The Metropolitan Police Service says it is stepping up efforts to tackle ’close pass’ patrols targetting motorists that fail to leave a safe distance when passing cyclists.
“Far too few people cycle and so don't understand how intimidating a ‘close pass’ can be, while it deters those who want to cycle,” says Simon Castle from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Roads & Transport Policing Command.
“Raising awareness of how to pass a cyclist safely and considerately will break this vicious cycle, apologies for the pun.”
West Midlands Police has generated interest from other police forces for its groundbreaking campaign, which involves using plainclothes officers to catch ‘close pass’ drivers.
But Castle is not convinced that using plainclothes officers is the best approach. “We have tried plainclothes patrols but found that it tends to be cyclists passing vehicles in our priority locations, not the other way around. We're going to try using plainclothes patrols again in less central areas and we'll use powers from the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles from repeat offenders.”
He adds: “There is enormous value in patrolling in uniform: we are a deterrent and a reassurance, plus we have no power to stop vehicles in plain clothes. We also know that a motorist stopped and reported by a cycle cop is more likely to look out for cyclists, even if it's out of fear for their licence, not concern for cyclists' wellbeing!”
Castle is part of the Metropolitan Police cycle safety team, which, he says, is the UK's only full-time roads policing unit to deploy officers on permanent cycle patrols.
“We carry out enforcement in areas of highest cycle casualties, focussing on the behaviours that present greatest risk to vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
“One of the most common offences is the use of mobile phones while driving, but we also regularly report drivers for speeding, vehicle defects and offences of driving without due care - one example of which is the ‘close pass’.”
In the capital Traffic Offence Reports rather than fixed penalty notices are now issued at the roadside, says Castle. “An independent unit reads the evidence and decides whether the offender fits the criteria for being offered a fixed penalty, an education course or a summons to court.
“The cycle safety team doesn't target cyclists because relatively few collisions result from their actions but we appreciate how irresponsible cycling stokes conflict and how it disproportionately affects people with mobility issues so we deal with the offences that we witness.
“We know how the majority of cyclists feel about red light jumping and pavement riding - when we stop a rider for committing these offences, we're often cheered by those riding past. It's not often a traffic officer is popular!”
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