PC Steve Hudson’s holiday ! – Lands End to John O’Groats

Safer Cycling August 2015

Just for a change and to show why the Safer Cycling Team feel so passionatly about keeping the vulnerable on our roads safe we thought we would give you an occasional insight into what the members of the Safer Cycling Team do when they are not in uniform. We start with PC 5815 Steve Hudson who is a lifelong cyclist, loves his touring and commuting, and has just completed a “life time acheivement” ride, Lands End to John O’Groats.

 

Hello again all, and thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

I have recently finished my first LEJOG, (Lands End to John O’ Groats) and thought I would share some of my experiences with you.

This is a journey I have been waiting to do, and planning in my mind, for about 25 years, and have found an annual excuse to not do it for all that time! I finally decided to commit in late 2014, and began to plan seriously for the trip. I must however thank my wife for her support (and permission!!) as she will read this post, and brownie points are always welcomed to bank when needed.

The decision was made to take 12 days for the trip, but this was trimmed down to 11 after some route planning, only 1000 miles! I knew I would be riding on unfamiliar roads for some of the trip, so made sure I researched as much of the areas as possible, although there is no amount of research that’ll prepare you for the 25% climb up to Forest Glade in Cullompton on day 2. The plan was to camp for about half of the days, and use cheap B & B’s for the remainder, carrying all the kit on my trusty Surly.

I read many online forums, as well as several books, before deciding on my route, and carried Nick Mitchell’s excellent guide for reference. (Other publications are available, and research is recommended) I also had my (sometimes) trusty Sat Nav, and back up maps, both of which failed me on days 2 and 3!

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I am lucky to work with mostly cyclists who helped with my planning, and agreed to accompany me on a couple of dry runs to test my newly acquired camping kit. Just a word of advice, spend as much as you can afford on a decent sleeping mat and bag, they’re worth their weight in gold! We had a couple of stays up in the Peak District to try and replicate some of the climbing, testing bike and kit in Buxton, Bradwell and the higher points of the Peaks.

After lots of tinkering with loading the bike, I managed to get the final weight down to around 40 kilo’s including the bike and luggage. I also made sure I had suitable gearing to be able to grind up the climbs, a 36 tooth on the back and a touring triple on the front meant I would have more than enough, and I never felt I had run out of gears, even if some of the riding was at walking pace!

I finally set off in mid June with great weather and in great spirits. I spent almost a full day travelling down to Lands End, and spent a night in a nearby B & B to get an early start the next day. If you are planning to do your own LEJOG, make sure you book your train tickets, and more importantly your bike space well in advance. There were a couple of cyclists that were not allowed on the train as they hadn’t booked in advance.lej.2

I cycled down to the Lands End monument early the next day, and due to the hour, I was the only one there. It was a misty and cool morning, and I set off excited to finally be on my way. The first day led me through narrow lanes with stiff climbs and short descents into Looe. It was a tough day, but with no real problems, until I realised that my pump, glasses and rear light had been stolen off my bike! However I set off on day 2 un-flustered and looking forward to another great day on the bike.

After about 10 miles, my Sat Nav crashed, and it was then that I realised my maps were nowhere near detailed enough, and I spent lots of time stopping at junctions to try and remember my planned route. This would turn out to be my hardest day on the bike, and I can see why lots of people abandon the LEJOG this early on! The day was finished with a snapped chain on the approach to the final 25% climb of the day, which I fixed at the roadside as I was determined to cycle every available inch of the journey. I arrived at the excellent Forest Glade Campsite, and even though I was late and everything was closed, the staff opened up the kitchen and made me the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. I must also thank my friends for their well wishes, I really needed them after that day!lej.3

Day 3 was again challenging with navigation, but the riding was truly memorable. My biggest problem, unbelievably, was getting from Bristol to the Severn Bridge. It’s a landmark that can be seen for miles, and following the main road will get you there with few problems. I however decided to follow a route closer to the water, and tried to use coastal paths and NCN routes. It may be that I was tired, but it seemed to take forever to finally reach the bridge, and then rode over into a strong head wind, but at the end of day 3 I arrived in Chepstow, looking forward to a night’s sleep in an actual bed for the first time in a couple of days.

