Q967: Is it an offence to fail to give a cyclist sufficient room when overtaking them?
Rule 163 of the Highway Code states overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.
In an effort to highlight the issue of motorists leaving insufficient room when overtaking a cyclist, often referred to as a 'close pass' incident, a number of police forces have undertaken initiatives to educate drivers in relation this issue. In some cases posters/floor mats have been used showing a minimum clearance of 1.5 meters. However, it's important to realise that the law doesn't specify a particular distance.
Many of the rules in the Highway Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey them you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving and in the most serious cases, you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words 'MUST/MUST NOT'. In addition, the rule includes an abbreviated reference to the legislation which creates the offence. However, failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted. Legally, the Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts to establish liability – this includes rules which use advisory wording such as 'should/should not' or 'do/do not', as is the case in rule 163.
Therefore, because there isn't a specific offence of failing to give sufficient room to a cyclist when overtaking them, if it was alleged that a driver had done this, consideration would have to be given to the offences of careless driving contrary to section 3 the Road Traffic Act 1988 or dangerous driving contrary to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, each case would have to be judged on in the particular facts and in order to secure a prosecution, it would have to been shown that the driver was guilty of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. This would necessitate the prosecution having suitable evidence to show what occurred and to this end, cyclists often produce video coverage of an incident. From a police perspective, images from dashboard/helmet cameras can be used in legal proceedings but their evidential value all depends on the quality of the images and what they show. Just because a camera has captured an incident does not automatically mean that the police will be able to take action in every case or that the evidence will stand up to the scrutiny of a court – it will all depend on the circumstances.
If you are involved in a 'close pass' incident as a cyclist and you wish to report the matter to the police, we would suggest you contact your local force via the non-emergency 101 number or visit your local police station. Some police forces allow you to submit evidence captured by way of helmet camera via the internet, whilst others don't. It will all depend on your local police as to whether they provide this service. If they don't', you would need to contact them via the non-emergency 101 number for guidance on submitting such evidence.