Category Archives: Blog

Lights, CAMERA, Action !

Most people detest the idea of the “Big Brother” type society, always being watched, monitored and effectively having your natural behaviour and reactions manipulated by the presence of the all-seeing eyes that we all have become oblivious to, that’s right cameras. But why is it then that sales of vehicle born cameras are at an all-time high. Those same people who in one breath will condemn an intrusion into their privacy at one level will be more than happy to strap a sports style action camera to the front of their bike or cycle helmet, and motorists will eagerly stick a “dashcam” into their car. Some will say it is for their own protection, it’s a safeguard, others will be accused of being “wanna be traffic cops”, and lastly some have to, they have no choice, fleet and company policies will dictate the use of a camera.

We’ve been promising this one for a while, but such is the amount of interest in this subject I felt it only right that we wait, and knowing that the West Midlands Police was going to introduce a new way of “self-reporting” due care and attention type road traffic offences, I wanted a couple of test cases to show exactly what can go right and wrong. But more importantly I wanted to experience the use of cameras and their effectiveness in reporting and prosecuting road traffic offences from a member of the public’s viewpoint. You see even though as a traffic officer I drive a car that has its every move and sound recorded from the moment I get in to the moment I hang up the keys and go home, I have never had any interest in having that same security, or is it scrutiny?, in my social, domestic and pleasure road going experiences.

Traffic officers at work, constantly recorded and recording

Traffic officers at work, constantly recorded and recording

So to do it properly early this year I purchased a high definition camera that has been accompanying me on all my cycling adventures and commutes. Prior to this I have never felt it necessary to have a camera, whether that’s because our day to day experiences as traffic officers make us immune to the fears and worries others have when using the roads, or maybe it’s because our enhanced road sense and occupationally trained defensive style of road use results in us experiencing far less moments of worry than other road users. Which ever it was the results have been interesting and not what you may expect. In 5 months of riding with a camera, day in, day out I have only been involved in one incident that I have considered worthy of reporting. I don’t for a minute think this is the “norm” though, looking at the experiences of other “vulnerable” road users I know it must be because of my defensive riding style and my abnormal perception of what others might rate as a “reportable incident”, which is altered greatly by my day to day experiences  as a traffic officer. After all, I’ve become accustomed to being rammed and driven at regularly, so witnessing a blatant offence, a close pass or having to take avoiding action due to a driver’s ill discipline just counts as a little unwanted attention to me, I’m not saying this is right, it’s just the way I’ve been conditioned through 16 years of being a police officer. You could say I save my reporting efforts for when the uniform is on.

Camera’s everywhere

As well as the obvious cameras on our traffic cars you’d be surprised at just how many road going cameras are out there at the moment. Some ambulances and fire service vehicles carry cameras, as well as the cyclist’s and motorcyclists who have a camera on their helmets or bike, sometimes both front and rear facing. Increasing numbers of private motorists are fitting dashcams, you can even get them incorporated into your sat nav now. Lots of HGV’s have camera’s in the cab, most buses have cameras as do some taxi’s. It’s not improbable to foresee a time when road users without a recording device will be in the minority, after all the technology is now cheap, reliable and readily accessible. Won’t be long before a vehicle manufacturer offers camera’s as an optional extra on all its models, just wait and see.

Is there any room left ? going to need bigger bars! Lights, computer and now the all important camera.

Is there any room left ? going to need bigger bars! Lights, computer and now the all important camera.

It’s not all a bed of roses….

It really isn’t a bed of roses you know, in fact camera use can be a proverbial crown of thorns. Camera’s capture all the good and all the bad in all road users, including the camera carrier. They can work against you as well as for you, take it from someone who is recorded and scrutinised in everything I do on the road whilst at work. So just to start we’ll run through some of the positives and negatives of using your own recording device on the road.

The obvious benefit is in the event of a collision, it can show the reason for the collision and liability. But this could work in favour of the both the camera user and the non-camera user. Footage might show the camera user was liable for the collision, if someone see’s you have a camera and you don’t make the footage available questions will be asked, liability assumed, what is the camera user hiding ?, integrity and honesty questioned, are you starting to see the pitfalls already.

