Category Archives: Traffic 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?  

Just dying to see……

 

This blog is all about those things that detrimentally affect a road user’s vision and as a result endanger themselves and others. Your vision, your observations, your ability to see and then react to a potential hazard on the road is the start and most important part of everything you do on a journey, whether you are on foot, two wheels, four wheels or more. Yet some seem intent on compromising their own and others safety for what is usually a blindingly obvious obstruction to seeing what is around you on the road. Remember, unless you are blessed with some supernatural or superhero style power, you can only deal with what you see. If you fail to see another road user there is a high probability that you or they will suffer as a result….

Tints – the shaded killer

Okay let’s start with the obvious, tinted driving windows. These are great on bright sunny days and pose no obvious risk under such circumstances. However, as we can count how many such days we have here in the UK and not run out of fingers, and add to that we have something called “nightime” where the sun disappears to be replaced by the moon, you will start to see the problem. For those who still don’t get it, would you chose to drive wearing dark sunglasses all of the time in all conditions ?, try walking down the road in sunglasses at night, your reactions will range from discomforting to petrifying when you realise what you cannot see, imagine having that view out of your driving windows 24/7 !

Tinted drivers windows, a potential "killer" of vulnerable road users !

Tinted drivers windows, a potential “killer” of vulnerable road users !

The most worrying thing about tinted windows, as with any obstruction to a road user’s view of the road, is that it is the easily missed, less obvious road user that becomes the potential victim. The pedestrian in dark clothing, the poorly lit cyclist, the small child walking from a shaded area, the motorcyclist as you pull from a junction, these are the people that the wilful ignorance of those who drive with obstructions to their vision will hurt.

Windows down and the excuses!

Most realise there is a problem with their windows if they are tinted, having to wind the window down in order to get a view out of a wing mirror when reversing at night makes it very obvious that window tints can cause all sorts of problems in every day road use. When we stop those “car enthusiasts” in freezing weather or pouring rain and both driver windows are down before we get to speak to them !, we automatically know that they are hiding a potential killer of a defect from us, all for the sake of “blinging” their motor !. Then there are those who utter “But I bought it like this” or “they told me they were legal”. Really? How can anyone think a modification to a vehicle that a manufacturer doesn’t offer can possibly be legal, after all, the manufacturer’s exist to make money, if they could, they would. Whilst on the subject of modifications, window tinting is a modification that you will need to notify your insurer of, tinted drivers windows that are illegal will invalidate your insurance, and as you will find out as you read on, there really is no such thing as legal after- market tint that can be applied to driver’s windows. So as well as the potential 3 points you could get for your tints, you also come straight into play for another 6 points for a no insurance offence, ouch !

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

 

What is legal? How do we test? What will I get?

Right let’s start with what are my driving windows?

Well there’s the obvious one the windscreen, the other drivers windows are those situated in the driver and front passenger doors, quite simply, those in-front and adjacent to the driver. Imagine the windows on a transit style van; those are the very windows we are concerned with on your vehicle.

Now here’s why you cannot apply a legal tint to any driver’s window in the UK. Manufacturers of vehicles already tint the glass in vehicles to just below the legal limit, so they transmit enough light to comply. The law states that your windscreen must transmit 75% of the available light; your two side driver’s windows must transmit 70% of the available light. Manufacturer’s tint the glass at production so it transmits just over these amounts by a few percent, so soon as you add any post production tint, no matter how light it is, makes your drivers windows illegal and you liable to prosecution. Penalties for illegally tinted windows are on a sliding scale depending on the severity of the offending window tint. Between 100% and 70 % or 75% (depending on the window) your windows are legal and you skip away into the sunset singing a merry song, between 70 % and 50 % you’ll get a Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice ensuring you remove the tints within 14 days, between 50% and 30% you will get a £100 fine and will have to remove the tints at the roadside whilst grumbling somewhat. Get stopped with tints that only transmit between 30 % and 0 % of the available light and you’ll be earning 3 points, a £100 fine, or alternatively a day out at court. If you are wondering, most of the Tints we test are usually below 30%. Oh and yes you will be removing the tints at the roadside leaving a sticky mess all over your windows whilst thanking the officer for bringing the matter to your attention. The worst case scenario is you are involved in a collision resulting in someone being seriously injured or even dying and your illegally tinted windows are found to be a contributory factor, you will then face a prison sentence as your vehicle was in a dangerous condition, and knowingly driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition is dangerous driving. Oh and if you refuse to remove your tints at the roadside we will prohibit your vehicle from being driven due to its dangerous condition by way of a PG9 prohibition notice.

