A Tale of Two Forces
Bez Nov 2016
This week at the House of Lords the Road Danger Reduction Forum presented an award to West Midlands Police—in particular Pc Mark Hodson and Pc Stephen Hudson—for their Operation Close Pass initiative, which targets drivers who pass too close to people cycling when overtaking them. I was invited along to see then receive the well-deserved award and hear more about the details of the operation, as well as about how it has been adapted for use in Camden.
This was the first time in its 23 year history that the RDRF has given a genuine award: the sole previous occasion was a wooden spoon in 2012, in recognition of the West Sussex Gazette’s use of the phrase “a collision involving a car and a tree”. (Personally, I’m not sure that constitutes even a blip on the contemporary scale of dreadful reporting.) And this is some measure of the esteem in which Operation Close Pass is held: it was described by Cycling UK as “the best cyclist safety initiative by any police force, ever” and I’ve yet to see anyone dispute that. Importantly in this context, it aligns well with the RDRF’s underlying principle of danger reduction at source and quite explicitly steps away from common misconceptions about the extent to which people on pedal cycles or on foot can prevent themselves from being hit by other people in motor vehicles.
One crucial aspect of the conception of Operation Close Pass was careful consideration of evidence beforehand. WMP looked at the STATS19 data for the area and came to some interesting conclusions, which are summarised in a seminal blog post, “Junction Malfunction and a New Dawn” (if you’ve not read it, you absolutely should, now—it is something of a tectonic shift in aligning the police’s view with a number of points that most cycling and walking campaigners have been making for many years).
The basic point is that the evidence suggests that, in terms of public harm cause by cycling casualty collisions, little is due to environmental factors, little is due to the behaviour of people on bikes, and much is due to behaviour of people in cars. This is unsurprising when you consider the principle of road danger: the cause of it is not so much poor behaviour itself, but the combination of poor behaviour and a vehicle which allows that behaviour to pose great danger. It’s why we let children ride bikes but not drive cars.
The major casualty risk manifests itself at junctions by way of drivers’ failure to observe people on bikes. As Pc Hudson says in his blog:
“75% of KSI RTCs involving cyclists in the West Midlands from 2010 to 2014 occurred within 20 metres of a junction, involving a cyclist and another vehicle. Further analysis (I won’t bore you with the figures, tables etc.) showed that the majority of KSI RTCs in the West Midlands involving cyclists occur when a car has pulled out of a junction in front of a cyclist that is mid- junction because the car driver has failed to spot the cyclist.”
(RTC – Road Traffic Collision. KSI – Killed or Seriously Injured – Ed.)
So why the focus on close passing?