Overtaking on a zebra crossing

Don’t do it kids.

Two days ago, Jeremy Clarkson tweeted this:


Amongst the various responses, many people called for Clarkson to run the cyclist over  and someone referred to cyclists as the ‘cholesterol’ of the road.

Last Thursday morning when I cycled to work I noticed how snarled up Exeter’s traffic was. Just before 7am there had been an accident at the end of the M5, just as it splits into the A38 heading into Plymouth and the A380 into Newton Abbot. Although I was across the other side of town, even at 9.30 traffic was nose to tail and at a crawl. Pretty much the only people going anywhere were those on foot or cycling.

It’s not unusual either. Search on “Splatford split crash” and you’ll see what I mean. At the beginning of December a woman crashed on the M5 near Exeter and on that occasion too, traffic came to a standstill. Devon’s capital was gridlocked, the M5 was jammed, and no-one was getting in or out of Cullompton either. That morning I left the yard where I keep my horse about 15 minutes after someone else left in a horse box. I trundled off, noticed how bad the traffic was, and just kept going past it. After about 6 miles I went under the motorway. Looking up to the road, sure enough there was the horsebox (it’s quite distinctive). You would think, having given it a 15 minute head start, a push bike wouldn’t beat it over that distance, but I did. I didn’t feel like cholesterol. If anything, on these mornings, people on bikes are the aspirin, preventing absolute gridlock and ensuring that at least some of us get to work on time.

So let’s look again at Clarkson’s photograph. He may or may not have taken the photo illegally. Look at where the cyclist is. He is in primary position, as recommended by the Department for Transport. He is also on a zebra crossing, and overtaking is banned on zebra crossings and within the warning markings before them (see Highway Code rule 191). Just ahead of the crossing is a junction with give way signs so even without the crossing, had Clarkson overtaken he would have had to brake at the junction. You should not overtake at or near junctions (HWC rule 167) or when your way forward is not clear (HWC rule 162), or indeed if you are following a cyclist near a roundabout or junction (167 again).

Looking at the junction, the way to the left is restricted by an ambulance. To the right it is unclear (don’t overtake unless you know your way forward is clear). Straight ahead there are cars parked meaning entering into a passing situation with the visible oncoming traffic. The cyclist would be able to fit through those gaps, Clarkson in his car would not. Thus in any scenario that emerges from the photograph, Clarkson should not have been overtaking anyway.

This is something that drivers conveniently forget, or blank out. In crowded situations in towns, cyclists are often quicker. Oh they may not reach the same maximum speed, but their average speed overall will be at least as quick. The crashes in Exeter show how vulnerable our road system is. Just one accident can bring absolute gridlock that lasts for hours. So why do so many drivers ignore this, and resort to threats of physical violence at the very thought of not being able to overtake someone who is only going to saunter past them as they sit fuming at the back of a queue of traffic? Why the fuss about a minor delay that isn’t really a delay, whilst shrugging with acceptance over such horrendous queues?

Well essentially the problem is this: drivers would have to acknowledge a problem with their own behaviour if they were to admit that a car is not really the best way to get around crowded towns and cities. Since they can’t, or won’t, examine their own behaviour, they just pick at random on a group that is consistently portrayed as other by the British media and by people such as Clarkson. Knocking cyclists, literally and figuratively, is socially acceptable. Admitting that cars are a problem would entail a level of self examination which sadly seems lacking amongst many of the British public.

23 thoughts on “Overtaking on a zebra crossing

  1. Nicely put, and hitting the nail on the head about the psychology of the situation.

    However I don’t think the photo can have been taken legally – that Clarkson now says his Range Rover was ‘stationery’ is neither here nor there, given that it was not parked. For the photo to be legal it would have to have been a screenshot from an exterior mounted video-camera, which would raise the question why Mr C has not attempted to support his account of events before that picture with video footage. It might also raise the question where he purchased a somewhat eccentric camera-mount.

