 179,180 & 182).

Professional drivers, especially those subject to certificate of professional competence requirements, and those who display examples of particularly bad driving will not be offered the roadside engagement and will be reported in the usual way, which may lead to a court appearance.

Thanks to the support of Havebike and London Cycling Campaign, 2000 car stickers with the words ‘I give space for cyclists’ will be given to motorists on the day and at Exchanging Places events to remove perceived pressure on the driver from cars that might be following very closely.

Sergeant Andy Osborne, Cycle Safety Team, said: “We want all road users to obey the Highway Code. This tactic is about education and encouraging motorists who do not comply with the rules of the road to start doing so – for everyone’s safety and protection – theirs included.

“There is a lot of traffic in the capital and we all need to share the roads and be mindful of other road users. In its simplest form, it’s about being courteous to one another.

“By all road users obeying the Highway Code, collectively we can help lessen incidents of people being killed or seriously injured on the roads.”

Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, said: “We know that safety concerns are one of the biggest barriers to cycling in London. That’s why we’re working hard to build high-quality safe routes to encourage even more people to cycle, and why I’m so pleased to see the Met tackling some of the dangers that we see on our roads.”

Lord Berkeley, The president of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, said:

“The Road Danger Reduction Forum was pleased to support West Midlands Police when they initiated the policing of close passing of cyclists last year. We are very glad to see another initiative in the same spirit being pursued by the Metropolitan Police, and look forward to seeing it being rolled out across London.”

Ashok Sinha, Chief Executive, London Cycling Campaign said: “Drivers passing too close is terrifying and off-putting to people cycling. Most people cite road danger and near misses as major reasons why they don’t cycle. The Highway Code requires drivers give safe space to cyclists when overtaking. This welcome operation on close passes will send a message to drivers in London to obey the Highway Code and stay wider of the rider.”

First results and iceberg tips

During the time we were there six drivers were pulled over for their bit of education. Right from the beginning we got a glimpse of how close passing is often only the tip of an iceberg of rule and law breaking: the first one was found to have no licence, 3rd party insurance, or vehicle excise duty paid. This reminds me of the accounts of traffic police like the tweets from West Midlands Police on @Trafficwmp – so much traffic policing involves picking up drivers who have failed in the basic legal obligations, as well as often being involved in non-traffic types of crime.

Indeed this seems to raise an important point: although the most obvious forms of law breaking need to be addressed, it is crucial to remember that we mustn’t allow them to serve as “lightning conductors” diverting attention away from the central fact. And that is that most rule and law breaking which endangers others is done by more mainstream and “normal” drivers. As a classic case: drink-driving has to be targeted, but don’t forget that the overwhelming majority of behaviours – 95%? – endangering others on the road are those of the sober driver.


The next steps

In partnership with West Midlands Police, RDRF will be running a training day in September for police forces in the UK on recent developments in close passing policing We think that there is a lot to be gained from having a training day: we need to share the experiences of those Police Services that have been doing this kind of policing, looking at issues such as:
• Numbers of stops
• Proportion involving prosecution, and for which offence
• Proportion/numbers of stops that lead to “chats on a mat” and similar educational processes
• Not Guilty pleas
• Use of different kinds of visual aid such as mats
• Numbers of officers used in operations
• Use of non-police staff for education, such as fire fighters, army personnel etc.
• Experience of collection of 3rd party video footage.
• Extension into intimidatory driving re-pedestrians
• Etc…

We are hoping to showcase the latest from West Midlands Police; the new initiative about to start by the Met, and the experience CyclingUK have had with their mat initiative.
My – very strong! – feeling is that we need to keep the momentum up. Our concern is that not enough police services are carrying out this kind of policing. Also we worry that there are other issues about policing as it affects cyclists and pedestrians in particular which need consideration.

Watch this space…

An interview with London Live


1 thought on “Close passing policing starts up in London

  1. Mark Williams

    Will Norman says ‘we’re working hard to build high-quality safe routes to encourage even more people to cycle’, emphasis mine. Is there no end to this geezer’s dissembling?

    You are quite right about the postcode lottery aspect of Operation Close Pass as it stands. We should be seeking to ensure that no force does its road (and other) policing in any other way. Nationwide Courtesy Cops for the twenty-first century rather than a patchwork quilt. Keep up the good work, but fix those mats!


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