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Plain Clothes Police Officers On Alert for ‘Close Passers’

Published on: 30 May, 2020
Updated on: 30 May, 2020

Rule 163 of the Highways code, referring to the distance to leave when overtaking a cyclist, states “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”. Photo Highway Code

Surrey Police are on alert this weekend watching for drivers subjecting cyclists to a “close pass”.

“Close passes” when drivers overtake cyclists with little room to spare. The practice is thought to be one of the main reasons others are fearful of taking to the roads on two wheels. Police will also be watching for inconsiderate cyclists.

Groups of cyclists can make drivers angry. Here bike riders climb Box Hill as part of an organised event.

A police spokesperson said: “Over the years, there have been high levels of animosity and conflict between cyclists and motorists which have, on occasion, spilled over into violence, road traffic collisions and injuries.

“This has continued to rise during the pandemic, where initially areas have seen a rise in cyclists using Surrey’s roads, and more recently communities impacted by increased traffic levels and vehicles being used in an anti-social manner.

“One of the biggest causes of conflict on Surrey’s roads is the ‘close pass’ scenario whereby a vehicle does not give sufficient space to a cyclist or rider when overtaking, or groups of cyclists that ride together in a large ‘peloton’ thereby giving no space for motorists to pass.”

A recent survey of Twitter users on the @SurreyRoadCops account showed that the majority of users would be put off riding their bikes because of a perception of danger from other road users.

The operation, which is being run by the Surrey and Sussex Roads Policing Unit over the weekend (May 30 & 31), aims to increase road safety, deal with any offences of speeding and dangerous driving robustly, and ultimately reduce the number of collisions and incidents involving cyclists, motorists and horse riders.

During the weekend activity, officers will engage with both drivers and riders to educate and create a more harmonious relationship between communities and road users themselves in hotspot areas.

Police officers will be positioned at two locations during the weekend including the Box Hill area, using the Zig Zag Road, Old London Road, Leetch Lane, Headley Road and Box Hill Village. As well as the A25 from Shere to Newlands Corner, and the villages surrounding Albury.

Police will be on watch at Shere Village, a popular location for those exercising on bikes.

A police officer in plain clothes equipped with video capability will be cycling along the routes as a ‘spotter’, identifying any ‘close pass’ incidents or other motoring offences as well as any offences relating to cycling or cyclists contravening the road traffic act.

Officers on two marked police motorbikes will be stationed behind and ahead of the rider so that they are able to locate and stop any road user which has been identified.

Casualty reduction officers will staff a gazebo which will be used as an educational tool. Any motorist or cyclist stopped will be given the opportunity of an ‘educational’ input to highlight the dangers or alternatively being reported for the relevant offence in the usual manner.

Chief Inspector Michael Hodder of the Surrey and Sussex Roads Policing Unit said: “As the government restrictions are being relaxed we have seen an increase in visitors to the area and we continue to work with the public of Surrey. In particular, I am keen that we help to improve the relationship between all road users, especially in the Surrey Hills area.

“I believe that this is a very important operation as I am aware of the busy use of the roads by runners, cyclists, cars and motorbikes resulting in times where there has been tensions between cyclists, runners and motorists. This has on occasion spilled over to affect communities and residents too.

“This campaign is not about pointing the blame at any particular group, but is aimed at working together to make our roads safer by respecting each other and protecting our most vulnerable road users.”

For the latest updates from the operation, follow our @SurreyRoadCops on Twitter.

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Responses to Plain Clothes Police Officers On Alert for ‘Close Passers’

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    May 30, 2020 at 5:28 pm

    Perhaps they should be encouraging cyclists to use the cycle paths as well?

    • John Macdonald Reply

      May 31, 2020 at 8:38 am

      I totally agree, unless these same police officers “encourage” cyclists to do so then it won’t change much, if at all, unfortunately.

    • Mary Childs (Mrs) Reply

      May 31, 2020 at 11:38 am

      Cyclists should use the cycle tracks, as one of your readers has said, but not the public footpaths. A path with steps, styles and gates is a clue but you still get cyclists charging along on these footpaths, having lifted their bikes over the stiles and carried them up steps.

      They come out of the blue at great speed, often breathing heavily, never stopping, while walkers dive into the nettles to let them pass. And they come in groups. You move to let one pass and then get back onto the footpath and it is always the second ones that gets you.

  2. Anthony Tutt Reply

    May 30, 2020 at 8:49 pm

    I walk on roads without pavement and have found that the Olympic route, in particular, can be affected by cyclists who treat me as an object to be got around as quickly as possible minus about 1.5 metres of my hoped-for two-metre space.

    On other roads, most cyclists are well behaved. But there can always be problems for walkers and runners. All is well and suddenly a cyclist pops up at a fair speed. Say you have a walker on one side of the road and a runner on the other and just about enough social distancing space between those two people. According to British “You should maintain a distance of at least two metres from anyone you meet from outside your household while out riding, stopping and waiting for people to pass at a safe distance when necessary. This is particularly important when riding on narrow paths and trails.”