How we detect?

We have calibrated eyes that detect tinted windows, it happens during the Traffic Patrol Officers course when we get a bionic implant. Aside from that, it’s really is obvious, illegally tinted windows look considerably darker than legal windows. Once stopped we test the windows using one of two calibrated devices that measure the transmission of light through glass, a “TINTMAN” or a “TINT TESTER”. Both give a transmission of light figure that we then use in any prosecution should your windows prove to be illegal.

 

Tints tested for freeeeeeeee !

Now you just may be in a mild state of panic regards the state of your driving windows having read the last few paragraphs so here’s what you can do to avoid prosecution. Firstly if you have an after-market tint on your driving windows just remove them, a quick search on the internet and you will find some sound advice on how to remove the tinting and clean you windows after to avoid the glue residue smearing on your window seals etc. If your still unsure if your windows are illegally tinted after reading all of the above then why not pop down to our “Get you windows tested” events we will be running via our Twitter account, and have them tested without fear of prosecution. Just be aware though if they are illegal, you will not be driving away with them in place or else you will be prosecuted! (So bring some cleaning gear if you fear the worst!)

Testing in action

Testing in action

The first of these events will be at the Halfords Store, Coventry Road, Sheldon, Birmingham on Saturday 25th April from 5pm to 7pm, you’ll spot the marked car on the car park. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for future dates and locations, we will get around the whole of the force over the coming month giving everyone ample opportunity to avoid a potential prosecution.

 

Visor Vision

Whenever I ride a motorcycle I always feel like my eyes are on stalks anyway such is the level of intense concentration I give my observations, which is no doubt enhanced by the sense of extreme vulnerability that only riding a motorcycle can give. So why some insist on wearing tinted visors in poor light conditions is beyond me. If you are going to have a tinted visor for bright light conditions always carry an untinted visor so you can swap. Penalties for visor offences are as follows  

But inevitably the highest price you will pay as a motorcyclist when you miss something is paying with your life, just carry a clear visor for when light conditions deteriorate.

The Pedestrian Menace

Pedestrians you are road users, as such you need to look where you’re going, not at your phone! All too often pedestrians are walking out into the road or using crossings whilst looking at their phone instead of what’s coming down the road towards them. There isn’t an app yet that tells you if it’s safe to cross, so look up from your phone and give it your full attention. Remember cyclists are silent on approach until the point you step out in front of them. Then we tend to become quite vocal, not always in a pleasant manner, that’s if it’s not too late! So please remember the “Stop, Look, Listen”. Save the phone based activities for when you’re seated in your favourite coffee house.

 

Flowers, Sat Navs, Trinkets and the just plain ridiculous!

Now I’m no Percy Thrower or Alan Titchmarsh but even I know that flowers belong in two places, in the ground or in a vase, but certainly not hanging from your rear view mirror or the like, so they sit in the driver’s vision. VW drivers take note, if you must have them why not wear them round your neck and spread a little love and happiness, instead of giving yourself chance of missing that vulnerable road user and spreading misery and pain as a result !, It’s just not flowers, we see all manner of trinkets and paraphernalia dangling in-front of drivers views, they may not obstruct your immediate view ahead but your peripheral vision to the left and your view into junctions as you turn left ends up having a blind spot which due to perspective can be over 20 feet wide at a distance you’ll reach in seconds at 30 or 40 mph, there could be a crossing child in that blind spot !

