I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike!

Today we’ve reached an incredible Twitter milestone… the @trafficWMP account gained its 10,000th follower! We’d like to say a huge thank you to everybody who follows. We hope you find our updates informative, interesting and useful.

To mark the occasion, we thought it best to share another blogpost, featuring a team of Traffic officers you may not be aware of…

It's not just traffic officers who have access to police cycles. our neighbourhood policing teams use them too.

It’s not just traffic officers who have access to police cycles. our neighbourhood policing teams use them too.

Welcome to the WMP Traffic Safer Cycling blog. It runs alongside our normal blog but is just centred on cycling matters. Don’t think though that if you don’t participate in our two wheeled obsession it won’t be of use or interest to you… As you read on you will see that there is plenty of advice for motorists as well as cyclists.

Why have a separate blog you might ask? Well it’s not intentionally separate, its additional if you like, brought into being by the demand for discussion and debate on matters of cycling safety that often get more than a mention on our social media streams. The input for the blog will be from the WMP Traffic Safer Cycling Team, so what better place to start by introducing the team and what we are about.

The Safer Cycling Team – what we do

Well for start it’s fair to say we do a fair bit of cycling. The team is embedded in E unit who are dominated by some very fanatical cyclists. By day we are normal WMP Traffic officers but due to our personal love of cycling we have brought about a small team who take it upon themselves to give the department a cycling safety dimension. With the increase in those looking for a cheaper healthier commute and those who have joined the legions of existing recreational cyclists, the demand for cycling road safety advice has seen a greater demand than ever for our services. Thus we have a team of very dedicated officers led by PC 3505 Mark Hodson and PC 5815 Steve Hudson.

Many of our officers cycle in their free time, as well as when on duty.

Many of our officers cycle in their free time, as well as when on duty.

We, in partnership with Birmingham City Council’s Cycle Revolution Team and our local corporate partner Jaguar Landrover, who provide truck cabs and drivers for our “Exchanging Places” scheme where cyclists and heavy goods drivers get the chance to change places, attend the regions cycling events spreading a safety message and advice both for cyclists and drivers, and a result help keep all road users safer as a result.

So what do Traffic officers know about cycling & what keeps cyclists safe?

Some know nothing, some know a little, as with all things in life experience is the key.

Those who have attended some of our events will know us well, those who have actually taken the time to meet us and engage us in conversation or debate will know that we base everything we say, advise or suggest on personal experience, not statistics, or what’s best to comply with the general consensus or current transport policy rhetoric.

Our conversations over the briefing table are dominated by heart rate training zones, cadence rates, route planning, road position, light setups, group sets and cleat position, junction safety, and the like.

Don’t get me wrong, like most Traffic officers this is combined with coffee and donuts, we just enjoy the fact that ours are guilt free as we spend most of our days in a calorie deficit after our commutes.

Over half of the unit from which the Safer Cycling Team is taken commute by cycle, which is above and well beyond the average for a team in any profession in the UK.

This isn’t a recent thing either; most have been cycling for many years with well over 146 years commuting and cycling experience between us. The total daily mileage for our combined commute is somewhere between 345 and 500 miles, depending what training the sportier members of the team have built into their commute that day.

Our commutes are varied, combining all the extremes that inner city Birmingham and its rural outskirts can offer, and its accompanying challenges.

Some of us compete (when we say compete we join in! To compete we would have to trouble the points positions!), some tour and some just spin the pedals for recreation, but all members of the team prefer pedal power to any other form of transport.

This, combined with our road traffic experience and accumulated road craft, gives us an ideal position from which to perfectly understand the needs of cyclists and motorists alike when it comes to keeping everyone as safe as they possibly can be on our regions transport network.

And as we deal with all fatal and life changing collisions involving cyclists in our region, we have a vast accumulated knowledge of how, why and where cyclists find themselves endangered.