The footage of an incident is all well and good but when presenting camera evidence you will need to also show the period prior and post incident. This reveals or dismisses any events or alleged events that may lead to an incident. The standard of your driving or riding prior to an incident will be looked at, your demeanour prior and post incident will be scrutinised, everything about you will be questioned. Footage from a dashcam that reveals blaring in vehicle music, a mobile phone conversation, or the road user displaying an aggressive demeanour using language littered with profanities all paints a picture and will affect both liability, prosecution and court decisions. So if you’re running a camera, its best behaviour at all times.

One of the less obvious effects of an easily spotted camera is the way other road users start interacting with you. When I cycle with a camera on top of my helmet, which stands out, it is amazing how better vehicles start interacting with you on the road, passes become more considered, more space is given, I’ve got into the habit of almost turning my head to a side profile to display the fact I have a camera to traffic to the traffic approaching from the rear, the difference is significant. Put the camera on the handle bars where it is less obvious and traffic from the rear can’t see it and we’re back to the usual ill-considered passing. Maybe someone should start making cycling clothing with “Camera on Board” emblazoned across it and providing stickers for vehicles with the same message. The psychological and behavioural effect on road users if they realise they are being recorded and it can be used against them if their road use falls below the expected safe and competent standard is significant. Maybe we should make them compulsory,……hhmmmm anyone thinking George Orwells 1984 yet?

Helmet mounted cameras, easily seen, do they offer protection in their own right ?

Helmet mounted cameras, easily seen, do they offer protection in their own right ?

 

Don’t change your behaviour if you use a camera. Don’t go looking for incidents or those committing offences. If this is the adventure that you do seek then consider joining the police instead, dealing with those who’s road use falls below the required standard is highly confrontational. Road rage is common and in the most unfortunate of cases people have lost their lives at the side of a road in altercations that commenced following a minor traffic incident. I’ve often said that aside from domestic incidents, when we go into someone’s home and start taking control, I’ve never seen an average person anger so quickly and become so confrontational with the police as when their standard of driving or riding is criticised, often despite the presence of insurmountable evidence proving their road use was sub-standard. This is because of firstly, the impact of any prosecution is often highly significant on their day to day lives, points will effect insurance, employment, fines are high and costly, and secondly it’s also because most road users take it as a personal infringement on their character, mainly due to the fact that most have never stopped and considered the standard of their own riding or driving. If an incident does occur and you capture it on camera, stay calm, do not interact with the offender, and remember you’re being recorded also by your camera. There will be a few that submit evidence of a minor traffic offence being committed which then goes on to show themselves committing a far more serious public order offence. Own goals are common in such situations, the offending road user ends up with an educational course or points, the reporting camera user ends up with a criminal record !.

The reporting process and its inevitable consequences

So you’ve got your camera, you’ve completed your journey during which you’ve been unfortunate to be involved in or witness an incident that you feel needs reporting and action being taken against the offending road user. What do you do next?

Well if the incident was a collision and the police did not attend as it was a non-injury damage only collision, then you will need to report in the West Midlands Police area by way of a self-reporting form available from any Police Station front  office or by calling 101. The report is completed by you and returned with the all important video, it goes to our traffic process offence and they will investigate the collision and deal with any resulting prosecutions.

If the incident does not involve a collision and it is a “Due care and attention”  type offence you wish to report then again it’s a trip to your nearest  Police Station or call 101, only this time it’s the “Due Care / Driving Standards” self reporting form you will require. Again, the report is completed by you and returned with the all important video, it goes to our traffic process offence and they will investigate the incident and deal with any resulting prosecutions.

With both submissions remember independent witnesses are just as important as quality video coverage. Video won’t show everything, trust me we have seen the best video footage miss vital evidence due to a fixed focus and direction, helmet cams usually don’t suffer from these deficiencies but dash cams and fixed point cameras on bikes will.

Once your report is submitted the wheels of justice start turning, but please be aware they can turn very slowly due to necessary legal process and the usual administrative holdups that all prosecutions encounter. You see once your report is submitted the member of WMP staff dealing must send out a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) to the vehicles keeper requesting driver details at the time of the incident. This must be done within 14 days of the incident. The recipient of the NIP then has 28 days to respond. If the keeper states someone else was driving then another NIP is sent to that person, with another 28 days to respond. Already you see you could have a maximum of 70 days before we are even in a position to commence a prosecution. The wheels can turn slowly and if your incident results in a court case this can be sometimes be up to 12 months after the actual incident. So don’t go expecting instant results, there are no such things as instant results when it comes to road traffic law.

