Sonar device helps police catch drivers who pass too close to cyclists

A device which alerts police to drivers who pass too close to cyclists is being used to educate road users in Ottawa, Canada

Police in Ottawa, Canada, have implemented a new device to catch drivers who pass too close to cyclists.

The device, which attaches to a bike's handlebars and emits a beep if a car passes within a metre of the cyclist - the legal limit in Ottawa.

Currently the device is attached to a police bike, with a rider calling ahead to a patrol car with the numberplate of the offending car so that the driver can be pulled over, according to the Washington Post.

“The safety of all road users is paramount and that includes cyclists. These cycling changes are directed at encouraging cycling, promoting road safety, and sharing the road,” said Rob Wilkinson, coordinator of the Safer Roads Ottawa Program.

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The Post reports that the single sonar device currently in service is not being used to issue fines, but two drivers were handed pamphlets outlining their indiscretion within minutes of the device being activated.

Drivers can be fined up to $110 for passing too close to a rider, but Mr Wilkinson insists the scheme is about increasing awareness among road users of the law.

“In order to educate people on the new law and how they can be compliant, the device will be used to do educational blitzes across the city during the summer months,” he said.

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The debate on minimum passing distances has been pretty heated since the police starting using the device in Ottawa.

Crossing the central line on the road to overtake a cyclist seemed to be a particular bone of contention among CBC Ottawa viewers after police spokesman Chuck Benoit said that motorists have to stay behind the rider until it is safe to pass.

"This is sick. We pay a lot of money for our right to have our cars on the road and now we have to get out of the way for cyclist," wrote CBC viewer Jocelyne Lacelle on Facebook.

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"Sorry...but have cyclists pay for their rights to use the road like the others and maybe I will share. Don't tell me that they are saving the environment …They are killing the economy. People don't spend and that is not good for our economy. Sorry but this is the way I feel."

Gareth Davies, president of Citizens for Safe Cycling, responded: "It kind of highlights the lack of space we have on some roads, really, and drivers need to know [that] the law allows them, they can cross the yellow line to provide that one-metre cushion for cyclists, and that they need to wait until there's room in the oncoming lane to do that."