Flowers are for the ground or vases not your windscreen !

Flowers are for the ground or vases not your windscreen !

The golden rule is keep the swept area of your windscreen and views to the side through the driver’s side windows clear of any obstruction to view. So don’t stick you Sat Nav in the swept area of your windscreen, or your phone or anything else for that matter. Again it may only be inches wide on your screen, but in the distance it’s hiding a space that is feet wide, what’s in that space? You really need to know to ensure your own and everyone else’s safety.

Onto the plain ridiculous, we once stopped a driver with a two foot teddy sitting on the dash, you could say childlike behaviour, but I know my kids have got more common sense than that, sheer idiocy is more befitting. And then there was the HGV driver with more collected ornaments and trinkets on his dash and stuck to his windscreen than my Nan had in her china cabinet, its only 44 tonnes at 56mph, what could possibly go wrong if he missed something! I’m sure you’ve seen similar, that’s the great thing about road traffic law, we’re all out there on the regions roads experiencing this sort of stupidity daily, feel free to share your little gems on our Twitter account, we’re always interested in the sublime and ridiculous, oh and donuts we’re very interested in those as well 😉 ………..safe journeys all.

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.

O Come all Ye Drink Drivers & Frosty the Car Thief

O Come all Ye Drink Drivers, Frosty the Car Thief and the role of Star Wars in Policing the Road

Firstly let me thank Sgt Ade Brown for his fantastic first blog. Very good of him to step forward and take up the quill. Hopefully he will be the first of many we can persuade, pressgang or coerce into contributing to the WMP Traffic blog. Hopefully it gave you an insight into the stress and anxiety we put our supervision through on a daily basis.

In this blog I cover a few topics. Firstly I will talk about drink driving and our festive campaign, then look at why Jack Frost is wanted for multiple offences of aiding and abetting and finish off with probably the most important aspect of this blog – Star Wars and its vital role in policing the road.

For those who will be screaming why isn’t he countering the criticism given to the cycling helmet’s blog, well that’s because I’m saving it for a dedicated blog on cycling safety and the work of our safer cycling team to be published in the New Year.

As the winter solstice rapidly approaches and those few rays of sunshine we do see become less and less, and we celebrate Christmas and reflect on the year past, a strange phenomenon grips the land. That’s right, viral foolishness spreads throughout the populace at an alarming rate. This foolishness is displayed in many forms. Unfortunately, as traffic officers we have to deal with most of the results. The most foolish act of drink driving seems to persist no matter what the season though, and it is on this topic we shall start, so grab your coffee and mince pies (as it’s nearly Christmas) and let us begin, oh grab an After Eight as well, be rude not too!

The most selfish drink you could ever have………

Now I normally try to make light and inject a little humour into any subject I cover, but there is no humour in drink driving, so I won’t in this case. Let me start by making something clear. I like most police officers, and particularly traffic officers, have a huge dislike of drink drivers. They are “public enemy number 1”. Their disregard for everyone else’s safety, the carnage they cause, the innocent lives they take, mean we have a special motivation to hunt them down and remove them from our roads. Now you get the motivational picture let me enlighten you as to how we go about removing the menace from our roads.

THINK! celebration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CERT0xNFGo4

Everyone associates Christmas with drink driving. The season of parties, over indulgence and drowning away the winter blues, does impact on the seasonal figures. However we must remember that this is an all year round problem. Drink drivers take up a considerable amount of the customer footfall entering our magistrates’ courts Monday to Friday, 52 weeks of the year. After years of falling drink drive figures, 2012 onwards has seen a worrying rise. One in six fatal collisions are linked to alcohol consumption so as the department duly charged with driving down these figures you can see why it tops our Christmas list of things to do.

We make an extra effort to combat this seasonal rise every year, and if you are ever unfortunate to experience the tragic consequences of a drink driver you will realise why we will throw such a large amount of resources and time at the problem that just won’t go away. We also of course target the rising yet surprisingly unpublicised threat of drug driving; those driving whilst impaired through the consumption of both illegal and prescription drugs.

