What traffic policing COULD be like

My last post argues in favour of the potential benefits from traffic policing, but that – unlike the apparent bias underlying Operation Safeway – it needs to be done differently. The key point is to prioritise law and rule breaking done by those with greater potential to endanger other road users. Otherwise the bias, which is not so much against law breaking cyclists as in favour of law and rule breaking motorists, will continue. So here are some ideas:

Some of these areas are related specifically to cycling, but others have a more general relevance – which should make them more attractive. Some are referring specifically to law breaking, whereas others refer to infringements of the Highway Code only – although this can be mentioned in the kind of roadside talks the MPS has been having with cyclists about issues such as hi-vis wearing which are not legal requirements.

  1. Unregistered drivers

According to Baroness Jenny Jones MLA: “The Met now take over 40,000 uninsured vehicles off the road every year, but a 2008 estimate by the vehicle insurers’ body, thought there were 400,000 uninsured vehicles in London alone.

By 2011, around 68 people were still being injured or killed every week in collisions involving hit and runs.(failing to stop/report:RD)  One of my big concerns about hit and runs is the way that it disproportionately impacts on cyclists and pedestrians. In 2010, cyclists accounted for nearly a fifth of casualties arising from hit and runs even though they account for only 2% of trips on our roads.”

A crackdown using ANPR technology could push this a lot further and be popular among motorists who don’t like being hit by uninsured drivers. A crack down would also lead to more revenue from an increase in payment of Vehicle Excise Duty which would justify extra policing in this area.

On the downside, this is just dealing with an extreme minority and taking attention away from the majority responsible for most driver law and rule breaking. It can also back up the common prejudice that third party insurance paid by motorists is fulfilling a responsibility rather than insuring against responsibility.

 2. Other extreme bad behaviours

Motorists who can’t see where they are going (recently one in three drivers in Poole failed an eyesight test)  ; drive under the influence of drugs and drink; have Alzheimer’s or other debilitating medical conditions; while banned etc., etc.

The same proviso as in 1 above applies – these are just iceberg tips of illegal driving. But maybe the Police would get more respect if, for example, they tackle drivers who can’t see before advising cyclists (and presumably pedestrians) to wear hi-vis without any legal or evidence base.

There are issues about how to identify offenders, but my experience is that they are revealed during routine legally justified stops by officers. And if there are problems in locating such individuals, they need to be resolved.

3. Lorries

On the first day of the operation 20 HGVs were stopped and 60 offences were found to be committed, including vehicles in dangerous condition and drivers who had been working too long. About 30,000 HGVs are in use in London every day. Is it reasonable to suggest that a few hundred or so are stopped every day? Every time there are crackdowns on illegal HGVs, high levels of infractions seem to be revealed. The threat of being delayed, let alone losing drivers, should focus the minds of operators. Perhaps this is why the prospect of law enforcement in this area turns some of them into victim-blamers.

4 . Speeding

I won’t give a specific reference here. Suffice it to say that approximately 60% of drivers admit to breaking sped limits, and the proportions exceeding 30 mph vary from about 35% to 50% at the times when lack of congestion allows them to break this law. With 20 mph areas becoming prevalent in London, and with constant debate with the MPS about gaining compliance, this is surely a key area where resources could be deployed – for the benefit of pedestrians as well as cyclists.

5. Close proximity issues

Here is a bit of evidence. If you read the 2008 Cycle Safety Action Plan  you can see this kind of evidence.

Pages16-17:  Conflict type 2: Close proximity collision between cyclist and vehicle Collisions arising from a close proximity collision between cyclist and vehicle caused 37% (121) of serious injuries and 47% (7) of deaths of cyclists. All seven of the fatalities involved a goods vehicle. This category includes the following manoeuvres (listed by frequency of cyclist killed or seriously injured):

o Cycle and other vehicle traveling alongside each other (12%)

o Other vehicle turns left across the path of cycle (9%)

o Other vehicle changes lane to the left across the path of cycle (3%)

o Cycle and other vehicle collide when both turning left (2%)

o Other vehicle starts off or pulls out into path of bicycle (2%)

o Other vehicle changes lane to right across path of cycle (1%)

o Cycle performs overtaking manoeuvre into path of right turning vehicle (1%)

o Cycle changes lane to right/left across path of other vehicle (<1% each)

The first four of these are related to close overtaking. (The proportion is a bit different (30%) in “Lawless Roads some key facts”, see below, which is for 2011:proprtionsKSIs

This analysis reveals one of the key complaints from cyclists: drivers constantly overtake without giving enough room. Some of this can be solved by segregation, but since this is not going to be on most roads in London ( and would take a while to install anyway even if desired) there is clearly scope for addressing the issue.

give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).”. Lengthy discussion with MPS officers indicate that there are problems in addressing this without specific distances given, but there is apparently precedent with regard to cyclist “wobble-room” being required when overtaking.

