97% of drivers agree that those who drive too closely to people cycling are putting lives at risk

4 May 2023    

Findings revealed as Scotland’s cycling charity launches nationwide cycling road safety campaign

97% of drivers agree that people who drive too closely to people cycling are putting lives at risk, however over a third admit that they don’t think of someone cycling as a person, being more focused on getting past and getting on with their journey.

These are the findings from a new study of over 500¹ drivers commissioned by Scotland’s national cycling charity – Cycling Scotland – to mark the launch of its annual nationwide campaign (Thursday 4 May).

On average, four people cycling per week in Scotland suffer serious, potentially life-changing, injuries from a vehicle collision² – and close passes can be a daily experience for people cycling.³

The research also found that:

  • 8/10 drivers worry they could seriously injure someone cycling if they don’t give them enough space.
  • 96% of drivers acknowledged that a vehicle getting too close would be frightening for someone cycling.
  • 83% confessed to feeling frustration when trying to pass people on bikes.
  • 30% of drivers didn’t agree that people cycling have equal rights on the roads as drivers.

Supported by Police Scotland, Cycling Scotland’s annual ‘Give Cycle Space’ campaign aims to reduce close pass incidents and make Scotland’s roads safer for people cycling, by raising awareness of the legal passing distance and the responsibility of drivers to safely overtake.

Drivers in Scotland face a £100 fine or conviction, and penalty points on their licence for passing within 1.5m of people cycling when overtaking, and a conviction for a more serious offence. However, findings from this study show that a quarter of drivers (23%) are unaware that driving closer than 1.5 metres is an offence that could result in a charge of careless or dangerous driving.

For 2023, the ‘Give Cycle Space’ campaign message is ‘Leave Space for a Life’. Visuals of people cycling from a driver’s viewpoint humanise the person on the bike, with the television ad showing footage of the friends, family and loved ones of the person cycling. A dangerous overtake shows the risk that drivers take when they don’t give the required passing distance stated in the Highway Code of at least 1.5 metres.

Cycling Scotland’s campaign – which runs on television, radio, online and on buses until 19 June – is funded by Transport Scotland.

Cycling Scotland Chief Executive Keith Irving said: “Every week in Scotland, at least four people cycling suffer serious, potentially life-changing injuries, usually from a crash with a vehicle. To make cycling safer and support more people to travel by bike, we need a network of dedicated cycle lanes, police enforcement and education on reducing road danger.

Our campaign highlights that drivers need to give at least 1.5 metres of space when passing someone on a bike. Together with the police, we’re raising awareness of the risks of careless driving.

More people are taking up cycling in Scotland and even more people need to cycle more journeys for our country to reach net zero. We must not accept a corresponding rise in serious injuries and deaths.

Please remember to drive safely around people on bikes. Leave space for a life.”

Chief Superintendent Hilary Sloan, Head of Road Policing, said: “Every driver has a responsibility to safely overtake cyclists and understand how their actions can impact the life of that person riding a bike.

“As we approach the summer months, there will be more people using Scotland’s roads. All road users should take care, plan their journey and be aware of cyclists who are more vulnerable.”

Over the summer, Police Scotland will conduct Operation Close Pass in locations across Scotland to improve road safety.⁴

Enforcement is key to preventing road danger and dashcam and helmet cam footage can provide vital evidence to support this. Introduction of a dashcam portal, now in use throughout England and Wales, is critical to allow people to report dangerous driving behaviour and keep everyone safer on our roads.

Shgufta Anwar, Founder of Glasgow-based charity, Women on Wheels added: “I experience so much joy from cycling, but being closely overtaken is an all too familiar occurrence. My worst experience was when out cycling with my then primary school aged children, when a car came extremely close to my daughter and revved the engine, frightening her and making her almost fall in front of the car. Fortunately, she regained her balance, but it was a really scary experience for us all and she could have been seriously injured.

“As a person who cycles and drives, I think about both when I make choices on the road. Scotland’s roads would be a lot safer if all drivers had this perspective - especially if they knew how frightening it was when a car passes too closely.”

Find more information about the campaign here:

¹ 533 Scotland-based drivers who don’t cycle on roads were asked questions in face-to-face interviews by research company, Progressive, between the 3rd and 17th of April 2023.
² Key Reported Road Casualties Scotland 2021
³ Near Miss Project (Dr. Rachel Aldred)
⁴ Operation Close Pass