Road Danger Reduction Forum)
We think road traffic law enforcement is a key element in potentially reducing danger on the roads. Whatever changes in highway and vehicle engineering occur, the safety of all road users will depend at least partly on how the law is enforced. Of course, what happens with sentencing is also key, but here we address the way the police operate. Most importantly, how the police behave should be seen as a central element of how society accepts or stigmatises behaviours.
Our view is that the attitudes of the police will at least partly reflect the prejudices of ordinary members of the public in what is a motor-centred society. We have criticised elements of policing in the past and suggested ways in which it can be improved. In the worst cases we have argued that the response (or lack of it) to rule- or law-breaking driving makes this society “nothing less than fundamentally uncivilised”.
But we have recently seen what appears to be a fundamental change in some police forces with the adoption of policing of close passing of cyclists .We will be monitoring and reporting on developments in this area. Most importantly, along with what happens with other elements of the legal system, we note that the way policing is done is a reflection of whether road danger is seen – as it would be in a civilised society – as the problem it is.
Below we comment on the good and the bad in police services at the beginning of 2017.
The key development is the close passing of cyclists operation devised by West Midlands Police. For us it has key ramifications for policing to protect all road users in that it:
(a) Addresses danger at source. There is a clear statement that while errant behaviour is a feature of people using all modes of transport, the potential to harm others is central to specifying what problem behaviour should be targeted – and that means prioritising misbehaviour by drivers.
(b) Goes beyond KSIs. While contributory factors in manoeuvres leading to cyclist Killed and Seriously Injured casualties are considered in identifying close passing as a key problem, the simple fact of intimidation is seen as a problem requiring the attention of the police.
(c) Considers the transport policy implications. Law enforcement policy, as with all interventions affecting safety on the road, has transport policy implications. The West Midlands Police (WMP) initiative was clearly and correctly based on supporting not only people who cycle now, but also those who may wish to do so and are deterred by behaviours like close passing. The views of at least some WMP officers expressed here show that traffic police officers may be willing to give a high level of commitment towards a road danger reduction agenda.
I was privileged to address a training day on close passing policing by West Midlands Police, along with the Police and Crime Commissioner (former Road Safety Minister David Jamieson):
As a consequence of the WMP initiative, we have seen a similar initiative from Camden Metropolitan Police Service , and the following forces are near or in the process of developing their own programmes:
- West Yorkshire Police (in partnership with Leeds City Council) – confirmed.
- West Mercia Police with Warwickshire Police
- Devon & Cornwall Police with Dorset Police
- Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire Road Policing Unit – “interested”.
- Wiltshire Police
- Hants and Thames Valley Police – joint operations unit (roads policing unit) due.
- Police Scotland – up and running: pilot in Edinburgh in partnership with Cycling Scotland’s: “Give everyone cycle space” campaign.
- Kent Police – to implement as part of “Think Cycling” campaign
- Sussex Police and Northumbria Police – 3rd party reporting being organised
- Greater Manchester Police
- The Metropolitan Police Service’s Cycle Safety Team– the UK’s only permanent cycle-borne roads policing team – are working on a new tactic to be introduced in early summer, which incorporates elements of close passing policing.
In addition, WMP are actively taking 3rd party video reports (2 mins before and after a close pass) on a private link. (WMP also place their close passing policing alongside the introduction of 20 mph areas and cycle-friendly infrastructure in Birmingham). WMP are also working with West Midlands Fire Service personnel in staffing educational elements of close passing policing and possible provision of out of uniform cyclists.
Camden MPS have also been shown explaining to drivers the road positions that cyclists may need to take here: ITV London News, Evening News: 24/01/2017 and have publicised the Met’s online road traffic incident reporting site
(list of police forces intending to start programmes as of 15/03/2017)
(On a minor point, I note the somewhat loaded connotations of descriptions including “undercover” and “sting” – these operations should not be seen as in any way underhand simply because an officer is in plain clothes).
All this indicates a substantial move towards road danger reduction policing. And more police services are asking WMP for information: apologies to those developing close passing policing that I haven’t included, as more are coming on stream.
Against this, we have to consider the negative elements of policing, present in all too many police services – even some of those carrying out close passing and other road danger reduction types of policing
…and the bad