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October 19, 2021 4 min read

If you have cycled on the road, then you have likely experienced a close pass. In a recent See.Sense survey, 98.4% of cyclists responded that they had experienced at least one close pass, while 35% of these cyclists stated that they had been put off cycling to some degree due to close passes. 


It is an unfortunate reality that careless driving can make cycling on public roads feel unsafe for many cyclists. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Together, See.Sense and Transport for West Midlands are showing that a data-driven approach can help combat close passes, making the roads safer for everyone. 

 

The year’s Road Safety Week runs from 15th-21st of November, and is themed around Road Safety Heroes. To mark this, we wanted to celebrate two Road Safety Heroes who worked on reducing close pass incidents in Birmingham. Jonathan Butler from West Midlands Police Service and Adrian Spencer from West Midlands Fire Service both conducted safety campaigns in Birmingham to increase awareness on the dangers of close passes. Their work was vital in increasing road safety - thank you! 

 

First, what exactly is a close pass?

 

A close pass is when a passing vehicle fails to leave enough distance between themselves and the cyclist. A safe passing distance is widely considered to be a minimum of 1.5 metres – about the width of a parked car. As a cyclist is part of the road’s traffic, they should be overtaken in the same manner as any other vehicle. Any passing motorist should leave the same amount of space as they would when overtaking another car, and should only overtake when it is safe to do so. 


Unfortunately, this practice is all too frequently ignored by some motorists. Close pass incidents are particularly common in cases where a cyclist is passed while oncoming traffic is approaching, with the passing car overtaking the cyclist without crossing the centre line and consequently leaving the cyclist only a few inches of space. This occurrence, combined with a vehicle travelling at high speed, is an unpleasant and frightening experience for the cyclist. 

 

Transport for West Midlands Birmingham Project 

 

As a result of the frequency and danger of close passes, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) have conducted road safety campaigns as part of a wider approach to encourage people to cycle more. These campaigns are being undertaken through the Government’s Active Travel Fund, which awarded the West Midlands £13.1 million to produce cycling and walking infrastructure by March 2022.  


However, the problem Transport for West Midlands faced - like many cities and councils in a similar position - was gathering quantifiable data that can be used to increase road safety. This lack of data was particularly evident in attempting to identify and reduce close pass incidents. The only data available to Transport for West Midlands was infrastructure data and STATS19 reports. STATS19 reports are road traffic collision reports filed by police, yet they are usually only filed when there has been serious injury. As a result, most cycling collisions and close pass incidents go unreported, leaving no data or evidence that can be used to help combat careless driving. Christopher Kerrigan, Senior Performance Analyst at TfWM, stated, “We had the STATS19 data and our infrastructure data but we really didn’t have anything else to quantify where a ‘close pass’ would be.”

 

This is where See.Sense comes in. 

 

Users of See.Sense lights are able to self-report incidents of close passes through the See.Sense app, and log where a close pass has occurred. This provides highly useful, quantifiable data that allows for the pinponting of close pass hotspots. For Transport for West Midlands, this data provided an extra layer of analysis on close pass incidents that was previously unavailable. In order to collect this data, 200 Birmingham cyclists were equipped with See.Sense lights as part of the Cycle Safe Brum study for six months, collectively gathering 800 million lines of data over 26,000 miles. 

  

 

 

Transport for West Midlands was able to use this data in the online mapping tool ArcGIS to create a visualisation of self-reported close pass incidents in Birmingham. This enabled TfWM to identify roads and routes where it would be beneficial to run awareness campaigns on the dangers of close passes. One such road was the A-45 in Birmingham, which as a result of See.Sense data was selected for two safety awareness campaigns to be conducted along the road. These awareness campaigns were run in conjunction with the West Midlands Police and West Midlands Fire departments throughout Birmingham, across a total of 23 locations. As was the case with the A-45, the 23 locations were selected directly as a result of See.Sense data. 

 

 

 

The work of See.Sense and Transport for West Midlands in Birmingham ultimately highlights the exciting potential of using data to improve road safety for cyclists. Knowledge and information is crucial to tackling any problem, and See.Sense data provides cities and councils with an important extra layer of information to use when attempting to understand cycling in their locality. As displayed in Birmingham, possessing as much information as possible is vital when attempting to tackle problems such as close passes. Indeed, as the project in Birmingham has displayed, this innovative data-driven approach has significant potential to allow cities to effectively increase cycling safety through the targeting of specific areas highlighted by the See.Sense report function. 


Would you like to make a report about a close pass you have experienced in your city?  Simply download the free See.Sense app and join the See.Sense Community to start making reports which are visible on our dashboard. As shown in Birmingham, every report helps make cycling safer. Find out more here: See.Sense Report

Conal McLaughlin
Conal McLaughlin