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Working with police to highlight safe passing around cyclists

Car behind cyclist in bus lane

Image showing restrictions for a vehicle trying to pass a cyclist in bus lane in Belfast

4 July 2018

Did you know the recommended safe distance when passing a cyclist on the road is 1.5 metres? Motor vehicles passing cyclists too closely can be intimidating and very dangerous, which puts less confident cyclists off riding a bike altogether. The Highway Code states that drivers should give at least as much space passing a cyclist as they do for a car.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) award-winning road safety campaign ‘See The Cyclist’ has been raising awareness of the safe passing distance as many drivers overtake too close to cyclists. The police have joined forces with us to visually highlight this by releasing a photo illustration.

The picture shows the cyclist around one metre from the kerb, which is necessary to ensure a safe, visible position to other road users. The cyclist is pictured using a bus lane in Belfast during the rush hour when there is a queue of traffic in the outside lane. It demonstrates that other vehicles using a typical three metre wide lane, including bus lanes, cannot safely pass a cyclist when there is no space to overtake in the outside lane.

We all have to share the road and we urge all drivers to allow at least 1.5m, as much as you would give another car, when passing a cyclist.

- Rosie Leech, PSNI Inspector

In an average three metre wide traffic lane this means drivers need to cross over the white line into the other lane to pass safely. The minimum passing distance of at least 1.5m applies to all roads, including rural areas.

Karen Mawhinney, our Cycling & Walking Team Manager said: “We continually hear of, and experience, near misses and dangerous passing by motorists overtaking cyclists too close. We are therefore pleased that the PSNI are taking this road safety issue seriously and are working with us to educate and inform the general public.

“Our Bike Life report shows that only 30% of Belfast residents, whether they cycle or not, think cycling safety is good[1]. We need to encourage more people to travel actively to reduce congestion and improve people’s health, and a vital part of that is ensuring people feel safe to cycle on our roads.”

Cyclists among most vulnerable road users

PSNI Inspector Rosie Leech said: “Cyclists are among the most vulnerable people on our roads. We all have to share the road and we urge all drivers to allow at least 1.5m, as much as you would give another car, when passing a cyclist. Equally we would urge cyclists to follow the rules of the road and always signal to drivers when considering a manoeuvre.

Up to now the police focus has been to educate drivers and cyclists about their behaviour but where circumstances warrant a more robust approach, we have a range of Fixed Penalties and prosecution options to deal with the offenders.”

The Republic of Ireland’s Transport Minister Shane Ross is currently bringing forward legislation to have a minimum passing distance of motorists overtaking cyclists defined in law.[2]This followed a safety campaign by cyclist advocacy groups in the Republic.

Top tips when sharing the road with cyclists

  • If you are passing a cyclist who is riding next to a line of parked cars, they will need to ride further out into the lane to protect themselves against people opening car doors.
  • When you are following a cyclist and are about to overtake, look at the road ahead. Is there a pothole or drain the cyclist might need to avoid? Is there any debris on the road that the cyclist could swerve to miss, such as broken glass?
  • If there are strong crosswinds these can cause the cyclist to wobble as they move out of wind shadows like a large parked vehicle (e.g. a bus) and buildings. If you are driving a large, long vehicle, you could create a wind shadow as you overtake them.
  • If you are driving a longer vehicle be sure that you have completely overtaken the cyclist before you pull back in. Be careful of your wing mirrors - clipping a cyclist with your mirror could cause them to fall under your wheels. If you are driving a car with a trailer, be aware that trailers can be up to 2.5m wide whereas your car might only be 1.9m wide, and that means the trailer will be 30cm wider each side than your car.
  • If you are turning left up ahead, do you have time to get past the cyclist before you turn? Sometimes it's better just to wait a few seconds behind the cyclist and turn behind them.

Read more about Belfast Bike Life report

Road Safety for Cyclists


[1] Belfast Bike Life report 2017 was part of the largest UK survey of cycling. Read more at https://www.sustrans.org.uk/bikelifebelfast

[2] The Republic of Ireland legislation will mean motorists have to give at least one metre overtaking distance when passing cyclists in speed zones of up to 50km/hour and at least 1.5 metres when passing on roads with speed limits of over 50km/hour.