Overtaking cyclists

Motorists often give too little space when overtaking cyclists. It is potentially dangerous and an unpleasant experience. Often is just a combination of impatience and unawareness. But, once you have been a cyclist yourself, you would always approach overtaking a cyclist in a different manner.

Car overtaking on Oxford High Street very close



Big buses. Very often cars/ buses pass so close that if you put your arm out and signal right you will hit the vehicle. lorry-overtake

Beware of lorries turning rightcyclists-buses-pass-with-care

Cyclists – Pass with Care! – Buses overtake with Care!

‘Narrow Lane Do Not Overtake Cyclists’

How much room should you give a cyclist?

The Highway code states:

“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-215)”

Highway code

“As much room as a car” leaves some discretion, but, I would have thought three feet would be a good minimum. My grandma used to think the law was enough space for cyclist to fall off, without hitting the overtaking car. The highway code doesn’t quite say that but it seems a good rule of thumb.

Also the Highway code states:

“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.”

This is an interesting one, as sometimes, if you deviate less than one foot from your line an overtaking car will beep aggressively. True, you should be looking over your shoulder, but, if a small deviation from line causes consternation, it is probably because the car is passing too closely.

Urban roads and Rural Roads

It is common for cars to pass closely on urban roads, but at least speeds are lower, and often cars are more ready to slowdown. It is a bigger problem on fast rural roads where cars can be doing 50-60mph + and motorists don’t have the mentality to be ready to slow down. 50mph speed limits can become like minimum targets. If a motorist comes across a cyclist, they are loathe to slow down so just keep on ploughing on.

Speed of overtaking

There is a big difference between a car overtaking close at 20mph and a car overtaking close at 50mph. There is also a big difference when a lorry overtakes you and it is so close the drag pushes you around.


SPACE from carltonreid on Vimeo.

3 Feet Rule

A car giving plenty of room to a young kid on Cowley Road (look how close the child is hugging the kerb). I wonder if the cyclists was wearing lycra, helmet and fluroescent coat, the car would have given less room?


Some countries have toyed with the idea of passing a law that motorists should leave 3 feet when overtaking. If this was the case, 80% of drivers would break the law everyday.

Doesn’t giving Cyclists Room mean an increase in congestion / time wasted?


I’ve lost count of the number of times a motorist has impatiently overtaken – squeezed through a gap which wasn’t there and then had to slam on the brakes because he’s approaching a traffic jam. There is a certain karma to then be able to undertake them whilst they are stationary in a traffic jam. But, you would think, people would look ahead. Squeezing through gaps which aren’t there rarely get you any quicker anyway.

Generally, cars should give more space, but all rules need some discretion. As a motorist I find it quite easy to give space to cyclists because I always think empathise with the cyclist that I am overtaking. I would give the cyclist as much space as I would want myself.

I really don’t understand why cyclists get such a bad press in the media. When I think of the 100,000 miles I’ve driven in the past 10 years – how much time have I lost by waiting for a good opportunity to overtake. It is completely negligible. Furthermore, I enjoy the process of slowing down and giving space – because I know the cyclist will appreciate it.

It’s just a matter of perspective – Get mad because you have to wait 5 seconds, or take a bit more time and get to the back of the traffic jam in a calmer state of mind. Life isn’t rocket science!

But Cyclists don’t wear A Cycle Helmet / Cyclists don’t pay road tax

  • Would you want to run-over a pedestrian because they don’t pay an obsolete tax, no one pays?
  • Would you run over a pedestrian just because they are not wearing a safety helmet – to teach them a lesson?


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12 thoughts on “Overtaking cyclists”

  1. I totally agree: one of my pet hates is vehicles overtaking cyclists with very little space, or sitting on our heels impatiently. Many times I have been cycling quiet country roads and had a lorry hurtle past me; frightening me and as you say the drag, pushing you to one side too. I find it odd that some drivers think cyclists have less rights on the road because ‘cyclists don’t pay road tax’ – surely most cyclists are drivers as well and therefore pay the same tax! Also, let’s not forget that everyone who takes to their bike is easing up congestion on the roads a little bit!! Let’s hope your message reaches far and wide and makes people think a little more! Having the benefit of cycling and driving I certainly approach cyclists with a lot of care when behind the wheel!

    • I agree, a stagecoach bus overtook me when I was cycling so I told the driver off for overtaking me because I was really angry with that bus driver.

  2. I live in rural Somerset where many of the narrow roads have a 60 mph speed limit, and most drivers belt along regardless of the road conditions as if the limit is a minimum target.

    Something I have noticed happening more frequently are drivers who give you plenty of room (which is good) but don’t slow down at all, forcing oncoming drivers to slam the brakes on to avoid a collision and leading to the inevitable horn blaring and gesticulating.

    Also, you should try riding 3 feet from the kerb round here. Most of the time that puts you near the middle of the lane and you are then subjected to ‘punishment’ overtakes (you know – the ones where they nearly touch you) by motorists who truly believe you have no right to be there.

    Driving standards and courtesy continue to decline and it doesn’t help that you never see a police car any more.

  3. Why are 10 or more of your cyclists in the photos not wearing helmets? If being overtaken is so dangerous cyclists need all the armour they can get!

    • It does seem surprising at first. There’s no law against riding without a helmet, but it seems mad, no? But there are all sorts of reasons one might not wear a helmet. Wearing protective gear has been shown to make car drivers give less space to cyclists. Here’s a BBC article explaining the phenomenon: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/5334208.stm

      They also offer no protection against being hit by a motor vehicle. The best one can hope for is that one doesn’t hit one’s head when hitting the ground! Most cyclist deaths happen when squeezed (i.e. not struck) by a large turning vehicle, which a helmet wouldn’t help.

      Others would argue that it contributes to a false impression that cycling is dangerous when it’s not. It makes cycling slightly less convenient and slightly more expensive. We’ve become accustomed to seeing it as a reasonable safety precaution. But consider why we don’t wear crash helmets when driving, even though racing drivers prove that a helmet is a great safety device! It just seems unnecessary when we’re in the car. The same argument can be made for cycling.

      Having said all this, I always wear a helmet!

    • Brian,I agree it is reckless to cycle without a helmet, but I recall reading something interesting: obviously it is safer for cyclists to wear helmets in case of a fall, but apparently statistics have also shown that drivers tend to give cyclists without helmets, more space and consideration when overtaking!

  4. The most recent issue for me has not been cars, but motorbikes. Last night during a 3 hour ride I was overtaken a three different points by groups of motorbikes. They all overtook so close I could have touched them while revving their engines and doing over 60 mph. You would think of all road users these would be the most safety aware, but no.

  5. How do you safely overtake a cyclist on a twisty B road? I think cyclists are thoroughly selfish when climbing twisty hill roads, they will continue to pump away at 5mph while traffic has to figure out how to get by safely. Imagine that cyclist was another form of slow moving vehicle like a tractor, how pissed off would you be if it ignored every pull in and left traffic pile up behind? Motorists are generally trying to get places while cyclists are just playing!


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