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The Highway Code – Overtaking Cyclists Explained

Cycling on the road can be dangerous, especially in busy urban areas or when visibility is poor. 

We see it time and time again – drivers failing to pass cyclists with sufficient distance, causing near misses, and understandably, some very angry cyclists! 

Unfortunately, not all cyclists get off with near misses and this problem is compounded by busy roads and careless driving.

Unsure what the rules are?

The Highway Code states that when overtaking a cyclist, drivers should give, ‘as much room as you would give a car’. 

It doesn’t specify a minimum distance that drivers must leave between the cyclist and their car, which is a source of confusion for many. The difficulty around setting a minimum overtaking distance would be enforcement – imagine the difficulty in measuring and trying to prove that a driver failed to obey a minimum distance. 

The Highway Code states, in rules on overtaking (rules 211 to 213, and 163), to: 

  • Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so
  • Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car

The point here is to exercise caution when overtaking cyclists and, if in doubt, give them more room than you think they may need. Do not worry about holding up traffic – even if this takes additional time and slows down your passing of the bicycle.

Man riding bicycle in cycle lane

Other rules concerning cyclists in the Highway Code state: 

  • If they look over their shoulder, it could mean that they are intending to change direction, pull out, or turn left/right. If they do so, then give them additional space and do not attempt to overtake them. (Rule 212)
  • Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make. (Rule 213) 

It’s important for drivers to give cyclists as much room as when overtaking a car. The Highway Code doesn’t mention speed, it would be sensible to pass cyclists slowly, taking care that they may be more unpredictable in their movement than a car. They may have to swerve to avoid potholes or icy patches in ways that a car doesn’t. 

Like much of the skill when it comes to driving, you’ll need to exercise your judgement to make a call as to whether it’s safe to pass a cyclist, but rest assured that your RED driving instructor will help you understand how best to do this.

Whilst you won’t get points on your licence for failing to pass a cyclist while observing a minimum distance, you may be served with points (or worse) for dangerous driving if you are found to be at fault for knocking a cyclist off their bike.  

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