At the start of day 4 I was joined by my cycling friends, who had met me to ride the 100 miles to Shrewsbury and fixed my Sat Nav for me in about 5 minutes! I have never been so glad for assistance, and enjoyed my best ever group ride with great company over a truly memorable route. The riding through the Shropshire Hills was amazing, and the descents were some of the best I’ve ever ridden, not even spoiled by the wasp that decided to sting me in my mouth! We had a great tea stop in Brampton Bryan, where we were schooled on some local history by the proprietor, before photos in front of the famous cloud forming yew hedge. We arrived in Shrewsbury to enjoy a pub tea, before I was left to camp, and continue my journey alone, minus 1 pannier, which was emptied of its contents and kindly taken home by my friends. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I was for the day’s company, and my spirits were truly lifted.lej.4

Day 5 was spent navigating a lot of urban riding into Blackburn, which was a bit slow going but kept me sharp on the bike. It always seems to be the case that road users are in more of a rush the busier the roads are, and I saw a number of cyclists jumping up the kerb to avoid stopping at traffic lights and junctions, as well as cars and vans blocking junctions as they had failed to plan ahead. A lot of times, the driver seems to see the cyclist as something that needs to be overtaken at all costs, without looking up the road for hazards or slow moving traffic.

There was also a huge amount of younger cyclists wearing headphones, in dark clothing, and with little regard for the laws of the road. I offered kind words of advice on more than 1 occasion, and was typically “thanked” on each of those! It may well be that the Safer Cycling team may be visiting roads near you soon to try and get the message across.

Days 6 was spent through some of the UK’s most beautiful and challenging terrain through the Forest of Bowland, the tip of the Yorkshire Moors, and into the Lake District. The roads around Slaidburn “treated” me to some proper northern weather. Steady rain and swirling winds made the Forest of Bowland challenging, but stunning scenery kept me going with a smile on my face. I arrived in Ambleside looking forward to entering Scotland the next day. The hardest part of the day was not stopping every mile or so to take photo’s!lej.5

On day 7, I cycled through Keswick, Carlisle, and over the border into Scotland. I picked up a riding companion going into Scotland, who was taking a more relaxed attitude to his LEJOG, and had been on the road a couple of weeks. I arrived in Moffat, and enjoyed a great night’s sleep in the excellent Star Hotel, before filling up on supplies for the day’s ahead.

Having never cycled in Scotland before, I was really looking forward to the wide open spaces and dramatic landscapes, and was not disappointed. On days 8 and 9, I stopped in a couple of small cabins on the shores of Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, where the midges were constant company, and enjoyed an amazing ride through the Glencoe Pass, where the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees. The climb over General Wade’s Military Road is also not to be underestimated! The roads in this part of Scotland are very heavy, mainly due to the extremes of weather, and I wondered whether my 32mm tyres were wide enough at times. The flat sections were hard going, but the ups and downs more than made up for it.

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On day 10, I decided to try and ride as far as Betty Hill on the northern coast, a distance of about 120 miles, and then wild camp near the beach. The Scottish weather welcomed me after about 60 miles, and after a couple of hours of this, I sought sanctuary in the famous Crask Inn, along with about 20 or so other like minded cyclists. After some much needed food and drink, I decided to push on through the rain. I was then treated to about 30 miles of spectacular cycling up to Betty Hill, where I only saw about half a dozen cars and enjoyed views of Loch Naver and the wilds of Scotland. Unfortunately the constant rain made wild camping impossible as everywhere was under water! I managed to find space in a hotel in Betty Hill, and looked forward to the last 50 miles the next day.

I was welcomed by a sunny morning, light winds, and an unbroken view over some dramatic coastland. The first 20 miles or so have long steady climbs, and fantastic sweeping descents. Anyone who tells you that the last miles of a LEJOG are easy, have either never ridden it, or are far stronger than I! I continued along the coastal road, enjoying the beauty of the beaches and sea views over the gently rolling roads. I finally arrived in John O’ Groats, tired, but with a huge smile on my face and a real sense of achievement.

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I realise that the LEJOG is ridden by lots of cyclists per year, but anyone that has completed it will tell you they made the journey their own. I was lucky enough to meet some of the friendliest people you could imagine, and I can’t think of anywhere in the world that offers the variety of riding that we enjoy here in the UK. If you are planning your own LEJOG then good luck, you will be tired and there will be times when you wonder why you are doing it, but stick with it, it will live with you for a lifetime.

 

Thanks again for sharing in my experience, and I’ll be back soon with some more Police related issues.

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.

Get on Your Bikes and Ride

 

 

Get on your bikes and ride!Steve's piccy 1

This time around we have a little introductory blog from PC 5815 Steve Hudson the “diesel engine” of the Safer Cycling Team. We did promise a piece on the use of on board camera’s in cycling and their role in prosecutions, this is on the way, a couple of us are using camera’s ourselves on our commutes so it should be well worth waiting for. But for now here’s Steve, he shares the workload on the Safer Cycling Team so you’ll be getting a few pieces from him in the near future…

Hello all and thanks for taking the time to engage with us again.

I would like to take the time to discuss more cycling related issues, and hopefully give you another view of not only the Safer Cycling Team, but also a cycling Traffic officer.