What should I report?

Firstly only report if you are prepared to attend court. The offender in your incident may settle for an educational type resolution or a conditional offer of points and a fine, but as we know all too well, most will defend their licences with the same tenacity as their family’s wellbeing, so always expect to attend court. To attend court you may need to take time off work, at court you can be cross examined by the defendant or their legal representative and enjoy all the same experiences we as traffic officers endure on a weekly basis.

The rule here is the offending road users standard of driving or riding must have fallen below that expected of a safe and competent driver or rider. To put it in simple terms we are looking at single standalone incidents that would cause you to fail a driving test. Examples of this are contravening a give way at a junction, running a red light, mobile phone use, a close pass (by close we mean inches not feet), you get the idea.

A true close pass, literally inches away caused by a badly planned overtake by the HGV on a blind crest.

A true close pass, literally inches away caused by a badly planned overtake by the HGV on a blind crest.

Examples we have recently prosecuted using camera footage include a cyclist who was forced to come to a stop to avoid a HGV that failed to give way at a traffic island, if the cyclist hadn’t stopped the results would have been unthinkable. Also a vehicle that carried out an overtake that contravened a keep left bollard and as a result nearly hit the reporting driver head on. These are the sorts of incident we want to know about and if the evidence is presented will gladly deal with the offender.

We will only proceed if there is a realistic probability of a successful prosecution, a prosecution that must be in the public interest. If I tell you that two traffic officers with accompanying in car video can struggle to convince a court of an offending drivers offending you will start to get an idea of how convincing your self-reported incident and accompanying evidence will need to be.

Last but not least if you are going to report an incident don’t post the footage on any social media site or the like until any proceedings have been finalised.  Such clips bring with them views and comments, all might effect proceedings or prevent them. So if you feel you must share it with the Social Media masses prior to a court, take your 15 minutes of fame but reconsider reporting it to ourselves as you could jeopardise any prosecution before it has even started.

A New Dawn

Now after reading this you might think why even bother, well despite the popular misconception that we are not interested in these incidents, we truly are. The standards of road use are important to you and so they are important to us. We know how low the standards of road use can drop, we are out there 24/7 combatting the most dangerous. But we also know that we can’t be everywhere at once, some will always get away with it. But if the ever increasing amount of road going cameras means that those that previously got away with it will now see the their law breaking actions answered for, then it can only be a good thing.

This is a new work stream for WMP, its new and developing, so please bear with us. We need a shift in the viewpoint of the masses to one where road traffic offending and its sometimes tragic consequences become socially unacceptable. If the growing trend of those with road going camera’s reporting offending becomes part of that, then we welcome it with open arms, please just stay safe and don’t become disillusioned if you don’t get the result you wanted when reporting or at court.

Oh and also please realise this article has mentioned new and developing WMP policy and procedures regarding the public reporting road traffic offending and the submission of camera evidence in support. Your local force may not do the same, please be patient with them, due to the administrative and staff commitments such new work streams demand, some may struggle to keep pace with demand for a like approach given the current resource vs demand equation faced by police forces. One day hopefully it will be the accepted norm.

 

Until next time

 

Safe journey’s all………..”CUT…. its a wrap”

 

Mobile Phones,Driving and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

This edition of the blog is devoted to those who despite our best efforts at deterrent, and the constant media bombardment that tell them that their actions are potentially lethal; still persist in participating in what is becoming the most visible and public of all road traffic offences. I talk of course of the modern scourge of the road, the mobile phone user.

mobile phone

A person with FOMO  is the driver who lacks the ability, some may say intelligence or common sense to realise the possible result of their driving whilst using a phone. All because they just can’t stand being away from their mobile phone. 

Now this particular driver has no definable profile, as they come in all guises. You see them, I see them, everyone sees them, but still they don’t care. Their public show of offending may be an affront to the law abiding road user, but to them their interaction with the sacred device, social media or the person on the other end is far more important than someone’s life. I see one in every 15 or so vehicles whilst I walk my children to school, we have a carefully trained eye you see, and notice the tell-tale signs that show what appears to be a normal motorist to be the indiscriminate potential killer they really are.

