Petition for rules on overtaking cyclists gathers speed – but is it enough? | Ben Thomas

A petition to legally enforce a three-foot minimum overtaking rule for motor vehicles is gathering momentum with over 1,300 signatures at last count. It's based on a campaign in the US that has already scored several successes.

The petition reminded me of my most terrifying encounter with dangerous overtaking, which actually happened to someone else. It was one of those rhino/snail encounters in which you're just waiting for the crunch: a 25-tonne double-decker coach, its supercharger whistling in the night air, almost sucked a cyclist to his doom as it powered out of the Marble Arch roundabout in London.

The shaken cyclist caught up (as they do) on Bayswater Road and tapped on the window to complain. "How wide are your handlebars?" shouted the driver. The gobsmacked silence that followed this question was taken as an admission of error, and the coach powered off again into the darkness.

Mercifully, most drivers realise that affording you no more than the width of your handlebars as they pass is not really a recipe for human happiness. But how much should they give you?

There is currently no law. The dear old Highway Code says drivers should (not "must") give you "at least as much room as [they] would when overtaking a car".

Is it just me, or is this not clear? Should a driver who would give a car 1ft, give a bike 1ft too? (eek) ... or should they give a bike the width of a car? (better) ... or the width of a car plus 1ft? (wahay!)

Unfortunately, the width of the average bike lane is what acts as a guide for many drivers – as long as they don't cross the white line, or where they perceive it would be if there was one, they reckon you'll be fine. And this is as true at 70mph as it is at 30mph, something that terrifies many a city cyclist when they first venture on to Britain's B-roads.

At 60mph (the de facto minimum speed on many a country lane) three feet isn't nearly enough, as the CTC pointed out on recently. But the petition by Tom Amos has at least started a debate. Is a legal minimum of three feet better than nothing – or should we be rejecting that and asking for more?

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