A plea to drivers as lockdown eases

By Scarlett McNally BSc MB BChir FRCS(Tr&Orth) MA MBA FAcadMEd

As lockdown eases, some people will resume driving. Bespoke urges people to think about how they are driving. Any employer should ensure their drivers follow good practice. Many drivers are “bullying by mistake”, with decades-old incorrect knowledge of the Highway Code. Cycling on roads feels dangerous to 62% of UK adults when surveyed. This is mostly due to drivers not realising how their driving behaviour contributes to a sense of danger. Each of us could try harder. Driving too close to cyclists should be seen as socially unacceptable, like failing to clean up after your dog.

“Give as much room as you would give a car”, is the Highway Code’s advice on overtaking cyclists. Vehicles must pass no closer than 1.5 metres at speeds of up to 30mph, and 2 metres in faster traffic. If there is not enough room to overtake, don’t, especially if there is oncoming traffic. Just hang back – it will not delay you by much. The Highway Code and cycle training schemes encourage cyclists to “take the lane”, to ride away from the kerb, especially where there is not enough room to be overtaken. It also allows cyclists to ride two abreast, to go to the left of a line of slow-moving traffic and states they do not have to use cycle lanes – they should be respected as a vehicle. Hooting at cyclists or driving “aggressively” is forbidden. Junctions are places to be especially vigilant. When opening car doors be aware that cyclists may be passing. Consider opening the driver’s door with your left hand – the “Dutch reach”, which forces you to look over your shoulder.

Why is this important? During lockdown roads were largely traffic-free and many people enjoyed cycling or walking along them. Now, as lockdown eases, congestion, traffic, delays and pollution are getting worse, compounded by an understandable urge to avoid public transport. Converting a trip from car to walking or cycling is known as “modal shift”. Even 10% modal shift reduces congestion, pollution, travel time and parking places for motorists. The biggest factor that puts people off cycling is the fear of danger. Sometimes just one “near miss” frightens a novice cyclist. Most trips are less than five miles, which are easily cyclable. Electric bikes have made distances and hills much easier. People using electric cycles who are less fit, older or disabled reduce their car use considerably and increase their fitness. People who cycle regularly reduce their risk of: depression, bowel cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and dementia by around 30%. Regular exercise also treats these and other conditions. The health benefits of cycling outweigh any risks by 10:1.

The Government has provided funding for ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes. People should still contact their local councillor to request these. But a change of mind-set is just as important. Many drivers do not realise how dangerous their manoeuvres are. Drivers should respect cyclists and other vulnerable road users as bone fide road users.

We can change the mind-set. We just need everyone to start now. An urgent public information campaign is needed, including refresher courses for road users. Below are tips for motorists, top ten safety tips for cyclists and extracts from the Highway code. Everyone needs to play their part.

Motorists – top tips for sharing the road safely

  1. Most UK adults say that cycling is “too dangerous”. Remember you help make the
    safety culture. Do not be intimidating by mistake.
  2. Give cyclists more space and time.
  3. If there is no room to overtake, do not overtake. (You need 1.5 metres at 30mph and
    2 metres in faster traffic AND no on-coming traffic.)
  4. Respect every cyclist as a fellow road user.
  5. Do not hoot at cyclists or “aggressively” [Rule 112].
  6. Indicate and look left before turning left.
  7. Look before opening your vehicle door. Try the “Dutch reach”.

Top safety tips for cyclists:

  1. Stop at red lights. (We want to be respected.)
  2. Be seen! Use reflective or bright gear. Lights at night.
  3. You will often need the ‘primary position’. Be in the lane. You are a vehicle.
  4. When turning:
    a. Indicate clearly (signal straight arm, palm forward)
    b. Look and look again
    c. Position yourself clearly
    d. Make eye contact. Don’t assume drivers have seen you.
  5. Be aware of junctions
  6. Be aware of vehicle doors opening
  7. Keep out of a ‘lorry’s blind spot’ on its left/front.
  8. Be considerate of other road users (use your bell to show you are there) [Rule 66].
  9. Test your brakes. Braking takes longer in the rain. Use both hands.
  10. Consider booking a cheap cycle training session for all ages and abilities: search
    ‘CYCLE TRAINING’ at: www.eastsussex.gov.uk

Extracts from the Highway code:

  • When overtaking, give cyclists as much room as you would give a car [Rule 163]. They may be avoiding a pothole [Rule 212 and 213].
  • Do not hoot your horn at cyclists or “aggressively” [Rule 112].
  • Cycles may go to the left of other vehicles in slow-moving traffic. This is not ‘undertaking’ [Rule 163].
  • Cycles may ride two abreast [Rule 66].
  • Cycles do not have to use cycle lanes [Rule 61].
  • Motorists should avoid ‘Advance Stop lines’ for cyclists [Rule 178].
  • Cycling on pavements should be avoided ‘unless you feel obliged to out of fear of traffic’ [Home Office advice 1999].

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