    Well, they simply don’t stop, they just keep going.

    There is potential for a pollen affected, sneezing, spitting or insect coughing up cyclist, who is Covid asymptomatic, to project virus-infected droplets towards other road users. Cyclists project themselves rapidly into places where inconvenient situations can be created.

  3. Brian Holt Reply

    May 30, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    There are cyclists belonging to a cycling club, about 10 of them, that cycle two abreast. They come from Brookwood, through Worplesdon, and turn left into Salt Box Road.

    I have seen them a few times. At times no traffic can pass them as they are out in the middle of the road. I have followed behind with other cars from Fox Corner. We could not pass them and had to stay behind until they turn off into Salt Box Road.

    Many other drivers must have seen them. Does anyone know which cycling club they belong to?

    • David Middleton Reply

      June 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm

      Perhaps some of these officers could pay attention to people using electrically-propelled scooters on the pavements and roads around Guildford too. There seems to have been a significant increase in their use lately.

      It is still currently unlawful to use them on the public highway.

  4. Martin Elliott Reply

    May 31, 2020 at 12:06 am

    “…as well as any offences relating to cycling or cyclists contravening the road traffic act”.

    As demonstrated above, all types of road users, even pedestrians need to share the highway.

    It’s not just road traffic acts or more correctly the regulations under them. Much of what people identify as “antisocial behaviour” isn’t prescriptively in any regulation but is just “best practice” as published in the Highway Code (HC).

    A good example is the common one of two cyclists side by side (same household presumably at the moment). No its not “illegal”: it is bad practice on narrow carriageways (HC R66).

    Incidentally, has the HC been updated? R162-3 & R212 just mention giving plenty of room, no 1.5m and no reference to an Act or regulation.

    People will keep saying they (vulnerable or not) have “right of way”. I challenge them to find such a phrase in Act, Reg or HC – the term is a subtly different to having priority.

    Editor’s note: Here is one reference, although not phrased precisely as “right of way”: the case of DPP v Jones [1999] had to determine what the rights of passage were and acts incidental to that right of passage. It was concluded that: “the public highway is a public place which the public may enjoy for reasonable purpose, providing the activity in question does not amount to a public or private nuisance and does not obstruct the highway by unreasonably impeding the primary rights of the public to pass and repass”. Other references can be found in the Highways Act 1980.

    • Peter Christmas Reply

      May 31, 2020 at 12:01 pm

      I very much like to use designated cycle paths and routes, it offers a degree of safety from our very congested roads, particularly in the South East. Driving past Epsom Racecourse I noted cars were parked along the whole length of the cycle lane. It would help if parking was not allowed in these lanes.

  5. Simon Schultz Reply

    May 31, 2020 at 11:09 am

    Well done to Surrey Police, they are a great police force, who correctly focus their resources on real danger; if only they could be in two or three places at once. For those who think the odds of being caught close-passing are slim, many of the rest of us run front and rear cameras and will not hesitate to submit video footage.

    Concerning cycling “two abreast”, for roads of appropriate width, it is the recommended configuration in order to minimise the duration of the overtake. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of the Surrey Roads Policing Unit:
    Overtaking cyclists police advice

    As it happens, cycling clubs in Surrey are not currently going out on group rides, as to my knowledge we still interpret that social distancing rules do not allow close-knit groups. This may of course change over the summer.

  6. David Williams Reply

    May 31, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Well done Surrey police. For a cyclist it is scary when a car brushes past. Worse still a bus or lorry.

    There are not many cycle lanes, especially into the town centre. Sometimes cyclists have to share the road with traffic.

    I look forward to the pop-up cycle lanes that we have been promised.

  7. Charles Hope Reply

    May 31, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    It’s nearly 20 years since, while cycling home from the shops, that I realised a car body was about an inch away from the right handlebar end. Needless to say, a bit of the car hit a pedal and the bike went sideways. I ended up with my right arm in plaster from my shoulder to my fingertips. The surgeon remarked that I was lucky to keep my arm. It’s still got metal plates in it which sometimes upset airport scanners.

    Sadly, I lost my nerve about cycling on roads with cars and gave away my bike.

  8. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 1, 2020 at 9:57 am

    As both a driver and cyclist, I would say that cyclists could do a better job of keeping clear of cars. Cycling in large groups, 2 or 3 abreast is not conducive to staying safe from overtaking cars. Please ride single file, and spread out, and you’ll be safer.

  9. David Raison Reply

    June 1, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Even if the police had not been in plain-clothes, the cyclists would still have ridden without consideration for others. All this talk about cycle paths is a red herring. Too many think it’s their right to ride on the pavements and footpaths, even though they are not cycle paths. Perhaps the police could try keeping pedestrians safe for a change.

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