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Shropshire motorists are being encouraged to adopt a Dutch technique to protect cyclists from injury when opening their car door.
It comes after the Department for Transport (DfT) announced they are reviewing the Highway Code to include the ‘Dutch reach’ and updated guidance on how to overtake cyclists safely.
Benjamin Smith, Cycle Experience Operations Manager at Cycle Experience Group, part of Shropshire-based TTC Group, welcomed the news. He told JT Hughes:
“TTC Cycle Experience is very pleased at the inclusion of the ‘Dutch reach’ in the Highway Code.”
“We hear regularly of instances where a cyclist has been hit by an opening car door, and some of our wider staff team have been involved in such instances in the past whilst riding.”
The method got its name from the cycling-friendly Netherlands where it forms part of their driving test. Drivers open the car door with their opposite hand, forcing them to twist their body and look behind for passing cyclists or vehicles before exiting.
In 2017 101 cyclists died in road traffic collisions and it is hoped that by adopting the method, cyclists will be better protected on the road.
Benjamin said: “Anything which will make the road a safer space for all is a good thing; the mechanics of the Dutch Reach, which slows the process of exiting a car down, and causes a deliberate look over the shoulder, will save injuries and damage to both individuals the bicycle and the car.”
Car Dooring a Criminal Offence
A Department for Transport report in 2012 showed that 42 percent of crashes reported to the police involved drivers failing to look properly.
Getting out of your car can be dangerous if you fail to look properly. Car dooring is a criminal offence and punishable with a fine to up £1,000.
Cycling UK, which has a centres across the UK including Shropshire, campaigned on the issue of vehicles closely passing cyclists. The charity launched its Too Close for Comfort campaign last year to provide police forces around the country with educational mats.
It has also been campaigning to promote the Dutch Reach as a safer way to open your car door.
Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns said: “Close overtakes and people opening car doors in front of cyclists are not only dangerous, they also put people off riding a bike.
“That’s why Cycling UK has been campaigning for changes to the Highway Code rules for many years, to make the requirements crystal clear to give enough space when overtaking a cyclist, wait if you can’t, and look before you open your car door.
“We’re delighted the Government has listened and we hope to contribute to the discussions regarding the amendments required to prioritise the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users.”
Edmund King, AA President said: “The Government seems to be going Dutch, despite Brexit, with the proposal for the ‘Dutch reach’ to be included in the Highway Code to enhance cycle safety.”
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Dangers of Passing Too Closely
The DfT has confirmed they will introduce new guidance highlighting the dangers of passing too closely to cyclists and calls for drivers to allow plenty of room when overtaking.
Currently, there isn’t a set distance for passing cyclists and the Highway Code says drivers ‘should’ give cyclists ‘at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car’.
However, the word ‘should’ implies this is merely advice rather than a legal requirement. So while the precise wording hasn’t yet been confirmed, legally binding words are preceded by the word ‘must’.
With a number of high-profile cycling accidents it’s a move that is supported by GEM road safety officer Neil Worth:
“We support the introduction of the Dutch reach. After all, cyclists are vulnerable, and we welcome this move to provide them with better protection. For drivers and their passengers it’s a small and simple change, but it could make a big difference for the safety of cyclists who might be riding past.
“We also welcome the DfT’s announcement of new Highway Code guidance for drivers to give more room when overtaking cyclists.”
Neil Worth believes an initiative like this has the added benefit of bringing road users together, something GEM has always supported. “It’s worth remembering that we all set out on journeys with the hope and expectation of arriving safely at our destination,” he added.
“If asked, I’m sure no one would say they wanted to obstruct anyone else or put them at greater risk.
“By implementing the Dutch reach we are making a positive move to reduce risk, and that’s sure to bring a range of additional road safety benefits as we take steps to look out for each other.”
Crackdown on Road Users Passing too Closely
In the West Midlands, the police have been cracking down on drivers who aren’t giving enough room to passing cyclists.
The operation has been a huge success with serious cycle smashes reducing by a fifth in its first year. Now The Safer Roads Partnership is looking to emulate that success by adopting a similar scheme.
#OpClosePass was launched in 2016 by West Midlands Police with plain clothes officers cycling busy roads and stopping anyone who passes too closely.
Officers on bikes are equipped with front and rear facing cameras. Any vehicle seen to pass to closely rather than the recommended distance of 1.5 metres, is pulled over and offered the opportunity to have on-the-spot educational input on safe overtaking.
In July they announced that serious crashes involving cyclists had fallen by 20 percent since launching the initiative.
The Safer Roads Partnership and operational policing teams from both West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police are currently developing similar scheme and it is hoped that it will soon by rolled out across both force areas.
Benjamin Smith added: “The best bit of advice I would suggest is that every single road user, regardless of what they are driving/riding should take more time over each journey, leave earlier and never rush.”
“Have much more respect and empathy with everyone else on the road, considering the person behind the wheel or the handlebars, and making eye contact a must before any manoeuvre. This way we will have a better paced and less fraught road system, with less incidents.”