90%. That is the percentage of surveyed Scottish motorists who believe that further protection against close pass incidents is needed for cyclists. The survey, which has been commissioned by Cycling Scotland as part of its ‘Give Cycle Space Campaign’ and reported on by TransportXtra, has provided an overview of the attitudes held towards close passes by Scottish drivers. The campaign highlights the recently updated Highway Code rule regarding passing cyclists: when overtaking cyclists, drivers must leave at least 1.5 metres when driving at speeds of up to 30mph and give more space when overtaking at higher speeds.Although positives can be taken from the study, which has also shown 96% of motorists accept close passes are a frightening experience for cyclists, it is unfortunate to see that 89% also admitted to ‘sometimes being frustrated when passing someone on a bike.’
With this survey in mind, we’ve analysed some of the close pass incidents that have recently been experienced by See.Sense riders in Scotland, to get a sense of where - and why - close passes are happening. In particular, we’ve highlighted some of the anonymous comments that have been submitted through the See.Sense App to highlight the problems that close passes can cause for cyclists.
These results have been gathered using the See.Sense Report feature, which allows cyclists to report the locations of any problems they encounter during their ride - including close passes - through the See.Sense app. See.Sense Report also enables cyclists to report on potholes, obstructions and collisions, as well as submit infrastructure requests to advise on where improvements are most needed.
As can be seen from the graphic, the majority of close pass incidents recently reported in Scotland are centred around Glasgow and Edinburgh. As such, we will take a look at both cities separately.
1) "Car didn’t slow down and there was oncoming traffic. I was cycling with my 8 year old. If I had cameras on my helmet I would have complained to the police.”
It is this comment that perhaps best exemplifies the true dangers of close passes. Not only are these incidents dangerous, but they ultimately act as a barrier to more people getting involved in cycling. Whereas it should be comfortable and safe for parents to ride with their children (and for a vast majority of the time it is), close passes such as these can prevent many from embracing active transport with their children.
This comment also highlights the difficulties that can be experienced in reporting, and ultimately tackling, close passes. Without documentation and evidence, it can feel impossible for cyclists to report close pass incidents. At See.Sense, we have helped in this regard through See.Sense Report, which empowers cyclists to report these incidents, and provides cities and authorities with the data to tackle close passes. This was best exemplified through the RoSPA - See.Sense Cycle Smart Brum Project, in which See.Sense data was used by West Midlands Police and Fire Departmentsto inform the location of close pass education and awareness campaigns.
2) “The cycle lane encourages close passes at speed by motorists.”
This comment raises another issue frequently highlighted by cyclists - cycling infrastructure that is not only badly designed, but in fact can lead to increased danger for cyclists. This is often the case with cycle lanes that are not physically separated from vehicles, but rather are implemented as thin, painted strips of tarmac. As a result, drivers can fail to take appropriate safety measures when passing cyclists on the cycle lane, and the illusion of separation provided by the painted cycle lane can result in close passes.
3) “Close pass under the bridge ahead of blind corner. Car was oncoming too.”
Occurring at Russell Road near Murrayfield, this close pass is likely an occurrence that most cyclists have experienced at one point, with a vehicle overtaking at an unsafe time, putting both the cyclists and surrounding drivers at risk. The danger of incidents such as these cannot be overstated - 25% of serious collisions between cyclists and vehicles cite passing too close as a contributory factor.
4) "Annoyingly close pass on a (at the time) quiet road.”
There are plenty of comments that raise frustration at close passes arising from drivers overtaking at unsafe times, primarily when traffic is approaching from the other direction. However, this comment displays that close passes are not solely limited to these occasions. This close pass, which took place on Edinburgh’s Queensferry Road, occurred when the road was ‘quiet’, making the incident especially frustrating for the affected cyclist. While the aforementioned survey highlights the effect of frustration and impatience on causing close passes, this comment reveals that the issue goes much deeper. Factors such as careless driving and lack of consideration must also be taken into account.
1) “A driver tried to pass me as the road narrowed towards a bridge, whilst an oncoming car was going through the narrow road. The driver eventually stopped talking to her passenger and looked up to see the situation.”
Again, this comment reinforces the impact that careless driving and lack of concentration can have on creating close pass incidents. As our 2021 Close Pass Survey revealed, 29% of respondents reported that drivers needed to be more responsible and more aware of the dangers in order to see a reduction in close passes. With a safer, more considerate approach taken by all on the roads, we can achieve not only a reduced amount of close pass incidents, but a reduction in cycling collisions more generally.
2) “Lots of SUVs going to cafe and dog walking areas not slowing down when passing, and generally passing too close. I feel like I'm invisible and they don't care if they hit me.”
“I feel like I’m invisible” is something that almost every cyclist has said at one point or another. A lot of the time, this is the result of drivers being unaware of their distance from the cyclist, and being unaware at how frightening an experience close passes really are. With simple education programmes, as pioneered by West Midlands Police, close pass incidents can be reduced. It’s important to recognise the efforts of authorities such as West Midlands Police & Fire Departments, as they’re helping to make vital, real progress in reducing close passes.
3) “Car on the opposite side of the road had to come to a halt in order to let the car overtaking me safely move back into his lane.”
The incident reported in this last comment occurred in Underwood Road. Once again, this comment highlights a close pass which not only could have resulted in a serious cycling collision, but a close pass in which other motorists were also put in danger. As a reminder, cars must leave at least 1.5m of space when passing a cyclist at 30mph or more - meaning cyclists should be overtaken in the same manner, and with the same precautions, as would be given to overtaking another vehicle.
To conclude, we hope that these comments have shed a greater light on how problematic close passes can be, and highlighted the human impact of these incidents. While it can be easy to reduce these problems down to statistics, it’s important to remember that each close pass incident is a dangerous situation that can result in serious consequences for a cyclist.
Indeed, if there has been one thing made clear though the comments listed here, it is that close passes are a frustrating and scary experience for all cyclists. It is clear that if we want to increase rates of cycling, we need to continue to tackle close passes to make cycling inclusive and accessible for all.
If you want to help improve your local cycling conditions, and join a community of cyclists helping to create safer and more convenient cities, make sure to download the See.Sense App to use See.Sense Report. In addition to reporting on close passes, you can report on potholes, obstructions, collisions and more, as well as submit infrastructure requests to advise on where improvements are most needed. Importantly, this data is made available to cities, local authorities, and transport planning decision makers, ensuring your reports and comments are utilised to make real change.