    Besides rule 167 which is you say is decisive, there are also rules 163 and 165 to consider (if, unlike Clarkson, one wishes to consider rules). It would seem the interaction between Mr C and the cyclist began with a 163 violation, if this is to be believed: http://singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/jeremy-clarkson-continues-to-be-a-moron/page/3#post-5671412

    What this suggests to me is an extended road-rage incident, which, had the cyclist been utterly submissive in response to the initial offence, might not have provoked Clarkson’s further responses or tweet. But why must the cyclist be expected to display special reserves of cool beyond those managed by Clarkson? It would be outrageous to allow swearing from the cyclist to mitigate actual *law-breaking* of Clarkson in the photograph, or the dangerous act of an influential man justifying hatred of cyclists to all the world, or indeed the initial incident of reportedly dangerous overtaking manoeuvre, earlier down the road, from which this escalated. It seems highly plausible that there was such a manoeuvre, given the grasp of rules 163, 165 and 167 demonstrated by Clarkson in his initial tweet.

  2. Slight, common, mistake, a car can overtake a cyclist in the controlled(zig-zag) area except if the cyclist is the vehicle nearest the crossing and has stopped to give way to a pedestrians crossing.

    1. Incorrect. Rule 165 (2007 ed): “You MUST NOT overtake the nearest vehicle to a pedestrian crossing, *especially* when it has stopped to let pedestrians cross”. Therefore the MUST NOT applies even when the nearest vehicle has not stopped.

      In this case the ‘Cyclist’ was the vehicle nearest to the crossing and says he had stopped (see link above). Further, if the cyclist had not stopped then it must be the case that Clarkson while taking the picture was not only not parked, but actually in progress while operating mobile phone camera.

      1. Do not rely on the Highway Code it is not the law.
        The actual law makes a distinction between motorised vehicles and non-motorised vehicles with regards to overtaking in the controlled area.
        The actual law states a motorised vehicle cannot overtake another motorised vehicle in the controlled area.
        A motorised vehicle can overtake a non-motorised vehicle in the controlled area except in the scenario I previously wrote above.

      2. That is rather a surprising claim. Can you please direct me to a source on the Law of the Highway, *other than* the Highway Code, which source supports what you say?

        I will entertain your thought further if you can substantiate it in any way. The Code is clear. Law pertains to Vehicles, and a bicycle is a Vehicle.

  3. Page 4 2007 HC: “Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing and offence. Such rules are identified by use of the words MUST/MUST NOT”

      1. Incorrect. Yours is perhaps a misunderstanding forgivable outside the legal profession, but the law uses the words “motor vehicle” and “vehicle” quite carefully, and NOT interchangeably.

        “24. (1) Whilst any motor vehicle (in this regulation called “the approaching vehicle”) or any part of it is within the limits of a controlled area and is proceeding towards the crossing, the driver of the vehicle shall not cause it or any part of it—

        (a)to pass ahead of the foremost part of any other motor vehicle proceeding in the same direction; or

        (b)to pass ahead of the foremost part of a vehicle which is stationary for the purpose of complying with regulation 23, 25 or 26.”

        The “vehicle” mentioned in 24(b) includes a bicycle. THEREFORE the MUST NOT in the highway code applies precisely as a reading of the Highway Code would lead you to expect. Do not overtake on crossings – not even bicycles.

      2. A further consequence of the way this legislation is drafted is, that the specified offence will be committed *by the driver a motor vehicle*. It follows that this item of legislation noes not make it a specific offence for a cyclist to overtake a car on a pedestrian crossing – that would be covered under cycling “furiously” which is separate legislation.

      3. You note, I take it, that legal english is always careful to introduce terms with definitions? “The approaching vehicle” is here given a sense restricted to “motor vehicle”, whereas “vehicle” retains the wider sense earlier defined.

        The moral of the story is, don’t go second guessing the law unless a Lawyer. The Highway Code is the public reference for the law of the road, and is to be observed even when inconvenient.

  4. (typo: committing *an* offence)
    The Code is completely clear about the legal requirements on rules 163/5/7. If you want some advisory HC rules that Clarkson is breaking without necessarily committing an offence, see also 204, 211, 212, 213

    1. I clearly understand the legislation, it quite clearly states in 24a) a motor vehicle(not a bicycle) cannot overtake another motor vehicle(not a bicycle) in the controlled area.
      24b) a vehicle(including a bicycle) cannot overtake the vehicle(including a bicycle) which is closest to the crossing and “stopped” in order to “comply” with 23,25,26(that is let pedestrians cross).
      Therefore a bicycle can be legally overtaken in the controlled area if they cyclist is not stopped to comply with 23,25,26.
      Your interpretation indicates that a bicycle can never be overtaken in the controlled area by any vehicle(including a bicycle) which is incorrect.