We utilise a wide variety of tactics and skills to combat the menace of impaired driving. We have our well-publicised mass checks of course. Whether its first thing in the morning to catch those who have had a skinfull the night before, mid-afternoon to catch the lunchtime drinkers, or the late evening check to get the night time revellers who are driving impaired, you find us out there every day during December and early January come rain or shine. On such checks we literally pull in every car passing if we have space on the check site. We talk to the driver and the smell of alcohol, an admission of drinking alcohol, or a moving traffic offence all giving us grounds to conduct a roadside test. Although this is our most inefficient tactic it does have a large impact as every passing driver notices the operation and it’s all encompassing net. Plus we get to speak to a lot of drivers whom we never usually get to meet; it does become a very effective PR exercise as we get vital road safety messages across at every opportunity. Any evidence of drug use, usually the waft of cannabis emanating from a vehicle will also result in an impairment test for the driver.

Drink drive check

In order to target those persistent offenders we utilise our ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) systems and valuable intelligence supplied on the whole by the public. If you know of a drink or drug driver you can call 101 or Crimestoppers and give us their vehicle details. Once their number plate is in the system any hit will result in a stop, and hopefully detection of the offence and subsequent removal of their licence.

Then we patrol around licenced premises, not only to deter crime and festive disorder but also looking for those tentatively pulling off them, whom it would be rude not to have a chat to. Again the whiff of the barmaid’s apron, the slightest moving traffic offence or an admission of drinking results in a roadside test. The success rate on this method is about 1 in 3, my personal favourite, but I crave efficiency in everything! Plus a passing Traffic car is sometimes the motivation some need to take a taxi instead of driving.

Get caught and you’ll get a minimum 12 month disqualification. Not driving will affect every aspect of your life, your capacity to work, socialise and also your standing. It’s that last aspect those who are tempted to chance it should think hard and long about. Everyone hates drink drivers, we, thankfully, have reached the stage where impaired driving is socially unacceptable. Who wants to know or associate with someone who is willing to risk the lives of innocents, all too often children, just so they don’t have to walk, take a bus or taxi home?

drink drive

Details of those charged with a drink or drug driving offence can be found here .

The people who are being caught cover all social, ethnic and economic demographics; it really is one of those offences that anyone who drives a car on the road could be committing.

For those who commonly say “I only have one or two, because your safe to have one or two” pay particular attention to the next part. We look for impairment: you can pass a roadside test, but that doesn’t mean you are necessarily fit to drive, you can still be arrested. If the manner of your driving shows signs of impairment, this can be as little as failing to signal or swaying slightly in your lane, and we think you’re impaired and under the influence of drink or drugs, we can still arrest you for being unfit. The combination of a report from a specially trained officer who carries out the required tests and the opinion of a doctor mean there will be enough evidence to charge you with the offence of driving whilst unfit; the consequences are the same as any drink drive charge.

Put this in light of the recent limit change in Scotland, which now shares the same limit as most of Europe, which is 20ug/100ml of breath compared to our 35ug/100ml of breath, you begin to realise that the reason for this lower limit is because impairment starts well below our current threshold whereupon you will be arrested. Leaving everyone in no doubt that to be safe, legal and unimpaired, no alcohol is the way to go if you’re driving.

So if you are out over Christmas just remember, even that one drink could be the most selfish drink you ever have….

Jack Frost – The nation’s most wanted

Right, grab another beverage and another mince pie. Why not, it’s the season to be jolly, and let’s continue with our ongoing theme of the Season of Fools……

Yes folks it’s that time of year again when Jack Frost dances his merry dance leaving that cold white stuff everywhere. We do get plenty of warning though, those kind folk at the Met Office tell us when he’s going to be a nuisance so we can cover vulnerable plants and turn the thermostat up a notch or two.

