How can cyclists avoid the close pass?

close pass

Not every cyclist has the benefit of a ‘Q’ figure behind the scenes to build them a flamethrower like the one above we developed, so how can you avoid the danger of the close pass?

Faced with the daily danger of close passes, Grahame Cooper has developed a novel – and by all accounts extremely effective – way of protecting his seven-year-old grandaughter when he cycles with her.

Grahame has repurposed the fiberglass pole from a tent and attached it to his luggage rack with an elastic bungee. The pole extends one metre from the centreline of his bike – the Highway Code says motorists should leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking a cyclist. He’s even written about how and why he developed the idea along with instructions on how to make your own version here.

According to the before and after videos Grahame has posted on Youtube, the flag pole has proved remarkably successful.

“I’ve never felt more relaxed on these roads than I’ve felt since I started using this flag; the difference is amazing. Every single driver seems to be passing further away than drivers normally do, and the careful ones are giving me easily the full 1.5 metres of clearance – something that is normally very rare indeed” explains Grahame on his website.

Why do drivers close over take too close?

Nobody knows for certain why some drivers insist on overtaking cyclists too close. However, it’s not because they’ve failed to spot the person on the bicycle.

If this sounds counter-intuitive, take note of Dr Ian Walker, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bath University – his research focuses particularly on the safety of vulnerable road users and their interactions with motorists, considering such issues as road user attitudes and stereotypes, and the roles of urban design and policy in affecting vulnerable road users’ safety. Dr Walker has conducted research to monitor cars when they overtake cyclists wearing a variety of high-visibility and disruptive pattern clothing.

Ian Walker high-viz

Dr Walker found that outfits in the study (except the one with the word ‘police’) were treated exactly the same, almost to the centimetre.

It seems likely that, ‘punishment passes’ aside, close overtaking is a product of ineptitude on the part of drivers. It doesn’t help that so few people in Britain now cycle. When we travelled to the Netherlands last year to shoot our documentary about road danger, Stop Killing our Children, we spoke to Vim Bot – national and international policy adviser for the Fietsersbond, the Dutch Cyclists’ Union:

“Foreign observers notice that behaviour of car drivers in the Netherlands is better than in their own country, and certainly than that in Britain – I think it has to do with the fact that cycling is part of everyday culture in the Netherlands. It means that most car drivers will cycle themselves, or they will have cycle as a child, or they will have their children cycling so they know that there are cyclists everywhere.”

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance (covers cargo bikes), breakdown cover  and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.


  1. Russ Taylor


    I love the flame thrower for the visual effect. However, I thought up one that would be less scary for the car driver (so he can’t blame the cyclist for causing him to crash), but would leave a semi-permanent mark down the side of the car – motorcycle spray grease.

    I used to ride a motorbike and would have to regularly grease the chain with a spray grease. The grease was blended with a volatile solvent that would evaporate in less than a minute leaving a VERY thick grease that would not fly of the chain at 70mph down the motorway (or even 100mph if you were on a race track!). If it got dripped onto the motorcycle paintwork, the only thing that would get it off was WD40 and about 40 minutes of elbow grease! Also, leaving it on the paintwork attracted dust, dirt and grit like a magnet, making it even harder to clean off. Needless to say, after dealing with the mess created by this stuff, I switched to a bike with shaft drive!

    The spray can will shoot a jet of this chain oil stuff up to 2 metres, so replace the flame thrower with a can of spray chain grease. That will leave the vehicle owner with long-lasting memory of what they did and you can enjoy seeing them try to explain to others why the left-hand side of their car has such a rubbish paint job!

  2. Philip


    Having a mirror is a no-brainer (I have two on my right handlebar) for cyclists, yet perversely bicycles are just about the only vehicles on the road without one. Despite being classed as vulnerable road users.

    Information is the key.
    The more information you have of what is around you and behind you the better your decision making should be.

    Knowing exactly what is behind you allows strategic road positioning, and does to some extent dictate the road positioning of the vehicle(s) behind.

    Furthermore, the psychology of most drivers changes when they know that you can see them before they pass you, and in my experience the majority of drivers will give you more room when passing as a result.

  3. Doug M


    Before I learned to drive, I commuted 10 miles each way into London by bicycle. I had also cycled to school and had several cycle touring holidays. This gave me an appreciation of the needs of a cyclist when I drive my car. (I continued to cycle when use of the car was not essential.)
    I have often wondered how cycling experience could be made a condition for applying for a provisional car licence, with the obvious medical exemptions. 2,000 miles over a period of two years should be sufficient, but this could only be enforced by licensing and regulating cycling, something which no cyclist would want!
    Any ideas, anyone?

  4. vincent williams


    I was a keen solo cyclist but my nerves are very bad with accidents and vehicle near misses. with my Trike, they do give you more room, but it gets wagon drivers back up. So what is the answer?.

  5. Chris Beazer


    I’m pretty certain that there isn’t a “law” that requires motorists to give a cyclist at least 1.5 metres of clearance when overtaking. The new highway code advises that it should be 1.5 when the speed limit is up to 30 mph and 2 when it’s greater than 30mph and we all know that most road users don’t read the Highway Code and certainly don’t tend to obey the “advice” contained within it

    • The ETA


      Thanks for pointing that out, Chris. You’re right and we’ve corrected the article accordingly. It’s worth noting that although there isn’t a specific law aimed at overtaking, when the police conduct ‘Operation Close Pass’ they routinely prosecute drivers for driving without due care and attention.

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