Cycling campaigners have welcomed a court’s refusal to overturn a conviction for dangerous driving in connection with a “close pass”.
Motorists accused of driving too close to cyclists are usually charged with the lesser offence of careless driving.
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In May, Patrick John Kelly, 51, of Dungannon, County Tyrone, was banned for 12 months for driving dangerously close to a group of club cyclists.
He was prepared to admit careless driving but this appeal was refused.
No case law
There was no previous case law and the subsequent appeal at Omagh Court this month rested on whether the close pass amounted to careless or dangerous driving.
The incident took place near Donaghmore in July 2018, when about 18 members of Spires Cycling Club from Magherafelt were taking part in a charity event.
The court at Kelly’s trial in Dungannon Magistrates’ Court heard he passed so close to one cyclist that the rider wobbled and a wing mirror passed within two inches of another cyclist.
Kelly was approached by the cyclists at a filling station. They said they would be reporting him to the police.
As he prepared to drive off, the van driver said: “I’ll f***ing get you ones next time.”
In addition to the 12 month driving ban the haulage contractor was fined £400.
Stephen Mewha of Spires CC said club members reported the incident to the police as it was a deliberate attempt to cause distress to the cyclists – a “punishment close pass”.
“We take no pleasure in seeing a professional driver lose his licence or having to pay a massive fine. However, at the same time our club members should be able to cycle without fear of motorists putting them at risk by driving dangerously,” he added.
Mr Mewha said two of the club members who were present at the incident had never returned to the road on their bikes.
Welcoming the court’s decision to uphold the original verdict, Duncan Dollimore, of Cycling UK said the organisation had been campaigning for police forces and the courts to take the close pass problem seriously, and when appropriate to pursue a dangerous driving charge.
The legal definitions of the two offences are identical in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales.
“Cycling UK despairs at times when clearly dangerous driving is overlooked or minimised, with either no charge or merely the lesser charge of careless driving being brought, so it’s a relief to see that the message is getting through to PSNI and the courts in Northern Ireland,” Mr Dollimore said.
Plain clothes cyclists
The PSNI’s head of road policing, Ch Insp Diane Pennington, said: “We are currently evaluating a series of pilot close pass operations which involved police officers in plain clothes on unmarked bicycles equipped with cameras, supported by police motorcyclists to identify drivers who don’t give cyclists enough room when they pass.”
The judge at Kelly’s trial queried the practice of cyclists riding side-by-side on the open road. He said he did not agree that it was safe practice but noted that there were no authoritative views, only opinions.