It looks so pretty on a sunny winter morning, that crisp white covering, shame it has to melt, but it has to go, starting with your vehicle if you want to get work or do the school run without resorting to sonar or bat-like echolocation to find your way through the traffic.

So you’ve got to defrost your car. Some methods such as de-icer and the trusty scraper need a little effort and a momentary tolerance of the cold. You can waste some fuel and pollute the local community a little by using the vehicle’s heating and defrosting systems, the choice is yours, we all play our own little part in the bigger picture. Whichever you choose make sure it’s done properly with full clear visibility all around, and if it has snowed, and the usual couple of inches has brought the nation to its knees, make sure you clear it from all parts of your vehicle before driving.

Frosty + seatbelt 5 modified

You may be fine, but the car, motorcycle or cyclist behind that cops the fallout from your car as you drive along is put in what sometimes becomes a dangerous collision-causing situation. I‘ve seen a four foot sheet of ice slide off the top of a truck onto a duel carriageway before, luckily empty behind the truck. Imagine the damage that could do.

Frosty + windscreen 3

Anyway, if you are going to use your vehicle’s heating/defrosting systems to ready you for your journey, please ensure that it is you that will be making the journey and not some opportunist car thief who whips it from under your nose because you couldn’t be bothered to sit with it while it defrosts. Watching from the inside doesn’t count; you would never make it outside before your car was off the drive. Sit in it, drink your coffee inside your car while it defrosts, play with your phone, and make the calls or texts now instead of committing offences later in your journey. It’s very usable time you know. Because if you don’t, this is what happens….

We sit around our briefing table guessing when the first one will come in, and despite the warnings we put out across the media, year after year once we’re on the road they start coming in. They are well spread out, the idiocy exists in all corners of the West Midlands. By 8am we are usually looking for two or three that have “gone off the drive with keys”. As we look far and wide we start to find others just waiting to be taken. When we had the last hard frost myself and one other Traffic car removed the keys from 13 defrosting cars without the owner’s knowledge, and that was just in a fraction of our force area. One cunning owner had cleverly left her two children aged six and eight in the vehicle to prevent its theft whilst defrosting! It’s bad enough having your car stolen but see your kids go with it…. and it has happened before, more than once.

So please we have enough stolen cars to find and chase without anyone making it easy for them. Oh, don’t forget insurance companies love saying” no” when it comes to replacing your vehicle under such circumstances. Ask yourself “Can you afford a new car?”

Star Wars and its importance in policing the roads

Now for the important stuff. By now if you’ve read this properly and followed instructions you should be nearing your daily caffeine allowance and be covered in mince pie crumbs, not forgetting the wafer thin mint. This should help you ascend to the higher plane of thought we are about to transcend to. If you’re worried you won’t reach these giddy heights just smash the rest of the After Eights with another coffee…always works for me.

This coincides nicely with the release of the latest Star Wars trailer so here goes and be prepared to learn the true power of the Force……..

Firstly there is the Force, that mysterious interactive energy that guides Traffic officer’s intuition when the ANPR, fingerprint ID and all else fails. It has been responsible for some of the most notable arrests, it has saved lives, but when one of us utters “That’s not right” or “I know him from somewhere” it’s the equivalent to Obi One feeling a “Great disturbance in the Force”. It is never to be ignored and always brings results.

Secondly, Traffic officers use Jedi Mind tricks; never forget this when interacting with a Traffic officer. If you’re ever tempted to lie to us and use the dark side of the Force you will fail, remember the words of Yoda (AKA Chief Inspector Inspector Kerry Blakeman, Jedi Master) “The Force is Strong with these officers”.

Thirdly, Star Wars bestows a great many nicknames and phrases that we could not do without. The tallest, hairiest member of the team is always known as “The Wookie”, organised crime gangs referred to as “The Hut” , criminals who might have a weight problem inevitably get labelled Jabba and our photocopier is lovingly known as R2D2 as it never does what its told and beeps at you incessantly.

