So today a big tour bus pulled into the bus lane in front of me. In the process of doing so, they came pretty close, within an arm span. Then, further down the road the traffic slowed them down and I passed them. When they caught up with me they passed within an arm span again.

They never actually touched me, and I didn't have to swerve or stop suddenly to avoid them. Nonetheless, it didn't seem particularly safe; not having driven a tour bus I don't have any idea how confident the driver could be in pulling this off, but it felt dangerous.

What constitutes dangerous driving? What metrics can I use to make a judgement call about whether a vehicle's actions are actually making me unsafe, as opposed to just alarming?

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    If a driver had already passed me dangerously once, I wouldn't nip down the inside of them and give them the opportunity to pass me again. That absolutely doesn't excuse the driver for either manoeuver but it would have been advisable to keep them in front of you. Apr 11, 2017 at 17:45
  • @DavidRicherby Fair point. Honestly, I assumed the first time was a fluke. Despite riding in a city for years I have never actually encounter someone who did that before.
    – Clumsy cat
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:54
  • Also a fair point! Apr 11, 2017 at 18:07
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    It's worth noting that tour bus drivers are probably far more skilled at driving than you or I will ever be. One of the several times I was in a bus like that, the driver easily drove us along a narrow wooded road with sharp turns. I barely would have felt comfortable driving that route in a normal car. Apr 11, 2017 at 20:51
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    Where I live, I would give an arm for an arm span.
    – mattnz
    Apr 11, 2017 at 21:35

2 Answers 2


What metrics can I use to make a judgement call about whether a vehicle's actions are actually making me unsafe

The UK Highway code says they should give you as much space as they give a car, illustrations in the code suggest they should move completely into the next lane. At least one UK police force uses 1.5 metres as the minimum separation.

My old copy of the Highway Code has this illustration:

Sketch of car overtaking cyclist safely

It appears that failing to give enough space to a vehicle being passed is usually prosecuted (if at all) as Driving without due care and attention, not Dangerous driving.

The Criminal Prosecution Service says:

There are decided cases that provide some guidance as to the driving that courts will regard as careless or inconsiderate and the following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as careless driving:

  • driving inappropriately close to another vehicle;

The Highway Code

The UK Highway Code says

Rule 163

Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should


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

Rule 212

When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules 162 to 167). If they look over their shoulder it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or change direction. Give them time and space to do so.

Rule 213

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.

The Road Traffic Act 1988

The Introduction to my old copy of the Highway code contains this section:

This code, between pages 3 and 52, is issued with the Authority of Parliament (laid before both Houses of Parliament June 1992)

A failure on the part of a person to observe any provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind, but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether in civil or criminal and including proceedings for an offence under the Traffic Acts, the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 or sections 18 to 23 of the Public Transport Act 1985) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings

the Road Traffic Act 1988, Section 38

Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 says

Careless, and inconsiderate, driving.

If a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, he is guilty of an offence.


Obviously, enforcement is diffcult and often insifficent. One example provides a guideline for the actual separation that is quantitative rather than the qualitative guide in the Highway Code.

An article "Drivers who get too close to cyclists face prosecution", The Telegraph 16 September 2016. says:

West Midlands Police force is thought to be the first in the country to proactively target motorists who flout laws requiring them to give cyclists at least the same space as vehicles when overtaking.

Anyone encroaching inside a safe passing distance, widely considered to be a minimum of 1.5 metres, runs the risk of being prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.

Video giving advice to drivers

See How to Overtake Cyclists

  • Interesting, particularly as it seems to be at odds with case law that @armb details.
    – Clumsy cat
    Apr 11, 2017 at 18:32
  • @TheoreticalPerson: I haven't read the records of those trials but it may be that there was no witness evidence available to convince the ordinary people on the juries beyond any reasonable doubt. In the end it is usually a jury who decide. Apr 11, 2017 at 18:58
  • "The offence is Driving without due care and attention, not Dangerous driving." This is incorrect. Both are offences; driving without due care and attention is a lesser offence. Dangerous driving is covered earlier on the same page from the Crown (not Criminal) Prosecution Service, and is covered by Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act (1988). The CPS Charging Practice for dangerous driving specifically mentions "failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists [among others]". Apr 11, 2017 at 21:55
  • @David, what I meant was that passing too close to another vehicle is usually the lesser offence, I did not mean that other offences do not exist. I'll update my answer to make this clearer. Apr 11, 2017 at 22:05
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    You'll note I linked to the CPS guidelines, and said they appear to be widely ignored. In some cases the problem is juries being unwilling to convict an offence they can imagine committing themselves, but in many cases police unwillingness to prosecute means it doesn't even get that far. twitter.com/tweetymike/status/847715970822963200 twitter.com/WtrlvileCyclist/status/847493358817746945
    – armb
    Apr 13, 2017 at 11:09

Dangerous driving, in UK law, happens when "the way he/she drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous".

Just putting you in an unsafe situation isn't (in itself) enough to constitute dangerous driving. You may be surprised at just how badly someone can drive without it counting as obvious - this driver's excuse was that they didn't mean to pass a cyclist, but "somehow" got too close and hit them. Then failed to stop immediately. She was found not guilty.

Careless driving (and causing death by careless driving) has a less strict standard for the driving, but a recent case confirmed that driving into the back of a lit cyclist (and killing them) without being able to give any excuse isn't even considered careless:

Even where there is considerable evidence of dangerous driving, it can be ignored: https://beyondthekerb.org.uk/2016/11/18/somethings-very-seriously-wrong-here/

The Crown Prosecution Service guidance often appears to be flagrantly ignored.

Some police forces have a policy of ignoring all reports where the driver was merely endangering a cyclist and didn't actually cause injury this time.

For much more on the subject, see http://roadjustice.org.uk/

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    (I realise you might have been asking a completely different question, which is regardless of the legal definition, was the driver putting you in danger. That depends on the road, and your relative speeds, and things like weather conditions at the time. Typical drivers will claim that it must be safe because they've done it hundreds of times without hitting anyone, ignoring that there are many thousands of close passes a year in total.)
    – armb
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:56
  • The specific phrasing "what constitutes [name of offence]" strongly suggests "does this incident meet the legal definition of [offence]", as you interpreted in your answer. Apr 11, 2017 at 18:01
  • @DavidRicherby That's how I read that bit when I answered, obviously. But driving that is "actually making me unsafe" might also reasonably be described as dangerous driving outside the context of the specific named offence.
    – armb
    Apr 11, 2017 at 18:06
  • @armb The reason behind asking was actually because I was wondering if my reaction was reasonable. That is not a question that has an objective answer, so your answer, that its not normally considered illegal, is probably the best one.
    – Clumsy cat
    Apr 11, 2017 at 18:30

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