First comes the young female, quickly checking Facebook to see if her mates are still hung-over from the night before, her phone just below steering wheel height, she looks up every now and then just to make sure nothing has appeared in front of her as she takes a ton of steel down the road at just above 30mph.

Then comes the middle aged businessman, phone glued to his right ear leaving just one hand free to control the car, it’s alright, it’s an auto, couldn’t figure out how to use the hands free in his all singing, all dancing executive mean machine you see, and he needs to rearrange the meeting he’s going too late for as the traffic’s just awful!.

Next comes the delivery driver tapping his next destination into his sat nav app. It does have to be combined with a moving vehicle of course to reach its full destructive capabilities.

Up next is the young male in his highly modified hot hatch, he’s had a text telling him where the next car meet is, don’t let on in case the Babylon find out it reads, be rude not to answer even though the Lollipop man has just stepped out into the road 50 yards away.

Look up, oh its all too late !

Look up, oh its all too late !

A few seconds later the harassed mother swerves her way up the road, phone trapped between head and shoulder she tries to steer with one hand whilst pushing little Johnny back into his car seat as the little angel has got free of the straps again, why stop and re-arrange the evening’s Zumba class and sort Johnny out when you can make progress all at the same time.

Traffic’s come to a standstill now, a driver quickly whips out the phone to check if that vibration was a missed message or call, as they look intently at their phone whilst stationary or rocking their vehicle back and forth on the clutch they miss the motorcyclist filtering, or the cyclist moving up the inside of them in the cycle lane. Both of which they hit as they pull away or turn left to take the “rat run” traffic-jam-avoiding next junction.

Closely follows little Miss Innocent, phone in the hand, clearly on display, talking away but it’s held against the steering wheel or the usual 6 to 12 inches away from the face, she’s not breaking the law, or so she would have you believe, it’s on speaker phone so she thinks she’s fine, it’s not the same she thinks, trouble is she doesn’t think, that’s the problem.

Last but not least comes the “sniper”, fast becoming the most common of the FOMO clan, the driver who appears to be paying full attention, they appear to be looking at the road but every now and then their face dips to their lap, not to admire their pristine lower office attire, but to check the phone placed in their lap. It’s hidden, no-one can see their offending, it’s guilt free, or so they think until it’s too late. You see inevitably they glance down at the wrong moment and the next thing they see is the face of the child they are about to hit on the crossing they didn’t notice.

I know I’ve left out the tradesman arranging his next quote, the skip wagon driver, the scooter rider stuffing the phone up the side of an unstrapped helmet but as we all know the list is endless, sadly never ending.

Is it worth someone's life ?

Is it worth someone’s life ?

What can be done?

The mobile phone user is no better than a drink driver. They take the same risk, gamble with their own and, more importantly, other road users’ lives for their own selfish needs. The impairment to driving has been proven to be equal to driving whilst over the limit or under the influence of cannabis, so why isn’t the punishment the same I hear you cry, well that’s not a matter for the likes of the police; we just catch them, some time and time again. Sentencing is a matter for politicians and courts, under pressure from the public, feel free to make your feelings known to those whose responsibility it is to change such things, the more that shout and protest, the more they listen. But they don’t need to be told how high the offending rate is, they like any of us just need to stand at the side of a busy road for 15 minutes and you will see all the usual FOMO drivers. Feel free to have the punishment debate on our Twitter account; we are always interested in your views.

Most who use a mobile whilst driving would not dream of drink driving, oh no that would be unthinkable, drink driving is criminal they would say, well so is driving whilst using a phone. The consequences of being caught are not the same to the offender; we need a culture change, the stigma associated with being a drink driver needs to become the same stigma we attach to the person with the disease known as FOMO.

If you see a FOMO driver just point at them, they don’t like the attention, nobody likes being pointed at, the more people that point the more attention is drawn to them, embarrassment is a great deterrent. Refuse to get into a car with someone who uses their phone whilst driving, or makes the preparatory act of placing it in their lap.