Without sounding smug or conceited, “we do this for a living” so we know a thing or two when it comes to keeping all road users safe on the road, and our Safer Cycling Team know how cyclists can give themselves the best chance of staying safe whilst enjoying their two wheeled passion.

One very important thing to remember is that we are, at the end of the day, police officers in the employ of the West Midlands Police; we are not a campaign or pressure group. We can advise various bodies, councils and support the fantastic work of organisations such as CTC, BRAKE and Sustrans but at the end of the day we stick to enforcement and prevention in the here and now.

More on helmets

In an earlier blog we did the whole helmets thing. We were supported in our views by those we expected to be supported by, i.e. other emergency services, coroners, those who have experience of helmets working for them or others and those who have lost friends and loved ones to head injury.

We were lambasted by a few, and again we expected the usual social media participants to come out to play.

It was a quite intentional social media poke in the ribs, because you can’t beat a few “screamers” to engage the general public and draw attention to what is a very important subject, that being the safety of cyclists.

We are police officers after all. We are used to those who vehemently dislike and disagree with everything we do and say; we like them for it. When they stop disagreeing we’ll start worrying!  We do encourage those who have an interest in what we do and say, both negative and positive, to come and meet us in person at one of our events, or if you can’t make it and feel you have a vital to play in what we do we can arrange to meet with you over coffee and cake and maybe a turn of the pedals.

Now a quick response to those who criticised our view…….what did you really expect ?….. We are after all a police Traffic Department, and as a result we are charged with reducing the amount of killed and seriously injured cyclists on our regions roads. Did you really think we would say any different?

We deal with seriously injured and fatally injured cyclists all too often, anything that would save just one of them we are going to promote.

We did say the subject would be discussed in the blog in isolation, without influence of infrastructure, liability or blame, but still people failed to see the reasoning behind this.

You see we don’t care much for Australian statistics regarding helmet use, we don’t care much for statistics in general, being intrinsically involved in the collating of some, we know how misconstrued they can be and the illusions they can paint.

We much prefer personal experience – what we see on a daily basis, the verdicts and statements of coroners, the anguished looks of despair of trauma staff as we tell them that the unfortunate soul before them wasn’t wearing a helmet as they are placed into an induced coma.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some in these groups that will tell you different, but take a group of 100 people and show them a picture and one will always see something different. Such is life. Are they right? Depends if you’re unfortunate enough to fall from a bike for whatever reason and bang your head, doesn’t it. This is the reaction to the helmet blog we wanted and got. Thank you for your feedback, both negative and positive, it is appreciated.

For those who shout “why don’t you recommend pedestrians wear helmets ?” well if there comes a time when the government of the day abolishes pavements and makes pedestrians mix it up on the roads with lumps of steel and plastic moving at an average of 32mph like the majority of cyclist currently have to, then yes we would recommend pedestrians wear helmets.

And for those who shout, “People in cars, all dying of head injuries, why not recommend they wear helmets?” we whisper, “Seatbelts, they don’t wear them, that’s why they get head injuries, they slammed into an A or B post or get ejected from the vehicle. If they ever abolish the seatbelt law then we would recommend a crash helmet in cars also.”

As you can see, as Traffic officers we are the world’s greatest realists, we live daily in the “self-preservation society”. We see the selfishness and greed on our roads daily; most are not looking out for you so please look out for yourself.

Three last things that came up in the helmet debate we just need to mention. A helmet that breaks on impact “is” doing its job, it hasn’t failed. A helmet is there to absorb kinetic energy, it is a crumple zone for your head, it absorbs, fractures, distorts, all instead of your skull. Secondly helmets won’t prevent rotational brain injuries but they will prevent cranial fractures. We see this all the time, and for those that like them there’s some Australian science that proves it somewhere in web land if you’re that way inclined. Lastly, we are not and would never be in favour of a helmet law, sometimes even some of our Safer Cycling Team don’t wear a helmet on some cycling occasions, shocker I know but true.

What next then ?

In 2015 we will be attending a variety of events in partnership with Jaguar Landrover and Birmingham City Council.

