Dozens of cyclists have been stopped and given road safety advice as part of a new operation by Essex Police.

Officers will be patrolling busy cycle routes in four areas of the county where an increasing number of riders are being involved in serious road crashes.

With more people taking up cycling to get to work, to keep fit or for pleasure and with growing interest in the Tour de France cycle race stage passing through the county in July, police are determined to improve safety and reduce casualties.

January, February and March are the months when road collisions involving cyclists increase, mainly during dark evenings when people cycle home from school, college or work.

In the corresponding period in 2013 there was a 50 per cent increase in recorded casualties in the Basildon dalone. Other districts such as Chelmsford and Colchester have also seen an increase, but to a lesser extent.

Operation Bluenose aims to find riders at risk and urge them to use more safety equipment such as lights, helmets and high visibility clothing. Officers are also using social media to ask cyclists to identify which areas and cycle routes should be investigated.

Members of the Essex Police Casualty Reduction Section have already stopped more than 120 cyclists in Basildon, mainly around the industrial areas of Cranes Farm Road and Burnt Mills.

Sgt Graham Freeman, who is running the operation, said: "The vast majority of people we stopped were very receptive and those who were fully complying with the law were most impressed that Essex Police was tackling the problem.

"The majority of those who had no lights or reflective clothing assured us that they would have some as quickly as possible. Only one or two people had to be reminded that there would be a £50 fine if they failed to comply and were stopped and warned for a second time.

"About 50 per cent had no lights and were given verbal warnings. About 50 per cent had no reflective clothing and 75 per cent had no cycle helmet.

"The approach was initially to stop and educate cyclists including those riding without lights, on footpaths, in pedestrian-only areas or riding the wrong way down one-way streets. We will also be handing out the 'Let’s Look Out For Each Other' literature when talking with people.

"We will also be showing riders a map which outlines where the cycle road collision have happened in their areas. Our stop checks will be at some of these collision sites so showing a map will have much more of an impact than just giving words of advice.”

"Obviously if further action is deemed necessary to drive home the need for improved safety, we will issue fixed penalty tickets.”

Officers will be carrying out similar stop checks on cyclists in Harlow, Chelmsford and Colchester until the end of March.