      1. Your absurdities illustrate the extraordinary mental knots people will indulge to confirm factually incorrect prejudice that motorised vehicles have superior rights to non-motorised vehicles on ordinary roads.

        The situation in which motor vehicles have superior legal right is reserved to *motorways*. You cannot point to a single case precedent for your frankly wacky reading of the legislation, which is in contradiction of english – but this doesn’t trouble you at all because a) you were once reassured that the Highway Code is “not the law”, and b) you are pretty sure that pesky bicycles and their riders must be on the wrong. These are not premises that will correct you guide you, if you wish to avoid prosecution.

  5. I think you would have to be somewhat short of attention span to conclude from the use of “MUST NOT” on rule 165 that overtaking the nearest vehicle to a pedestrian crossing is not a prosecutable offence.

    1. How wrong can you be, it is quite clear a car is permitted to overtake a cyclist in the controlled area if they are not complying with 23,25,26.
      And because I do not agree you with your idea the Highway Code is not the law then I must be a petrolhead. Which is ironic as I cycled over 13,oookm last year(almost 30,000km over the past three years) and only drove 1,500 km. I am well acquainted with the law of the roads and do not live under the delusion that the Highway Code is the go to reference for road laws.
      Pedestrians have highest priority, then horse riders/horse drawn vehicles then cyclists then finally motorised vehicles.
      How many drivers have been prosecuted for overtaking a cyclist in the controlled area when the cyclist has not stopped to let someone cross?
      None because it’s not illegal.

      1. At this point the only thing to do is volte-face and agree with you, because you have deployed three cogent arguments that persuade me: 1. Lack of case law knowledge is knowledge of lack of case law. 2. Lack of prosecution is proof of legality. 3. A milage claim is a qualification in the law. Thank You for putting me right. Previously I had asked for actual legal sources/cases that would support your new way of reading english. I can see now this was idiotic of me.

  6. Rules 163 and 167 also have legal status, in as much as failure to comply “may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability.”

    In any case you should not be excusing actions censured in the code simply on the basis that they are not individually grounds for prosecution.

    Had Clarkson found the bicycle nearer the gutter and overtaken in the position by the crossing to which he related his desire to overtake, he would have been committing a prosecutable offence. The surrounding road craft and lack of anticipation might be grounds for failure of a driving test, and from statements on cycling by the Institute of Advanced Motoring it is clear Clarkson would fail that standard of competence.

    1. Thanks for the comments, David.
      My understanding of the HC is that those sections stated as MUST are legally binding. The rest don’t have quite the same force. However, if you breach the HC and have an accident you are much more likely to be found liable.

      It’s clear from the photo that someone had just crossed at the zebra crossing, making any attempt at overtaking foolhardy at best, outright dangerous at worst. (And according to the link you posted the cyclist had just stopped for the pedestrian).

      Essentially his road positioning is correct. Clarkson needs to get over the fact that his Land Rover can go faster than a bike. Yes, on a clear road it can. On London’s crowded streets all that happens when you overtake a cyclist is that you then have to brake as you get to the next hazard. It’s the cyclist’s greatest irritation – the pointless overtake, aka the overtakey brakey. That’s what happened here – Clarkson overtook, only to have to brake. He was quite clearly in the wrong. And that’s before we get onto the illegality of hanging out of a car taking photos. It doesn’t matter if the car is stationary or not. If Clarkson is in charge of the car, using a mobile or other hand held device is illegal.

      1. Yes, again your take on the psychology is entirely correct. I have the sense that this was all about status competition and might have panned out less dangerously had Clarkson not been trying to display the size of his phone/Range Rover/ Twitter followers/ Pay packet/ connections. I experience this all the time – where I am held up by a driver who has seen, down the road, just enough space to close-pass overtake me and get back into lane, but where, once they’ve done so, they are forced to wait for an on-comming vehicle on in a queue, and I am un-necessarily blocked and delayed behind them – delayed by the very vehicle that has just nearly killed me. The IAM has words on this sort of superfluously inconsiderate driving, if you scroll down to Duncan Pickering http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2011/aug/01/cyclist-take-the-lane

    2. Oh the devastating sarcasm, almost funny.
      If your assertion is correct, why are they two clauses for 24, surely if you are right there is need for only one.
      I think this discussion is stuck in a never ending loop and going nowhere of any particular interest.
      You have your view I have mine and never the twain shall meet.

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