A "Close Pass" is one where a vehicle passes a cyclist within an unsafe distance. This amounts to Careless Driving (occasionally even Dangerous Driving) and carries with it a £100 fine and three points. High speed close passes by high-sided vehicles generate violent side winds that will unsettle and could even topple cyclists. In any case close passes are simply scary for cyclists. One study reported that on average cylists suffer a close pass about every 15 miles. They happen for a number of reasons.
Lack of awareness: many drivers do not cycle and therefore do not realise how dangerous a close pass is to a cyclist: cyclists often have to swerve around pot holes or drain covers (which if incorrectly replaced can stop a thin bike wheel immediately, with disastrous consequences). Side winds caused by gaps in hedges can easily blow a rider a meter or more off course. To make things worse, unfortunately many drivers "of a certain age" suffer from reduced visual acuity and spacial awareness. The lack of awareness could be addressed through education. A first step would be to make a cycling proficiency course part of the driver training in Northern Ireland. Requiring drivers to sit another driving test once they reach 70 (and every five years afterwards) would be another.
Lack of forward observation, either on account of the driver or the cyclist involved. As both a cyclist and a motorcyclist I am very familiar with SMIDSY - Sorry Mate I Didn't See You. Drivers, please pay attention and look ahead: if the road narrows or you're coming up to a bend, don't try to squeeze past a cyclist or run him/her off the road. That cyclist is someone's wife, son, buddy etc. Do not become a member of the Blind Bend Brigade who end up in a mess when they pick a stupid place to pass! As a cyclist, look ahead and assume that cars behind you do not. If the road narrows so much as to make an overtake by a car unsafe, take the primary position to signal to following traffic that it is not safe to pass you.
Intimidation and hostility: some drivers forget that a driving license is a privilege, not a right. They believe they own the road and want to make sure the cyclist knows it too by passing too closely. The best way to deal with deliberate close passes is to report them to the PSNI. The "Online Incident Form" allows for uploading camera footage.
Selfishness: many drivers are poor planners and leave too late. To make up time they figure it's ok to risk killing a cyclist. How many times have you as a cyclist had to grab your brakes because some muppet thought he'd pass you and then turns left in front of you 10 meters further down the road...? Around Ards and North Down it's best to avoid the school drop-off and pick-up times during the week. Sunday mornings are somewhat dodgy as well: many people are either driving to church, not having driven at all during the week, or they are on their way to get the Sunday paper, still half asleep and badly hung over from the night before...
Poorly designed road infrastructure: some pedestrian islands are placed on roads leaving each lane barely wider than the width of a car in each direction. Combine this with myopic drivers and you end up with either a close call or an accident in which the cyclist gets shunted into the curb or the driver plows into the pedestrian island. There is one particular crossing in Donaghadee near the Millisle Road/Kinnegar interesection where drivers always seem to get caught out. As a cyclist it is preferable to take the primary position there.
But there is some good news...: let me give a shout out to the Ards and North Down Borough Council drivers who give cyclists plenty of space. As for Translink bus drivers and Philip on the No. 3 to Donaghadee in particular - their passes are text book stuff, it really is appreciated when you give us lots of room on the A2.
Improvement is needed from Eddie Long Tiling and Roofline Property Services, both of whom carelessly passed me too closely this week. Here's a tip for you: sign writing on your van and bad driving isn't a good combination as it results not only in a poor reputation but potentially also in 3 points and a £100 fine...
Stay safe and do not assume a following driver has seen what you see. Consider investing in a bike camera.