Lastly although we don’t have Lightsabers we would like them, but we would never be allowed, because there are two likely outcomes of equipping us with such awesome personal protection equipment…..we might just save the galaxy…..but the most likely outcome would be immediate accidental self-dismemberment….

So until next time when we will talk about standards of driving, and why boy racers number plates just keep on falling off, safe journeys all.

 

PC 3505 Mark Hodson

 

 

To pursue or not to pursue, that is the question…

So as a real cynic of social media it took me some considerable time to grasp the power of this incredible, adaptable piece of IT and the importance that it now has in the policing arena. As one of the duty Sergeant’s for D unit I am regular “Tweeter” for the @TrafficWMP account and have really embraced the whole “Tweeting” thing. So when some of our traffic officers thought they might start writing the odd blog highlighting just what the Force Traffic Unit do, yes you guessed it that good old cynical me rears its head again. Turns out the blogs have been a hit and when @kerryblakeman asked for volunteers to write a blog I thought I’m gonna give that a go!

I warn you now I’m no Shakespeare, yet I start with a phrase that the bard famously penned; I’ve adapted it a little…

To pursue or not to pursue – that is the question?

As a PC some six years ago on the Traffic Department the privilege and excitement of driving fast powerful cars was really the reason for most being on the department. Yes of course we were all highly trained with Advanced driving grades, City and Guilds Vehicle Examiners qualifications and speed enforcement trained to name a few. We dealt with traffic legislation as part of our daily duties and of course tragically dealt with fatal Road Traffic Collisions and injury RTCs and provide Family Liaison to bereaved families. But to be behind that stolen vehicle (referred to as subject vehicle) or vehicle involved in crime that was failing to stop well it goes without saying, but I will…. The excitement, the passion, it was what the majority of traffic cops wanted to do, chase the baddie, arrest them and put them before the courts to face justice. I myself have had many pursuits as a PC the majority of which ended successfully with arrests and convictions at court, but clearly there are many dangers and grave circumstances when things go wrong.

Now some six years on as a supervisor I find myself more accountable, more answerable, a little heavier (only a bit honest) and a lot greyer! What do I think regarding pursuits? What do I do? And what should we as an organisation do? Here are some of my thoughts.

Force traffic officers in high speed response.When sat at my desk all a bit to frequent for my liking now I hear those four words broadcast over our radios. “Vehicle failing to stop.” My initial thoughts are to grab the nearest set of keys and go, go, go but then the supervisor in me takes over and dependant on the location I assess if I can realistically make the area and be of any tactical assistance.  If I’m not making I sit at the desk and listen intently to the commentary from the pursuing vehicle attempting to assess the emotions of the driver or passenger providing commentary. (WMP have clear guidelines and policies regarding pursuits that must be adhered to I’ll touch on these later). Knowing and supervising all of the officers on D unit I have a good understanding of all their characters and different tones in voices give me an idea of the mood in the police vehicle. So I sit in the office wishing it was me driving the police vehicle feeling that excitement and controlled adrenalin but then in a heartbeat I think of the potential outcomes and consequences of which there are many.

The one I fear the most is the RTC (road traffic collision). Who’s injured, is it a member of the public or one of my officers all of these thoughts rush through my head. WMP policy states that all police collisions (POLAC) have to be attended by a supervisor and this in itself can prove challenging, as I have to initiate an investigation against one of my officers. It could also be that should a breach of policy or traffic regulation be identified the officer may be grounded from driving and worst case, face a criminal prosecution. Should the latter be required it is dealt with by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and our Professional Standards Department to ensure transparency in case you were wondering.

During the pursuit our policies and procedures dictate that we must provide commentary and regular risk assessments. These should include reason for the pursuit, speeds, conditions to name just a few and that this is an ongoing assessment. All of our pursuit criteria is broadcast to the Force Contact Centre Inspector who based on commentary and many other factors decides whether the pursuit is Justifiable, Accountable, Proportionate, Accurate and Necessary (JAPAN).

