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News / Cyclists speak of ‘scary’ near misses on roads

A minority of drivers are still causing 'scary' near misses on main roads in Shetland, say local cyclists. Photo: Robert Wishart.

CYCLISTS in Shetland are urging a minority of motorists who they say drive dangerously close to them on the islands’ main roads to take more care to ensure everyone’s safety.

Last Friday a female cyclist ended up being treated in hospital after a collision with a white Ford transit van.

Police said that, following two appeals, the driver of the van has now come forward. But witnesses are still being sought to the incident, which occurred at around 7.15pm on Friday on the A970 near Frakkafield.

The woman was later released from hospital after receiving treatment for her injuries, but several local cyclists said they frequently experienced close calls where drivers of cars, vans and buses drive alarmingly close to their wheels.

Robin Atkinson, who is a Shetland Wheelers committee member, said it was important to stress that maybe 95 per cent of drivers are “excellent – they wait, they give you plenty of room” – but the minority who are less vigilant are “the ones that can make a real difference to your day”.

“With the people that do cut you up, or don’t wait at a passing place, or shout at you, it seems to be an attitude towards cyclists, like we’re there to get in the way,” Robin said.

He acknowledged there are also a minority of cyclists that “don’t wait themselves, and maybe there’s education needed on both sides”, but too often people “see cyclists and think ‘must overtake’.”

“I get that it can be frustrating on some of the slow climbs,” Robin said. “There’s a lot of hills in Shetland, and into headwinds it can be hard to go at any pace. But on the other hand, if it was a horse then people would follow the Highway Code and give them plenty of room.”

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Most cyclists tend to use quieter side roads and single tracks, but they still need to travel via main roads to reach them.

Robin said he felt it was a UK-wide problem – he does a fair amount of cycling in Spain every year where there is a “totally different attitude towards pedestrians and cyclists – it’s quite nice to ride there”.

Generally speaking he feels people’s understanding is “getting better”, but with an increase in the number of cyclists on the road there are also more incidents taking place.

Robin believes the danger of sharing roads with motorised traffic probably does dissuade some people from cycling regularly in the islands.

“It’s a scary environment on main roads. I’ve been to the police about a couple of incidents, the last time it was maybe October – an irate driver, and he threatened to drive me off the road next time he saw me. In fairness they looked into it, but it’s just his word against mine,” he said.

Other incidences of dangerous driving are reported to the police too, but Robin said it could be hard for cyclists to get a note of someone’s registration plate because “you tend not to know that a vehicle is close to you” until it is actually passing, sometimes at speed.

Robert Wishart, from Sandwick, said he tended to have “at least one ‘close call’ every time I’m out on the road” and that most cyclists with more experience of the road than him tend to have examples of alarmingly close incidents.

“I would imagine different folk will have different degrees of judgement on what a ‘close call’ is, but if I was to stick my arm out to the side and be able to touch the vehicle passing me, then that’s way too close,” he said.

Robert said there were differing views on how best to tackle the issue, and he wasn’t sure if there was any easy solution, but “when I start to think about how many near misses or close calls there are, I do wonder if it’s worth it”.

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