Events include the NEC Cycling Show, local Sky rides including the now huge Coventry & Birmingham Sky Rides, events organised by local cycling clubs, some Bikeability inputs and many other events in conjunction with Birmingham Cycle Revolution.

That’s it for this one, in upcoming Safer Cycling blogs we will discuss why the problem with motorists is pretty much the same as the problem with cyclists, the use of headphones whilst cycling, cycling offences and how they are dealt with, the Exchanging Places scheme, on board cycle camera footage and its use in prosecutions, standards of liability, victim blaming, and our views on cycling infrastructure and the continental “dream”.

For those now chomping at the bit, your 140 Twitter characters await, have a coffee and cake first though, feed the cycling soul.

Safe journeys all.

The Safer Cycling Team

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12 thoughts on “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike!

  1. Bill

    First off, thanks for putting your ‘head above the parapet’ by venturing out into social media. While it’s a great way to engage with the public you’re always going to be the target of some flack (deserved or not), simply because you’re visible. That said, I’m sure that even your critics appreciate the fact that you’ve made the effort and are having some 2 way communications rather than using twitter as a press release tool.

    Anyway…. It would be great if your colleagues in the wider WMP could take cyclists’ safety more seriously than they do now. I reported being overtaken only to have the driver slam the brakes on while cutting in front of me, causing a collision, much like this: http://youtu.be/tZoLDbWcqY8 except ‘my’ driver got out to threaten to smash my face in before driving away. In the case on the video the driver got 5 points and an £800 fine. In my case (also with video) one of your colleagues told me “it’s terrible driving but the CPS would never prosecute anything like this so we didn’t take any action”. And yes, I was wearing a helmet when it happened 😉

    I am waiting to hear back on anther incident reported two months ago where I was sideswiped by a van. It was only my quick reactions that stopped me being seriously hurt. By all means tell me to wear a helmet if you think that’ll help, but don’t do it when you repeatedly fail to take action against dangerous drivers, even with video evidence.

    Which reminds me if the driver who clipped me while overtaking over a humpback bridge, then stopped, got out, knocked me to the ground and punched me in the head and face half a dozen times (because I’d not got out of his way) while I was tangled up in the bike. WMP told me that there was nothing wrong with the driving and the only thing they’d do about the attack was to ask him to write a letter of apology. I was told it was that or nothing. Tough justice, eh?!

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  2. Bez

    Some startling comments in there.

    “what do Traffic officers know about cycling & what keeps cyclists safe? Some know nothing, some know a little, as with all things in life experience is the key.”

    This sadly seems very true. Some, it would appear, do know nothing. It’s somewhat alarming, though, that it’s dismissed as a matter of experience rather than highlighted as one of inadequate police training.

    “we don’t care much for Australian statistics regarding helmet use, we don’t care much for statistics in general”

    I’m not sure that basically saying “we value emotive anecdotes more highly than reliable data that show the bigger picture” is an endearing way to approach a problem. Of course, no-one is disputing the unpleasantness of dealing with injured people at the roadside, but then as police you wouldn’t deal with people dying of heart disease or chronically ill due to obesity; you’re only exposed to the few acute injuries, not the great many illnesses of inactivity or pollution. And, of course, you focus on a subset of these, which brings us to your next point.

    “For those who shout “why don’t you recommend pedestrians wear helmets ?” well if there comes a time when the government of the day abolishes pavements and makes pedestrians mix it up on the roads with lumps of steel and plastic moving at an average of 32mph like the majority of cyclist currently have to, then yes we would recommend pedestrians wear helmets.

    And for those who shout, “People in cars, all dying of head injuries, why not recommend they wear helmets?” we whisper, “Seatbelts, they don’t wear them, that’s why they get head injuries, they slammed into an A or B post or get ejected from the vehicle.”

