Why doesn’t ‘overtaking a cyclist safely’ form part of the driving test?

close pass

Close passes by motorists are as much a part of cycling on British roads as potholes, but there can be only two possible explanations for why a motorist overtakes dangerously close to a cyclist – incompetence or malice. So how best to deal with this scourge of the roads?

Two years ago, there were changes to the practical element of the driving test in Britain. Reversing around corners and three-point-turns were removed, while driving with a sat-nav was introduced and the test duration was extended. It’s right and proper that the test evolves to adapt to the country’s changing roads – given the difficulty that many motorists have in passing a cyclist safely, has the time come for ‘safe overtaking’ to form part of the driving test?

The close pass is something that cyclists of all ages have to contend with. The photograph at the top the page was taken by a coordinator at the Richmond Borough group of London Cycling Campaign when he was out with his 7-year-old daughter. Luckily the dangerous driving did not injure the little girl…or put her off cycling.  The cycle cam footage below was taken by an adult cyclist who was close passed by a driver at 50mph.

close pass

Of all the challenges that we cyclists face, the close pass is one of the worst. When we asked 800 riders to share their top gripes, being overtaken too close by a motorist was far and away the least popular aspect of life on two wheels. And it’s hardly surprising given this dangerous practice by drivers is at best frightening and at worst life threatening.

What does the law say about overtaking cyclists?

Rule 163 of the Highway Code states ‘Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
– move quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in. Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car’

In the absence of widespread and good quality infrastructure to protect cyclists from motorised traffic, The Safer Roads Partnership and operational policing teams from both Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police have pioneered Operation Close Pass – a scheme to reduce the number of cyclists killed or injured on their region’s roads. Close passes are intimidating and nationally account for around a third of all threatening incidents between drivers and cyclists. The initiative, which is now being adopted by other forces, uses plain clothes officers on bikes equipped with front and rear facing cameras. Any driver seen passing closer than the recommended distance (1.5 metres) is pulled over. Unfortunately, the law in Britain doesn’t specify a minimum passing distance.

close pass

Many rules in the Highway Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey them you may be fined, receive penalty points or a disqualification or sent to prison. Failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted although it is often used in evidence to establish liability.

When it’s alleged that a driver has close passed, consideration is given to the offences of careless driving (section 3 the Road Traffic Act 1988) or dangerous driving (section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988). Cycle cam evidence is invaluable in such cases. If you are the victim of a close pass and have footage of the incident, some police forces allow you to submit evidence online. If yours doesn’t, contact them via the non-emergency 101 number for guidance.

ETA cycle insurance

Ethical cycle insurance

On the face of it, one cycle insurance policy is much like another, but the devil is the detail. Check your small print for so-called ‘new-for-old’ replacement – many insurers use the term, but if your bicycle is more than a few years old, devalue it severely. This means you are left out of pocket when you come to replace it.

With ETA cycle insurance, however old the bike, if it’s stolen you get enough to buy a new model. Furthermore, every cycle insurance policy you buy from us helps support the work of the ETA Trust, our charity campaigning for a cleaner, safer transport future. No wonder The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be Britain’s most ethical insurance company.





  1. Mary Lloyd


    Definately think that passing cyclists safely should be part of the driving test!

  2. John Holiday


    Definitely. Drivers should also be subject to a re-test every five years.
    Most drivers, having passed their Test,never look at a Highway Code.
    As a Bikeability Instructor, I feel a lot of cyclists would also benefit from education.
    Too often they invite drivers to take a chance and push past, by riding too close to kerb.
    If a driver waits behind me until safe to overtake, I always acknowledge it with a wave.

  3. Greg Glendell


    The driving test should include sections on many other road users, including cyclists and horse riders. Horses and their riders are killed each year on the roads; usually due to drivers failing to slow down or stop. Drivers should be aware of Highway code Rule 215, which requires drivers to heed signals from anyone in charge of an animal on the road, to slow down or stop.

  4. Paul Miller


    My daily cycle commute is full of drivers who think it’s their birthright to overtake me as soon as possible with no regard to safety or the oncoming traffic on the other side of the road that they also put in danger. Cyclists can be further out from the kerb without cycling aggressively but the more help motorists get with safe overtaking the better. It’s unlikely we’ll get segregated cycle routes any time soon.

  5. Hugh Williamson


    Wasn’t it West Midlands Police, not West Mercia who started the Operation Close Pass ball rolling? Anyway, passing cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians safely should be part of the driving test.

  6. tom foxe


    Yes, it should be part of the driving test. But what happened to Lollipops ? These are commonly used, I believe, on bikes in Germany and Holland to make bikes more visible so that motorists pass safely. I think it helps that the German name for a lollipop, Abstandhalter is widely used and understood – literally “distance holder” – there isn’t an obvious English translation – Abstand means the distance away from something & doesn’t have a good English equivalent – “berth” is probably the nearest. Maybe we need to make a better word for it. It’s just a piece of red plastic, but it does make motorists give you more room because they can easily see it. Pity they’ve gone out of fashion here.

  7. George Johnstone


    What makes me boil about cyclists is tha refusal to use cycle paths . I live in newbridge edinburgh and the local council have spent tens of thousands on cycle paths but your bradley wiggins impersonators refuse to use them also we have local quieter roads being used for races where you have no chance of passing .

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