If all of this is met the pursuit is authorised and the use of our tactics directory can commence. While in the tactical phase of the pursuit known as Tactical Pursuit & Containment all available traffic cars make towards the location to maximise our chances of bringing the pursuit to a safe conclusion and to catch the baddie!  Skills such as quartering, feeding and boxing all become available to utilise, there are many examples of TPAC which can be viewed on the World Wide Web an example of which is here.

As quickly as a pursuit can be authorised that authority can also be removed by the Force Contact Centre or indeed the officer(s) based on the risks being taken by the driver of the subject vehicle. So if you have ever been that member of the public pointing and shouting “The vehicles gone down there” and wondering why we’re not going after it, hopefully that should explain. To help inform part of our risk assessment we must have a working knowledge of the National Decision Model, link here should you fancy!

Force traffic officers in high speed response.

At the end of all pursuits we complete a pursuit de-brief and view the in car video footage that is available in the majority of all traffic vehicles. This helps us identify any areas of training or development required and of course is excellent evidence for the courts.

Now that you know a little around our pursuit policy and the calculated risks that officers take on a daily basis are you asking? Why do we do what we do, or should West Midlands Police pursue vehicles at all given the inherent dangers?  It is a real political and emotive subject I know but if WMP don’t pursue, what message are we sending to the criminal fraternity that use vehicles to commit crime and/or steal vehicles to fund a living?

All of the police forces across the United Kingdom are trained to the highest national level and tactics are approved by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Pursuits have to be proportionate to the circumstances and all officers must be in appropriate vehicles and trained before any such authority is granted. This enables cross force pursuits to be successfully co-ordinated ensuring that all engaged during the pursuit have the same standard of training, with the ultimate aim being to bring the pursuit to a safe conclusion and deny criminals use of the roads. The greatest consideration is given during pursuits and public safety is a fundamental part of our decision making process and on-going risk assessment. Pursuits have significantly changed for the better over the last few years with training standardised across all forces for a collaborative approach. All officers are trained to the highest standards and use extreme professionalism when engaged in what can be a high speed chase. I can assure you the greatest consideration and thought process is made before broadcasting those words, vehicle failing to stop!

If you like my first attempt that’s great tell your friends and share the blog if not Tweet @kerryblakeman and tell him. He made me do it!

Sergeant Ade Brown

Traffic officers – who are we and what do we do?

In the news today you may have seen the harrowing footage of a fatal traffic collision which claimed the life of a woman in Birmingham last year. While the footage is very difficult to watch it emphasises the tragic consequences that speeding on our roads can have. Sadly it was one of many fatal collisions we have attended in the last year and we want to use this page to highlight the dangers of unsafe driving.

Through this blog we also want to throw the spotlight on the work of our unit and what we are doing every day to improve safety on our roads. We’ll also examine all the ins and outs of traffic officers and provide you with advice for driving on the West Midlands road network.

We already have a very successful, well followed and interactive Twitter account – @Trafficwmp – which goes from strength to strength. So why have a blog? Well it all originated when I found myself tweeting “there’s only so much you can do with 140 characters”, in reply to a somewhat complex enquiry that had emanated from one of my tweets.

Twitter is the social media equivalent to shouting a quick message to someone across the street; it’s great for sound bites, pictures, and engaging with those who otherwise would not encounter you on a day to day basis. But alas, those same sound bites, pictures and engagements can be misinterpreted, misunderstood and due to the limited amount of information contained can lead to frustration on behalf of the recipient.

It’s hard to explain our motivations, methodology and practices in bursts of 140 characters.  So we have decided to write an informal, occasional blog, which unlike the social media “shout across the street” is the equivalent to sitting down with us, with coffee and cake, and having a good old natter, which hopefully should leave you more understanding of the force’s Traffic department, including our intentions and methods, and give you a greater insight into who we are and what we do.

We want our blog, like our Twitter account, to be interactive. The blog will complement our Twitter account and give you an opportunity to interact with us and hopefully dispel a large amount of the “urban myths” that surround what we do.

