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Five ways to share the road safely with cyclists

by Hugh Wilson | 09 Mar 2016

Forget the stereotypes. Forget the YouTube videos of angry confrontations. Forget the idea that motorists and cyclists are on opposite sides.

If you drive a car you may also ride a bike, or know someone – a son, daughter, partner, friend – who does. If you cycle, you may also drive a car, or know someone special to you who does.

It’s in everyone’s interest to learn to share the road safely, and most of us want to do exactly that, a new survey reveals. The YouGov poll for British Cycling found that a majority of drivers support the idea of having more cycle tracks on main roads, even if it means longer commutes for them.

Chris Boardman, British Cycling policy adviser, says it is clear that the vast majority of the public want to see more cycle lanes.

But that won’t happen anytime soon, and in the meantime motorists are going to have to share road space with an ever growing army of cyclists. Research last year found that 100,000 more of us had become regular cyclists since 2012, and that’s in England alone.

With that in mind how do drivers and riders share the road safely, sensibly and harmoniously? With the help of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) Approved Garages gives some much needed advice.

What cyclists want drivers to know

The first and perhaps most important tip is to have empathy for the other road user, even if their presence is temporarily slowing your journey. Cyclists want motorists to know that inconsiderate driving isn’t just annoying, it’s intimidating. Speeding past a cyclist without leaving enough room is scary for the cyclist, who is only ever one minor contact from potential disaster.

According to RoSPA key things cyclists also want drivers to know include:

  • Cyclists have to keep away from the gutter to avoid pot holes and debris
  • They are not deliberately trying to get in your way and slow you down
  • When they are riding in the middle of their lane, it is often so they can see and be seen better

What drivers want cyclists to know

Empathy works both ways of course. Drivers want cyclists to know that, if riders don’t use lights at night, drivers can’t see them. Cyclists who ignore traffic lights are also a bugbear, and a potentially dangerous one. Drivers often think that cyclists need to drive more predictably, avoiding sudden and unnecessary swerves and manoeuvres. RoSPA outlines a few more:

  • Motorists don’t always understand why cyclists sometimes ride in the middle of the lane
  • They get annoyed when cyclists ride two abreast
  • They get dazzled when very bright cycle lights are not adjusted correctly

Think bike

Mutual understanding is key, along with following a few basic rules that will help to keep the roads safer for everyone. Nearly three quarters of accidents involving cars and cyclists happen at junctions, and the most common reason is drivers failing to see cyclists.

So at junctions, drivers need to ‘think bike’. RoSPA’s advice: “Look once, look twice and look again for the cyclist.”

But again, this isn’t solely a driver’s problem. “Failing to look properly is also a common mistake made by cyclists,” says RoSPA. Both sets of road users need to be more aware of each other.


Cyclists typically ride at around 12mph, so on popular routes drivers may have to overtake a number of cyclists in a single journey. Remember, cyclists are easily intimidated, are affected by side winds and may have to swerve to avoid potholes. For those reasons, drivers must give them plenty of room when overtaking. Never try to squeeze past and never drive right up behind them or rev impatiently.

Cyclists must play their part and also overtake carefully, says RoSPA. “Always have a good look behind before you pull out to overtake a parked car, or other obstacle, and give the driver behind plenty of time to react. Signal if necessary.”

Road positioning

Road positioning is a real bone of contention between motorists and cyclists. Drivers often think cyclists are riding too far into the lane, but at the same time cyclists are trained to ride away from the gutter where litter collects and there are obstacles like drain covers.

Normally, a cyclist will position themselves about a third of the way into the carriageway, which is known as the ‘secondary position’.

“However, sometimes they will need to ride further out in what is called the ‘primary position’, to improve visibility or to deter drivers from squeezing past where the road narrows, for example at a pedestrian island,” says RoSPA.

Whilst riding in the primary position a cyclist will be in the middle of the road between the kerb and centre line. This is not illegal and can be necessary for a cyclist’s safety.

But cyclists should not ride in the primary position when it is not necessary. RoSPA agrees that cyclists should move back into the secondary position as soon as it is safe to do so.

Nor should cyclists ride more than two abreast. In fact, on busy or narrow roads courteous cyclists will ride in single file.

Conventions for cooperation

Following these simple conventions can mean less danger for cyclists and less frustration for drivers. In the end the best advice is to accept that roads are meant for drivers and cyclists alike, and being aware of each other, and understanding of each other’s needs, is the best way for everyone to use them safely and harmoniously.

Or as RoSPA puts it: “Treat every road user as if they were a member of your family.”

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