    In rural areas pedestrians do share the carriageway with cars. At crossings people do share the carriageway with cars. In car parks people do share the carriageway with cars. And, indeed, drivers do mount pavements. This vision of sharing that you paint as a ludicrous fantasy vision does actually exist. It surely can’t have escaped your attention that cats do collide with people. Though, since you about statistics, it will probably have escaped your attention that not only are there far more people killed in RTCs on foot than on bicycles, but that even when you account for the total number of miles traveled on foot and on cycle, people are killed at a higher rate when on foot.

    As for cars, are you honestly saying that head injuries only occur when people are not wearing seatbelts? That seatbelts prevent head injuries? Dare I suggest we go and find some statistics for this, or would you prefer my anecdote about having had a minor head injury in a car whilst wearing a seatbelt? Genuinely not sure which you would listen to 😉

    I think there are few who dispute that a helmet can have some beneficial effect in some circumstances, even if those “somes” may be quite limited, but I don’t think statements of dislike for evidence, or justifications which appear to be contrary to it, help when you’re still focusing on helmets rather than any other measure such as behavioural tactics. Far better to advise people how to reduce the risk of being hit by dangerous drivers than to cajole them into having faith in a hat if they are hit.

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  3. geckobike

    As you guys deal with anecdotes and not statistics can you tell me why a helmet and hi-viz did nothing for this cyclist who “was wearing a helmet, high visibility clothing and had lights on his bike and looked like he knew what he was doing”

    http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/hungover_teacher_who_killed_norwich_cyclist_in_car_crash_is_spared_prison_court_told_1_3802571
    http://www.roadjustice.org.uk/case-study/cyclist-killed-a140-marsham-norfolk-011213

    You dont do statistics, but prefer anecdote when delivering a safety message. Guess you dont care then that it’s around 3x safer in the Netherlands, and up to 7x safer some demographics and no one wears helmets.

    Dont do statistics? Guess you’re not happy then to reveal then how many drivers you’ve prosecuted for driving dangerously around cyclists…

    But I bet you’d be happy revealing how many cyclists you’ve fined for riding on the pavement around treacherous junctions and roads.

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    1. pchodson Post author

      Cheers for the feedback, the case you’ve attached, is tragic, looks like the investigation was faultless though, once the evidence is presented its all down to the court. Probably says more about the UK’s poor attitude towards road deaths in general. Only society in can change that. We don’t statistics but I wil get some regards the prosections of cyclists for you for the next blog, you may be very pleasantly suprised though as we prefer education in the West Midlands and so your probably looking at single figures. 🙂
      As for the “continental dream” there are some very good reasons why cycling is so safe on the continent, all of which we will cover in future blogs.

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  4. carltonreid

    I am the executive editor of the monthly trade magazine BikeBiz. We carry ads for helmets. I own lots of helmets. What I’m about to say does not come from an anti-helmet angle.

    Helmet manufacturers are very careful to state what cycle helmets are suitable for – they are not designed to provide protection above falls to the ground at 12mph so your comment about cars moving at 32 mph might give the impression that helmets could provide protection should a cyclist (or helmet-wearing pedestrian) be hit by car moving at this speed. It is important for those in positions of responsibility – such as police officers – not to over state the possible effectiveness of helmets because this (a) may give some cyclists who wear helmets a false sense of security, and (b) it may encourage some motorists to think cyclists are “armour plated” and protected when they wear helmets.

    The (well-known) work of Dr. Ian Walker has found that some motorists pass helmet-wearing cyclists more closely than when passing cyclists without helmets.

    By all means, encourage people to buy and wear helmets (and do stress they must fit them properly and preferably buy from a friendly local and expert bike shop) but mentioning them at the same time as talking about cars is irresponsible.

