Drivers offered expert advice about avoiding crashes with cyclists following Highway Code changes
Motorists are being given expert advice about how to avoid crashes with cyclists.
It comes after a shake-up of the Highway Code – specifically the new hierarchy of road users – gives bike riders greater priority. But confusion among drivers and those on push bikes has prompted automotive outfit Leasing Options to highlight five key changes.
And online pedal-power store specialist Merlin Cycles has issued helpful tips so drivers can steer clear of trouble with those on two wheels.
Firstly, Leasing Options says road users need to be aware that the new rules state that cyclists should ride in the centre of the lane on quiet streets, in slow-moving traffic, and approaching junctions or narrow roads where it would be deemed unsafe for drivers to overtake.
This is to protect cyclists by making them more visible – as well as preventing drivers from attempting to overtake cyclists in an unsafe situation.
Secondly, motorists need to know that those on bikes don’t have to use cycle lanes but instead “may exercise their judgment and are not obliged to use them”. Thirdly, cyclists riding side by side has caused conflict on the road in the past.
But the Highway Code now says: “You can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.”
Fourthly, motorists travelling at speeds of up to 30mph should now leave a five-foot or 1.5-metre gap when overtaking cyclists and they should leave an even bigger space if travelling at higher speeds.
If there is not enough room for the driver to give this amount of space, they should wait behind the cyclists until there is a safer point in the road to overtake.
Fifthly, if a car is turning but bike riders on either side of the vehicle are going straight on then cyclists have priority and the driver must wait for them to pass before turning.
Leasing Options boss Mike Thompson said: “It’s important that both cyclists and motorists understand these new rules as failing to abide by them could cause a serious collision and criminal conviction.”
Merlin Cycles pointed to Government statistics that show an average of two cyclists died and 83 were seriously injured per week during the period of 2015 to 2020.
The figures also reveal that 56 per cent of cycling fatalities occurred on rural roads and 44 per cent in urban areas. The most common contributory factor allocated to bike riders in fatal or serious accidents with another vehicle was: “Driver or rider failed to look properly.”
Rick Robson, of Merlin Cycles, said: “Out of 11,348 incidents where the top-reported contributory factor was a road-user ‘failing to look properly’, 3782 involved cyclists.
“Not performing the necessary checks before a manoeuvre means that it’s easy for drivers to fail to spot an approaching bike rider.”
The key thing is to slow down, check blind spots and signal when turning. A driver using their indicators early will give a bike rider more time to spot the turn and react.
Another common cause of collisions is motorists opening their doors into the path of riders. More than 700 cyclists are injured and two killed by car doors being opened by negligent drivers each year.
The Highway Code introduction of the “Dutch reach” – whereby people must now open car doors with the hand farthest away from the handle – should help.
But drivers should always check their wing mirror and glance over their shoulder before exiting the vehicle. This lets them assess whether it’s safe to open the door, or if they should let a bicycle rider pass them first.
Of 4171 deadly or serious collisions between 2015 and 2020 where misjudging the other person’s path or speed was a factor, 1644 involved cyclists.
One simple but effective piece of advice is for drivers not to race to get past a cyclist as it can be difficult to accurately judge a rider’s speed by sight alone.
So, for example, when pulling out of a parking space, drivers should stop to let cyclists pass rather than race to exit before they catch up with them.
It’s also important to remember to dip your headlights for oncoming riders – to avoid dazzling them and give them better visibility.
Travelling carelessly, recklessly, or in a hurry was shown to be a contributory factor in 3236 major incidents, of which 1253 involved cyclists.
Merlin Cycles says showing patience is a real virtue in many situations – especially when it comes to overtaking safely with a sufficient gap.
Another way that drivers can help to make road conditions safer is by maintaining a generous braking distance. Mr Robson said: “When you’re driving, take time to consider the issues cyclists might be facing and how you can help to make them feel more at ease.
“With more awareness on how to prevent these situations from happening, we can try to create safer roads for everyone.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Amendments to The Highway Code are reserved to the UK Government. We do, however, back the latest changes as they aim to provide better protection for pedestrians and cyclists.
“They support Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030, which includes a renewed focus on pedestrians and cyclists.
“The framework sets out a vision for Scotland to have the best road safety performance in the world by 2030 and an ambitious long-term goal where no one is seriously injured or killed on our roads by 2050.”
Cycling UK head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore said: “The Highway Code changes are positive for all road users, but particularly for vulnerable road users including cyclists, with clearer guidance for drivers in three key areas: safe overtaking distances, how to avoid ‘car dooring’ cyclists and junction priority to prevent ‘left-hook’ collisions.
“The hierarchy of responsibility concept challenges the mindset that ‘might is right’ on our roads and enshrines the need for those who present the most risk on our roads to look out for those who are the most vulnerable. This can only make the roads safer for everyone.
“However, Cycling UK is concerned that these improvements need to be widely communicated with a Government-led awareness campaign. The Highway Code has changed for the better, but these changes will be of limited benefit if the public aren’t aware of them.”