 

And for all those “snipers” out there who think they are getting away with it, the “prove it copper” brigade we will just prosecute you for driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition. We don’t have to prove your phone use, after all a phone in your lap is insecure, it could easily fall into the driver’s foot-well under normal vehicle movement, if it does the natural reaction is to hastily retrieve your £500 “sacred” device. As you bend down you’ll not have proper control, lose your view of the road, that’s if it doesn’t impair a pedal causing further loss of control. We’ve done it with taxi radios for years, your oversized smartphone is no different. For those who say that wouldn’t happen, try finding a magistrate who would disagree, we’ll see you in court.

The best thing to do with your phone, unless you have a dash cradle to put it in, is to put it in the boot, then it’s out of harm’s way, it will still Bluetooth to your car or hands free, so what are you losing, nothing apart from the temptation to answer. Just get over your FOMO, is that Tweet, Facebook post, Instagram, Snapchat (I could go on and on) really worth the life of an innocent road user?  

Seatbelt Selfishness

Seatbelt Stupidity ……..

Many whispered words of derision leave the lips of traffic officers when it comes to those who commit seatbelt offences. It’s an offence that seems never to go away, but with such a simple thing that is so capable of saving your life, why don’t people wear them, bravado ?, nothing brave about being so selfish (those non wearers who don’t wear a belt and feel aggrieved at being called selfish read on before smashing 140 characters into our Twitter account). Maybe forgetfulness , I don’t think so, most have never known anything else, after all these years of seatbelt laws it should be enshrined in any driver by now, even for those who can remember when it wasn’t law to have belts or wear one in a vehicle. Technology means most vehicles have an audible or visual alert that warns you of a momentary lapse into forgetfulness, and reminds you to belt up. Our fleet of BMW’s and Audi’s, have an almost berating tone that is heard at the conclusion of every pursuit as we unclip before becoming stationary in readiness for the inevitable 100 yard dash.

Even your car will remind you !

Even your car will remind you !

The tone is that stern, if non- compliance continues a semi catatonic state could be induced rendering you useless to drive anyway, but that’s German cars for you; always want to be in charge. To get to the point, not wearing a belt is like going out the house without any shoes on, you don’t forget, you choose. For those who say “I don’t want to be trapped by my belt in a collision” remember this, myself and my colleagues collectively, have unfortunately, seen hundreds of people die because they were not wearing a belt, we have never been to a fatal collision that was caused by someone wearing a belt. There will be a few who will utter” I can’t wear it because of a medical condition, I can’t reach round to get it” or the one that’s becoming ever common “I’m to big to wear it”, yes we do get them ! Well unless you’ve got a seatbelt exemption certificate from your doctor you have to wear it. More importantly if you can’t wear a belt for whatever reason, have you informed your insurer ? Thought not ! Insurer’s don’t like people who don’t wear belts, they are high risk. If you do survive a collision when you were not wearing a seatbelt please don’t lie to us and tell us you were wearing a belt, we can check if a belt has been worn in seconds by examining the belt and checking for the resulting marks on your chest, but it’s usually a lot easier than that because you will have left a bulls eye on the windscreen with an accompanying DNA sample,! It’s impossible to head butt a windscreen with a seatbelt on, please don’t try it, but trust us it can’t be done.

Do not try this at home !

Do not try this at home !

The offence itself comes in many forms, firstly there is the plain not worn, its hanging limply at the B post like a flag on the stillest of days. Then there is the incorrectly or part worn, those with it tucked under the arm instead of across the shoulder, those with the lap strap on but the across the body strap behind them. In order to not commit an offence a belt has to be worn in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and an incorrectly worn belt can injure or worsen injuries even in a minor collision, where as a correctly worn belt would leave just a few aches and pains. Lastly there’s my particular favourite, the clipped up behind, those who clip up their belt and sit on the lot, in the misbelief that it fools us into thinking they are wearing it, not so, we can spot the tell-tale signs! This is the common offence of the “PlayStation driver” who thinks they are as safe on the road as they are in their gaming chair at home! They have the driving skills to match their inept thinking as well, which is why catastrophic results are usually guaranteed.

Such a simple thing saves so many lives.

Such a simple thing saves so many lives.

