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“Operation Close Pass”

Is cycling in Devon becoming too dangerous?

“Road rage” against cyclists along Cowley Bridge Road in Exeter sparks a police undercover operation Penelope Heighton, an Associate at QualitySolicitors Dunn & Baker, gives us her view as a representative of cyclists injured on the roads

You know an issue is serious when Devon and Cornwall Police run an operation named “Operation Close Pass”. This has taken place in Plymouth and last month in Exeter supported by Devon County Council and various charities, including the Exeter Cycling Campaign.

The operation involved undercover police posing as cyclists along Cowley Bridge Road in Exeter, with front and rear cameras fitted to their bicycles. If overtaken by any motorist in an unsafe manner, the officer radioed colleagues further down who would pull over the offender offering them roadside education but if refused, a £100 fixed penalty notice and 3 points on their licence for the offence of “driving a vehicle without reasonable consideration of others”. I have a particular interest in this police operation as it took place outside my children’s school and also because I am a solicitor that represents injured people. Sadly, over the years I have brought compensation claims on behalf of cyclists that have suffered life changing injuries due to the negligent, reckless or even dangerous driving of motorists. In view of the clear benefits of cycling for personal fitness (if you can avoid being hit by a motorist) and the environment, I find it astonishing that in this day an age there remains a negative attitude amongst some motorists that cyclists should simply not be on the road and are “asking for trouble”.

The Highway Code includes cyclists as vulnerable road users. Rule 162 obliges motorists, when passing cyclists, to give them plenty of room. In running Operation Close Pass, the police were highlighting the importance of this, as failure to do so puts cyclists’ lives at risk. The recommended distance that police state motorists should leave when passing a cyclist is 1.5 meters. Motorists need to realise that they may face criminal and/or civil legal action if they fail to do so.

A road user owes a legal duty to take reasonable care to avoid doing or omitting to do anything that they can reasonably foresee would cause injury to others. In the context of road traffic accident claims, the duty requires a road user to drive with ordinary care and skill, i.e. the care and skill of the average motorist.

Unfortunately, parents of my children’s school have experienced serious incidents of “road rage” from motorists which prompted the police to locate its initiative in Exeter where it did. I have even seen one mum regularly wearing a camera on her cycle helmet, presumably to evidence any dangerous or abusive behaviour from motorists. This may seem over the top but sadly appears to be a sensible precaution and would certainly provide invaluable evidence if she ever did suffer the misfortune to be knocked off her bike and injured. Of course it is important that cyclists, as road users, remain conscious that they also need to use the roads in a safe and responsible manner. The duties that cyclists should adhere to are contained in sections 59-82 of the Highway Code. Nevertheless, when it comes to an impact with a vehicle the cyclist is generally going to end up worse off so motorists have a legal duty to be extra vigilant to this vulnerability and take extra care when driving near to someone on a bicycle.

If you are unfortunate enough to be injured in a road traffic accident of any type and you wish to make a claim for compensation then please  contact Penelope Heighton for free legal advice on 01392 285000

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