It will expand on topics you are concerned with and interested in, taking a lead from our Twitter account, so if you have a tweet, subject or interest you would like us to expand on, just tweet us, or message us and let us know. We will also cover national campaigns, traffic-related topics dominating the local and national news, and maybe the odd “off the wall” leftfield topic that may interest us!

So in the coming weeks and months we will give you our thoughts and tales on the obvious subjects like mobile phone use while driving, speeding, street racing, drink/drug driving and off road bikes.

Then there will be the not so obvious subjects such as cycling helmets, the role of the Family Liaison Officer (FLO), why we may occasionally exceed the speed limit without our lights and sirens on, and what do all those buttons and lights in our cars actually do?

And there will also be the “odd” stuff such as who offends and why, what are our pet hates, the best ever excuses for offences, how to survive a rotating shift pattern and maybe even the occasional mention of gaffes, goofs and the odd strange occurrence! Oh and not forgetting that if I’m the author there might be mention of the odd bit of cake and cycling to boot!

Just to ease ourselves in gently and not cause too much controversy or alarm we will, in this first edition of our blog, discuss who we are and what we do….

Force traffic officers in high speed response.

An odd bunch, traffic officers, a collection of all sorts really. Most were drawn to the department due to their proactive policing style and a desire to help stop the minority who cause suffering and misery on our roads.

We certainly cannot be described as the happy smiley face of policing. After all, we are not noted for stopping people and congratulating them on their good driving, and we bear witness to all the evils of the road, and their inevitable tragic consequences. An interaction with a traffic officer is usually one you will remember for all the wrong reasons, whether it be points on your licence or a fateful knock at the door to give bad news about a loved one.  If you do have the misfortune to interact with us at the roadside we will greet you with a smile and try to make the event as painless as can be.

Advice and education will always be our preferred outcome, but, if you give us reason to put pen to paper it’s not going to be the highlight of your day. You will see us smile broadly though when a dangerous driver or an uninsured/dangerous vehicle is taken from the road or as a drug dealer’s or burglar’s driving licence disappears into the big dark hole of disqualification.

We work under the umbrella of the West Midlands Police Operations Department, which essentially means we are continually tasked to differing parts of the West Midlands on a needs basis. So one day we might be in Wolverhampton targeting a known criminal, the next we could be in Coventry conducting a speed check. Our two main priorities are firstly denying criminals the use of the road, and secondly the reduction of killed and seriously injured collisions.

Denying criminals the use of the road means we will do everything we can to disrupt their offending, either by catching them in the act or negating their use of the road by enforcement of traffic offences. It is mostly intelligence-lead with Automatic Number Plate Recogntion (ANPR) playing a vital role.

We try to reduce the number of killed or seriously injured collisions by education and enforcement, concentrating on the “Fatal 4”: driving while using a mobile phone, not wearing a seatbelt, drink/drug driving and speeding.

Now I realise that in the last three paragraphs I may have gone a little corporate so let me just summarise.

Traffic officer = Officer with a proactive attitude towards policing, equipped with high performance vehicles and lots of technology, who likes nothing more than giving criminals and those who use the roads with no thought of others safety their just deserts. There, I hope that’s better!

As well as our driving and riding qualifications we are also equipped with vehicle examination, carriage of dangerous goods and tachograph qualifications to ensure that no opportunity is missed to fulfil our policing priorities.

That’s it for now. Remember this blog is interactive, so if you have a burning issue you want our opinion on, or a how, why or where about anything we do, that can’t be answered in 140 characters or less via our Twitter account, just let us know, and if we can blog about it, we will.

We will also hopefully have different authors from all ranks, just to give a different angle and keep it fresh.

So until the next edition of the blog, in which we will cover our experiences of the latest speed campaign week, our thoughts on cycle helmets, and the importance of cake in policing the roads (yes you did read that right !)

Safe journeys all…

PC Mark Hodson