Passing Laws

All cyclists have experienced a close pass from another vehicle. It’s an uncomfortable experience and the larger vehicles can cause major issues due to the turbulent air that they throw off. Cyclists need to be given lots of space, we need to move around road hazards such as pot holes and we aren’t surrounded by metal.

Some states in the US and a few countries have a specific passing law. Usually 3ft or 1m space that overtaking vehicles must give to cyclists. In the UK we don’t have a specific law and the highway code suggests that you should give as much space as you would a car, I have commented on that before.

I see some problems with passing laws

  • How do you measure the distance?
  • Larger differences in speed require larger passing distances.

The DFT name the space a cyclist requires the dynamic envelope. The Cycle Infrastructure Design (CID), Department for Transport Local Transport Note 2/08, October 2008. Section 2.2.2 states that the dynamic envelope of a cyclist on the road may be taken as 1 meter. As the name suggests, the dynamic envelope changes depending on the situation but the basics of it is the required space a cyclists needs to keep in motion. Corrections are made to avoid hazards and to keep balance.

When a vehicle overtakes a cyclist, the space they should leave you is in addition to the dynamic envelope. The DFT recommend that in addition to the dynamic envelope of 1m, cars passing at 30mph should add another 1.5m when passing. In total that equates to 2.5m from the cyclist (this distances is measured from the wheel of the cyclist to the edge of the car). How many drivers do we see passing cyclists at such a distance?
The DFT recommends that larger vehicles (buses, HGVs) should give a total of over 5m when passing a cyclist at 30mph.

The distances which drivers give cyclists needs to be increased in situations like hills, cyclists will be going at a much lower speed and keeping a straight line can be more strenuous. In these cases more space will be needed.
To cover one of my concerns, as the difference in speeds increases then more space is required, if a cyclist is traveling at 10mph and a car passes at 3ft at 60mph then the turbulent air will push them off their course and could well blow them over if they are not prepared for it.

How can we measure passing distances whilst on the road? This is always going to be a problem, one persons 3ft is another persons 2ft and being on a bicycle the two will feel very different, the two will probably be very similar when you are surrounded by metal. In the case of reporting it to the police or speaking to the driver about it, this will be the same old situation which we are used to, your word against theirs.
I have a ‘litmus’ test for close passes, I’m normally aware of when they will happen, I stick my arm out as if i was indicating, if i feel a vehicle brush against my arm then I know the pass is about to be too close and I can move over to the left a little bit to give me more space. My arm is a little under 3ft so if I can touch your vehicle as you pass me then you are too close. I’ve noticed so far that this gives the drivers a panic and they either stop their over take or they move further out, it has the added bonus of making you look like you are turning right.

The guidelines for passing distances that the DFT state are well over what any laws are in other countries and anything that is proposed in the UK. I can’t see a 3ft law being brought into the UK whilst a DFT recommended 30mph passing distance is over 2.5x bigger. The minimum 20mph passing distance that the DFT recommends is 2 meters. Because of this I’m mentally against any passing laws that state 3ft as the minimum.

Road User Hierarchy

At present the UK is very motor vehicle orientated. A large proportion of the population drives, in fact I drive in situations where cycling is not more practicable than taking the car. But because our road system is orientated around vehicles like the car, the drivers behind the wheel seem to think they own the roads. Some drivers believe that everything else should get out of their way and that we should bow down to them and kiss their feet (slight exaggeration).

For me there has always been a hierarchical system on the roads, a pecking order or food chain. The system which I believe is often thought of by the motorists is as follows (with 1 being the most important)

  1. Me (the motorist in question)
  2. Other Motor vehicles
  3. Buses
  4. Cyclists and Pedestrians

As you can see my list puts the self-centred motorist at the top. I see everyday, be it on bicycle or by car, drivers are often very impatient and won’t let people merge into their lane or they tailgate the vehicle in front of them if they don’t think they are going fast enough.
My hierarchy would be as follows (with number 1 being the most important)

  1. Mobility impaired pedestrians
  2. Pedestrians
  3. Cyclists
  4. motorcyclist
  5. Public Transport (buses, trams etc..)
  6. Cars
  7. LGV’s
  8. HGV’s

My system puts the most vulnerable road users at the top and the least vulnerable at the bottom. Things like Public Transport should have road space allocated to them specific and people should let them go as they carry many more people than other forms of transportation. The ones lower down on the list should look out for those higher up. But let us not forget that even HGV’s have requirements on the road and as cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle drivers we must look out for them and provide them the space and time they need.

Take a look at the below video of a single junction in NYC that was filmed over several hours. It shows how all road users make conflicts and issues with each other. I suspect that the US has specific issues with ‘road’ users Vs pedestrians as they have specific jaywalking laws.


Roads are often used by many types of transport, often all at the same time. But the way they have been built suits vehicles such as cars the best. From my point of view this causes conflict when you get pedestrians who want to cross the road. In an ideal world a vehicle on the road would stop for any pedestrian as they are near the top of the hierarchy but in reality this hardly happens. As a vulnerable road user we should look out for them and look after them but even our councils seem to do a poor job of managing where they cross and how long they have to wait.

Too much has been given to the motor vehicle over the past 50 years. It’s time we started claiming back our safety on the roads and making them a safer place to use!

No More Lethal Lorries!

Today, the 30th of March, is the day of action in London to try to get rid of lethal lorries from London’s streets. This date has been in place for several months and it is unfortunate that in the past week 2 cyclists and a pedestrian have been killed by such lorries on London’s roads.

All cyclists should sign the petition from the LCC to help get rid of these lethal lorries. But it may not get rid of these lorries so easily. The 5 point plan includes the following

  1. Cyclist-awareness training for drivers – All city lorry drivers should be having ongoing cycle-awareness training, including on-bike experience.
  2. Drivers must take more responsibility – Authorities must recognise driver responsibility for doing everything practical to reduce risks. Blaming a ‘blind spot’ should be an admission of guilt.
  3. Safer design for London lorries – Lorries designed for off-road use should be taken off city streets. The best mirrors, cameras and sensors should be fitted as standard.
  4. Higher standards from lorry operators – Quality-assurance schemes such as London’s Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) should be mandatory and the police encouraged to crack down on rogue operators.
  5. More responsible procurement – Companies must only buy haulage services from reputable firms, with government taking a lead in encouraging best practice.

The plan looks strong but I’m sure that many of us will be disappointed to see that there isn’t a proposal to remove the lorries full stop. This does not address the problem of the lorries being too big for our London streets and posing a danger to all cyclists on the road.

This image shows a rough area that is a blind spot for lorry drivers, now take a look at the image below which also shows the blind spot of a lorry. Does it look like a common cycling facility to you?

It looks an awful lot like the shape of an ASL with a feeder lane. Popular cycling facilities at junctions in London. These junctions are putting cyclists at risk daily!

Something needs to be done about this situation that we face! It is not just an issue in London, cyclists everywhere face the issue of HGV’s on a daily basis, lets hope that the right decision is made here and that it affects everywhere else shortly after.

I urge all of you to sign the petition, it takes only a few moments of your time but could help to safe a lot of people’s lives!

EDIT: Oh bummer, this went live a bit earlier than I was expecting!