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    1. pchodson Post author

      Carlton, thanks for the reply, appreciated. Obviously our standpoint is very individual, as we deal with instances where a helmet “could of” or “might of” have or did indeed in all probability “save” someones life, we have to use the helmet and car word in the same sentence, just as a Coroner would, its our job. Our blog is going to be very individual in its angle and views, as we unfortunatly deal with daily all the results of what most debate, not deal with daily. As cyclists and Traffic officers we have a lot of time for your views and value your opinion greatly. We hope you will interact frequently or can attend a future event we are at so we can meet. 🙂

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  5. Paul Holdsworth

    As usual, others have done a better job than I could in perforating the rather odd arguments presented in favour of helmet wearing.

    The only real reassurance this column gives me is this statement:
    “Lastly, we are not and would never be in favour of a helmet law…”

    Unfortunately, even here the disinterest in actual evidence stands out. Most anti-compulsion types like me would be prepared to change our stance if there was good evidence that a mandatory helmet law would be genuinely beneficial.

    But not WMP Traffic Unit, apparently. This refusal to coolly consider hard evidence really is a very strange attitude to take, especially when evidence is of such critical importance to so many aspects of your job.

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  6. discominer

    Well, you’re engaging, and that says a lot. Some of your content is disturbing, but Bez has already covered that. Cyclists are not killed because they are not wearing helmets, they are killed mostly by poor driving, and very occasionally, their own dubious roadcraft. I look forward to reading more.

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  7. Keith

    All safety policy and interventions should be evidence based. How do you know if you are saving lives or inadvertently costing lives? Plenty of medical interventions that seemed obvious at the time but that turned out to have negative outcomes. So, I’m a bit shocked to see that you don’t care for statistics.
    Also, it’s a bit disrespectful dismissing people as ‘usual social media participants’ and ‘screamers’, useful only for getting attention to your own message. You are describing people who have the same objective, that is a safer cycling environment.

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    1. pchodson Post author

      Keith, the evidence based section was quite “tongue in cheek” in response to those who will grab at statistics to prove a point, ask anyone who works in the emergency services who works at the messy end and they will tell you that when your faced with a casualty that could of been saved by an intervention of some sort that someone dismisses with statistics you start to care less and less for them. You know what they say about statistics, there are 3 sorts, “Lies, lies and damn lies” not forgetting the stats that are ungatherable ie. who notes when someone avoids injury for whatever reason ? Work with us for a while and witness the carnage we see all to often and you would develope a scant disregard for stats very quickly also. As for the screamers, they like having the chance to rant, they are very eager to have a poke so its nice to give them a chance, you must remember also that we are the Police, so we could give some people a winning lottery ticket and they still wouldn’t like the way we do it ;). You are right we are all working towards the same objective, we however have to work in the here and now, we however are quite willing to use everything at our disposal, including recommending Helmet use, even if it saves only a few lives it is worth while, and worth the criticism we get for doing so. All the other aspects of a “Safer Cycling” enviroment will be discussed in future blogs from our perspective, and as you will see, apart from the helmet view we and the “screamers” will be singing from pretty much the same hymm sheet.
      We’ve been asked by the Head Injury team at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, to do an event with them in March. I’ve got a meeting next week when I will hopefully get the reasons why they want to hold the event, and what they want our participation to involve, and I no doubt there will be some statistics behind it. When I have them I’ll stick them up for those who like them or include them in the next blog, after all those doctor types are very scientific, like their evidence, and hopefully set it against the burgoning obesity problem, so it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and offer feedback. Hope you enjoy the future blogs. Safe Riding.

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  8. Richard Murphy

    Here’s a thought – cleats.
    I switched to cleats from clips/straps when I took up cycling again in my 40’s, at the time it was simply that while in my youth I was adept at releasing toe straps when approaching junctions etc. but in my 40’s I was less adept. My local bike shop recommended I set the tension on the pedals to its minimum while I got used to them. I did so, appreciated what this gave me and thought nothing more of it.
    Until the other day when I was involved in a collision – my bike ended up under the front of a pickup truck and I ended up several feet away. Complete with my feet which had simply flown out of the pedals instead of being stuck in them – the result of the incident may have been quite different if they had.
    Food for thought?

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