Injuries are pretty horrific. Not wearing a belt or wearing it incorrectly leaves you free to move about inside a metal box at great speed with a choice of metal, glass or plastic to cushion the inevitable post collision blow. There will be those who are now shouting “what about the airbags? surely they will save you” . Well no, because all airbags in UK cars are designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts, and seeing as they deploy at nearly 200mph they will just smash you into another part of the vehicle interior if a belt isn’t worn. Without a belt to slow you on impact the bag won’t have fully deployed before you come into contact with a part of the vehicles interior that is far more substantial than your head ! This is why so many fatalities in vehicle born collisions are due to head injuries, all down to a simple seatbelt offence.

Notice I haven’t mentioned going through the windscreen, that’s because modern screens are that strong you don’t usually go through anymore, more half through now, with your upper torso on the bonnet and your twisted legs trapped behind the wheel, ending up like a macabre bonnet trophy. Then there’s the complete ejection, usually through the rear screen or side windows. Now a complete ejection leaves two usual consequences, firstly if the car is rolling, bad luck, fate or the intervention of our old friend the Reaper means it rolls over the unfortunate ejectee; secondly the ejectee is fired out of the vehicle into a live lane at the mercy of the traffic. Do remember if you don’t wear a belt, you are basically agreeing that in the event of being a participant in a vehicle born collision that would normally be survivable, you are quite willing to forfeit your existence for the sake of not clipping up, and it happens all too often for our liking.

It is one of the most selfish of offences, because if the driver or passenger dies they will also most likely take another occupant of the vehicle with them, because inevitably that’s one of the first things they will hit as you fly across the vehicle interior following a collision. That person may be wearing their belt, but a head-butt from anywhere between 30 and 70mph impact speed is largely un-survivable. So from this point on take note that if someone in a vehicle you’re traveling in is not wearing their belt, they are quite willing to take your life as well as their own in the event of a collision, which is a little anti – social of them isn’t it !   But back to the point of this part of the blog, what is the reason to wear a belt that you never thought of? Well it comes back to selfishness, not at a personal level but at a social responsibility level, everyone doing their bit and all that, were all in this together, starting to sound like a coalition press release this isn’t it ! . Anyway think about this, the NHS and the emergency services are currently creaking following austerity measures, an ever rising population and ever greater demands for our skills. The NHS struggles to fund cancer treatments for children, find beds for the elderly, Ambulance crews struggle to make calls, we spend hours piecing together another fatal inquiry instead of chasing car thieves and burglars, all this after the fire service have cut free a corpse or the injured. Yet those selfish individuals who don’t wear a belt seem happy to burden us all with the injuries or tragic consequences they could avoid by wearing a belt. Remember those you could be denying help if you don’t wear your belt, you take their place in the queue, hardly fair is it.

And for those who fail to secure their children properly, we save a special sort of diplomacy, its professional, not all that polite but to the point, and always results in points, a fine or a court appearance.

I will just leave you with this little story, I once dealt with a man who didn’t wear his seatbelt, he was that incensed at being fined £60 (as it was then) he produced a fake doctors seatbelt exemption certificate at court, which was subsequently detected, the offender was duly given 6 weeks in prison, all for not wearing a seatbelt ! If you don’t want to wear one, get a pushbike, motorbike, get the bus, just stay out of motor vehicles, if you won’t wear a belt you really don’t belong in one. Wear your belt please, for the sake of everyone. seatbelts

We want traffic. We want traffic. We want traffic

We often get this call on our Twiitter feed from those who see our results in some areas and want us in their area helping solve the issues that they suffer with on a daily basis. If we could, we would love to be everywhere, but alas we are a small specialist unit who are placed into target areas, whether that’s to combat road born criminality or those who risk the lives of other road users through their below standard driving or riding. If you feel your area has a problem that needs addressing by the Traffic Department then your first port of call should be to contact your local neighbourhood team. Often they can resolve many issues without our specialist assistance, but if its beyond their area of expertise or it requires a higher impact resolution then they can in turn ask for the Traffic department to help. Just remember, it can be a double edge sword, I’ve often stopped vehicles on speed checks and in the middle of dealing with the offender had them say “ You won’t believe this, I was one of the people that complained, that’s why you are here”. Oh dear ……..   Until next time, Safe Journeys all.