Driverless cars are struggling to cope with cyclists – Alastair Dalton

Glasgow's fleet of hire bikes are to have laser lights added to improve cyclist safety. Picture: Beryl Laserlight
Glasgow's fleet of hire bikes are to have laser lights added to improve cyclist safety. Picture: Beryl Laserlight
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Overtaking a cyclist is one of the most stressful manoeuvres which drivers face, writes Alastair Dalton.

Approaching a bike on the road ahead, it’s a constantly changing judgment call as to whether you’ve got enough time and space to get past without risking hitting an oncoming vehicle.

It’s bad enough in urban areas, with parked cars reducing the amount of available road.

But on country roads, where speeds can be much higher, and bends potentially more treacherous, it’s even more of a challenge. But if this is a headache for drivers, they are not alone.

A Transport Scotland conference on autonomous vehicles (AVs) in Edinburgh on Wednesday heard that passing cyclists is one of the most difficult things for them to do.

Alan Peters, of innovation firm Transport Systems Catapult, said it was a tougher procedure for AVs than driving smoothly or adopting a “natural” road position. Only negotiating roundabouts, where drivers often cut across lanes, has proved to be trickier for them.

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I’m told the problem is that cyclists are a less readily recognisable shape than box-like cars and lorries.

Cyclists may also be carrying a rucksack or other bags, providing a further difficulty for a machine to compute.

However, there is a potential solution – which could also help better protect cyclists from humans behind the wheel.

Big city hire fleets such as in London, New York and Montreal have had an extra lighting safety feature added, which I’m told is also about to be put onto Glasgow’s rental scheme bikes.

It involves a laser projecting a green cycle symbol onto the road about six feet ahead of the bike, to help alert motorists and pedestrians to their presence.

This is seen as particularly useful when cyclists pass vehicles about to emerge from side roads, and when cornering, especially where they are in a driver’s blind spot.

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However, from a brief test run in Glasgow on Tuesday night, I didn’t see any immediate deterrent effect in “close passes”, with some taxis and other cars still driving illegally close as they overtook.

But I’m told by Beryl, formerly Blaze, the firm involved, that it has also done early work on a laser that could help combat this menace.

Its innovation lab has produced a concept design for a laser that projects a hatched area onto the road beside the cyclist.

This would highlight the minimum recommended distance for other vehicles to pass – 1.5 metres.

Another possibility could be a sequence of rear flashing lights on a bike that would appear to extend 1.5m either side of the rider.

Police Scotland already takes this issue very seriously, staging its Operation Close Pass across the country where errant motorists are pulled over when they get too close to an undercover officer on a bike.

In addition, a “near miss” study by Westminster University, which was co-funded by Blaze, found incidents such as close passes could discourage people from cycling.

It said a regular cycle commuter could expect to experience an incident annually that was so frightening “that it alone makes them consider giving up cycling”.

That makes it all the more important that cyclists are visible – with lighting and high-visibility clothing – but even more significantly, they are given a wide berth by driven and driverless vehicles alike.