What else is wrong with the “Strategic Framework for Road Safety”?

Let’s take a look …

For our ever polite colleagues in the CTC, it offers a mixed picture. We might be a little less polite.

1.Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for careless driving: The most talked about element is the ability of the police to address careless driving offences without resort to time consuming courtroom procedures. The optimists might see this as a step forward: it should be easier for police to apprehend people driving in a manner which threatens others. In principle, this looks like a good feature of a civilised society: you have the freedom to endanger others in situations which can’t (or just aren’t) engineered out, but you know that if you are seen doing something wrong the police will do something unpleasant to you. So you get deterred from doing it, we don’t have to fill up courtrooms or prisons, and danger is reduced.

So far, so good.

The problems are:

(a) What  sort of offences are likely to be dealt with? The previous post argues that most of the problems of danger on the road involve a lot more than the extremes  (which anyway need to be categorised under temore severe offences) and can involve numerous forms of inappropriatete driving. To take just one example: Breaking Rule 163, which relates to thedistance motorists are supposed to give when overtaking cyclists. The H9oghway code might give a somewhat idealised view of what drivers are supposed to do, but nevertheless this bit of rule breaking is clearly intimidatory and linked to collisions where cyclists get hit by passing cars or from behind. It could be possible to allocate resources to police forces to caution drivers engaging in this kind of v=behaviour, let alone move up to actually enforcing it with the FPNs for careless driving.

But is it likely to happen? There are two reasons why not. Firstly, there are numerous forms of misbehaviour like this – the scale of the problem is such that very little likelihood of enforcement has been on the cards even before the current political/economic climate (of which more below). Secondly, a lot of the misbehaviours are often difficult to actually observe until it is too late: how do you know whether a driver is unable to see properly, under the influence of drugs, fatigued, unaware of their responsibilities, senile etc.?

(b) Is the “punishment” appropriate?A big question is whether the charge should be one for the more serious offence of dangerous driving, rather than careless driving. plenty of cases where we might think the driving behaviour falls far below what can reasonably be accepted are prosecuted fort he lesser offence, and the CTC are quite right to say:

” A careless driving fixed penalty notice is welcome, but should only be used where no injury has occurred and the driving is demonstrably careless, not dangerous. We have concerns that too often driving which is objectively dangerous is treated by police and prosecutors as merely ‘careless’.The Government needs to make a full assessment of how the system of road traffic law is operating. ”

The CTC also make an interesting point: “Last year there were over 2,057 fatal crashes but only 504 prosecutions for causing death by careless, dangerous driving or careless driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Only around a third of deaths which involved at least two vehicles or a pedestrian are dealt with by an appropriate charge. This means that around 1,000 drivers who were involved in the death of another road user were either not charged, or were only charged with a lesser offence.” This raises the next point:

(c) After the event. There is an obvious tendency for the police to be called – although they do not have to be called unless an injury is reported – where a collision has already occurred. Yet whenever we are given an explanation for an apparently lenient “punishment” it is because the behaviour, rather than it’s consequences, is what is punished. Yet if this were the case, there would be literally hundreds of times more prosecutions – because most of the time bad behaviour does not actually involve a collision, let alone injury, let alone death or serious injury. The CTC make an interesting comment:  “A careless driving fixed penalty notice is welcome, but should only be used where no injury has occurred and the driving is demonstrably careless, not dangerous.” But that is the point – if the behaviour is what is punished, there is no logical reason why a motorist cannot get an FPN after knocking down a cyclist or pedestrian and just driving away.

(d) Police resources. This isthe big one. The story of minimal police resources being devoted to policing road traffic law is well known. It is likely to get worse because of the general cuts in police resources, combined with central government reducing its responsibilities. On top of this, it has to be mentioned that for many police officers, traffic policing is just not what they joined the police for. Consider the following postfrom an apparently serving police oficer  (“Vlad”) on  a cycling website following the launch of SFRS :

Dont get your hopes up.
Most forces are deleting their Force Traffic Units – so no tickets there.
They are relying on the response officers (Those in Pandas) to do it – Think again – most of them hate traffic work and wont even give out tickets for the simple things in traffic law – let alone Due Care and Attention.
Those in South Birmingham – Breath a sigh of relief – For the next few years I’m office bound now dealing with sodding prisoners in the cell block.
So no traffic work for me for a while.”

(e) What kind of deterrent effect is likely? Even if a substantial amount of careless driving was correctly identified, even if the police were there in sufficient numbers to issue the FPN’s – what exactly is the deterrent effect? For many motorists £80 – £100 is not much of a penalty. Surely it is time to relate financial penalties to the incomes of motorists, with substantially higher penalties for wealthier motorists than £100. Of course, the possibility of eventual banning can be a deterrent – but for that to happen three or four FPNs would have to be received in a three year period. Even with very high levels of policing, how likely that even a serial offender is likely to be caught that number of times?

2. Rate based indices.

At last! Something we have been arguing for as a minimal approach to proper measures of danger on the road.

Of course, these indices for pedestrians and cyclists (of casualties per journey travelled) are far better indicators of safety for these groups – but they are not to be actual targets. So we aren’t much further forward.

Not that this would neccessarily would make things better – we wouldn’t necessarily get the measures required to support moves towards reductions in the casualty rates in these groups.

So : no, we’re not happy.