Is it really too much to expect some sort of police activity in this key area when officers have been giving (misguided) advice to cyclists on helmets etc. in Operation Safeway?

6. “Dooring”

To be addressed by highway engineering and good quality cycle training: but opening doors without looking will still be a rule breaking threat to motorcyclists and cyclists. Section 42 of Road Traffic Act 1988 states that a person who fails to comply with the Regulations is guilty of an offence.  In this case, the Regulations are Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, IS 1986 No.1078, reg 105, “No person shall open or cause or permit to be opened any door of a motor vehicle or trailer on a road so as to cause injury or danger to any person”.

7. Failing to obey ATS (Red Light Jumping)

Not just cyclists. See the interesting discussion on motorists doing this here.

8. Post-collision investigation

Our colleagues in RoadPeace and the CTC have long argued that there is a serious problem with inadequate post-collision investigation involving injured cyclists and pedestrians.

9. Car Crashes?

Here’s a radical one. How about investigating car crashes? One or more drivers is likely to have been breaking rules or laws in order to crash. The vast majority of collisions do not require reporting to the police because they do not involve reported injury – but that doesn’t mean that they don’t involve rule or law infractions. More activity here?

 10. Do not restrict policing to locations where collisions have occurred.

Proper assessments of danger are going to involve looking at places where people may have not been hurt or killed. By restricting policing to areas where they have a large proportion of endangering behaviour is missed out. This may be partly why a high proportion of the Fixed Penalty Notices (some 35%)  have been given to cyclists.

Obviously speeding motorists are not going to be caught at heavily congested locations in inner London in the rush hour. That doesn’t mean that speeding is not a general safety problem. Indeed it may well be a particular problem for cyclists in 20 mph zones or in outer London where cycling levels are low. Just because there are few cyclists out there – often precisely because of their perceptions of danger from motorists – does not mean that this and other forms of motorist law-breaking are not problems.

11. Not from a fixed position.

Use bodies like the (enlarged and changed) Cycle Task Force more  to police from within the traffic.

12. More of it. A lot more.

As Baroness Jones has pointed out, traffic policing has been massively diminished over the last couple of decades. It needs to have its levels reinstated – but it has to be targeted in the right areas.

Institutionalised discrimination?

From the unfortunate comments by the Metropolitan Police commissioner   and other cases   the approach of the MPS to traffic policing has – correctly in my view – not met with a good response from cyclists. Nor has it from those of us concerned with the well-being of cyclists and pedestrians  as part of a programme of having safe roads for all in  London.

The term “institutionalised discrimination” has been used. For those of us who have been brought up in local authorities and elsewhere in public service, the equal opportunities approaches used to address discrimination in so many areas do, I believe, have relevance here.

The point is precisely that this is not about personal malevolence or bigotry. Indeed, discussing these issues in terms of background beliefs should actually assist our discussions with the police into how a productive approach to traffic policing can be developed.

The police services have made absolutely fundamental changes in their attitudes to women, disability etc. over the last couple of decades. Many police officers are passionately committed towards reducing danger at source. Is it too much to ask that the MPS (and other forces) accept that they may have a culture which impedes progress by being improperly  biased away from dealing with rule and law breaking behaviour which endangers others?

Hopefully this piece can help us all towards a more satisfactory traffic policing programme.

One thought on “What traffic policing COULD be like

  1. Mark

    Just want to say great to read a well reasoned post on this, I came from road.cc which is full of posters blaming one road group or another (or each other). Currently procrastinating by reading loads of the other pages too 🙂

    With re: 7 & compliance, I think the issue of RLJs for all road users is exacerbated in certain areas where authorities have installed many traffic signal controlled junctions and crossing points where previously there were more efficient adaptable methods (Give way T Junctions, zebra crossings). Where pelican crossings are in place and pedestrians regularly miss-use them (ie, press button then cross before green) it will frustrate road users but also lessen the importance of necessary light controlled junctions as they so frequently get stopped for no reason. I also think it lowers the overall skill level of road users by reducing their decision making capabilities – for example, if a driver is so used to be being shown a red/green light on when to turn left, they less naturally look and check if it is safe to do so.

    One other thing is the skill level road users have to start out with. It could be argued (though difficult to prove) that the driving test doesn’t fully prepare people for read world driving, I regularly hear of people failing the theory test several times but often passing the practical part on first or second attempt… the practice of driving should not be seen as the easy part of the test. I think a multi part practical test that tests learners in a variety of environments – urban, motorway, rush hour etc would benefit the overall road-safety picture in years to come. It would mean tests being more expensive for people yes, but then driving is expensive anyway and if an extra £100 is enough to put them off, then maybe they don’t have the right attitude to driving standards to be getting a license in the first place…


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