Firstly I would like to introduce myself. I work with Mark Hodson on the Safer Cycling Team, and am also stationed at the same Traffic office in Chelmsley Wood, working 24/7. I have over 18 years of service as a Police officer, 30 years experience as a road cyclist, and even longer as a Star Wars fan!

Steve's piccy 5

The “Diesel Engine” on tour

Now as we all know, there are many different types of cyclists. From the elite racers, all the way down to the youngest of cyclists starting out on their first balance bike, and we all have our part to play in the future of safe cycling on the roads. I am what can probably be described as a reliable diesel engined cyclist. I’m never going to trouble any Strava records, but I’ll be the one with a little left in the tank at the end of a long ride to enjoy my tea and cake, after carting too much luggage around the countryside!

I would consider myself a pragmatic cyclist in that I am a believer of being safe above all else. We have all seen instances where road users, cyclists included, have put themselves in appalling road positions, even though they are putting themselves and others at personal risk. I have seen motor vehicles perform unnecessary overtaking manoeuvres close to junctions and other hazards, and cyclists undertake moving vehicles with no escape plan in place. There are, of course, countless other infractions from all road users that not only put people in danger, but openly contravene road traffic law, but these offences have been covered before, and will be done so again in the future. Bad road use is not the sole property of the motor vehicle, however the risks are obviously far greater due to the size and weight of a motor vehicle over that of a cyclist and bike.

Now before I am lambasted from all angles, I am aware that all road users have the right have their views heard, and I am always welcoming of feedback from all groups, however, this blog is being published with a slightly different agenda, and really as an introduction from me to you. We will continue to address road traffic law, for all road users, and will publish more on this in the future. To plagiarise a great teacher, “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” Moral victory to the first person to guess the teacher!

For those that have met me at our cycling events, you will know that I am always keen to promote the use of cycling as a means of transport, as well as a leisure interest. The thought of sitting in a line of single occupied vehicle’s, in a daily slog to and from work, only to be overtaken by cyclists, and sometimes pedestrians, would be too much for me. I know there are many that have no other choice but to commute by car, but there are also many that do. For those that haven’t tried it yet, give it a try, you’ll be amazed at how much livelier you’ll feel at work in the morning after a cycle ride. I am aware that barriers are in place that prevent lots of people being able to cycle to work, childcare, insufficient facilities at their place of work, length of journey being just a few, but I also know that there are a large percentage of motorists without these barriers, who would benefit the overloaded roads network by the occasional cycle to work. I am expecting the usual feedback on this subject, so don’t hold back!

I would like to take a moment to just cover a couple of points from an earlier blog relating to helmet use. I know that there are still a large number of cyclists who don’t wear helmets during their daily commute, and I also know that the compulsory wearing of helmets is not law and probably won’t be anytime soon. I do cycle myself without a helmet on rare occasions, however these are usually as a heavily laden cycle tourist cycling up some of the wonderful peaks of our country, at little more than walking pace and with very little road traffic. I am not going to get on my soapbox to quote statistics on the virtues of helmet use, but I would like to say in my years of experience, I’ve yet to see a cyclist related road traffic collision worsened by the wearing of a helmet. I can genuinely say that since joining the Traffic department some years ago, and seeing the consequences of collisions involving cyclists, I wear my helmet far more than I used to.

What I am seeing as a growing trend of commuting cyclists, is the use of headphones either to listen to music, or converse on the phone. Now without pointing out the obvious risks, consider this. Your vital 2 senses as a cyclist are vision and hearing, and when you intentionally deprive yourself of one of these senses, your awareness of the dangers around you obviously decreases hugely. Before I am reminded, there is no law preventing you from listening to music whilst cycling, but you wouldn’t cycle with your eyes closed, even using the force, so why risk it?

A Safer Cycling Exchanging Places event in action

A Safer Cycling Exchanging Places event in action

We, as the Safer Cycling Team, are lucky to have the opportunity to share our views and thoughts with you in a public forum, with our growing commitment to our Cycle Safety days with support from our partnership agencies and the ongoing assistance of Jaguar Land Rover. Our events will always be advertised unashamedly on our Twitter feed, and it would be great to see you there. Whether it’s to take a HGV eye view of the road, sample the freebies on offer, or just chat about anything cycling with us. Please come along, despite reports to the contrary, Traffic officers are approachable!

And finally, to quote a great man recently passed, “I think it’s my adventure, my trip, my journey, and I guess my attitude is, let the chips fall where they may.”

Steve Hudson

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Safer Cycling Team – what we do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on helmets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What next then ?

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

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

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

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

Safe journeys all.

The Safer Cycling Team