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Climbing Mountains….

A corner turned, a long road ahead

Fruitcake, yes you’re probably going to need a good filling fruitcake for this one, and a nice cup of tea, definitely should accompany fruitcake with a nice cup of traditional tea….followed by a little cheese….and maybe a small glass of warming port…..welcome to the next Safer Cycling blog

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Never happier than with tea, and a bit of cake…..Hudson and Hodson

 

 

We’ve been busy, we’ve been very busy, what started as a conversation between two traffic officers and one member of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution Team over a cup of tea and some chocolate bunnies (yes it was Easter !!), followed by a few hastily drawn sketches 20 minutes later of an educational road mat,  Operation Closepass #GiveSpaceBeSafe has now become a huge thing, a huge work generating  quite awkward thing. Awkward you may ask, why awkward? Well it was rather well received,  all of sudden we were receiving praise and some might say being “liked” which is rather discomforting for traffic officers, as we are somewhat conditioned to being disliked and receiving negative feedback. After all we are not the smiley happy branch of the modern police force, we are the spreaders of misery and gloom generally among the road going populace, the dour faced donut eating aviator wearing, Road Traffic Act preachers of doom. So the positive feedback and support for our first tender new steps in a new direction have left us standing around, blushing slightly with our hands behind our backs whispering things like “well this is all a little unnecessary, we’re only doing what we are paid to do”. Overnight what the officers involved did on a daily basis changed dramatically, there have been no rest days since the start of September, the phones have rung every day, whether it’s our press department, journalists, editors of TV shows or just the interested public the demand has been off the scale. At the same time normal policing has had to continue, those officers involved drive a traffic car 24/7, doing what traffic officers are normally deemed to do, you know that “police Interceptors or road wars” type of thing, you know the drill. So everyone involved, including the supervision are a little bleary eyed but thankful of the great support received from all parts of the road going community, we are also thankful for the negative feedback received from some members of the public and press, your response which was in the minority, strengthens our faith that we have made the right decisions in order to make our roads and communities safer, thankyou, after all you were most likely our primary target audience, and now you’re aware so there can be no excuses…….we don’t care what you think, a life is a life, the law is the law, it’s all a matter of priorities, get used to it, it’s the future.

Then in the midst of this success driven cacophony of chaos there’s two officers who sit deep in conversation, which when not dominated by Star Wars conspiracy theories, comic books, Op Hercules tactics (an illegal street racing operation, their other project), and their somewhat eclectic music tastes, goes something like this “ Well that went rather well”  “Well yes we always knew it would, we just needed the opportunity” “What next then” “More of the same I suppose” “Got the book” “Of Course” and out comes the book of Blue Sky Thinking Road Safety Ops (yes it really does exist !) as you see #OpClosepass  #GiveSpaceBeSafe was just the first of what will be hopefully a string of CMPG Roads Policing initiatives centred on the safeguarding of our vulnerable road users. Then there follows cake and a beverage or two…..as the next plans are hatched to promote improved, safer driving and enforce the law against those who endanger others daily.

 

Close Pass update

 

Op Closepass has been a success, that’s all you can say really. It was cost neutral, just part of our everyday patrols. We have used officers own bikes, equipment and also Cycliq kindly gave us Fly cameras to test, so it cost nothing. It was well received, and most importantly had an immediate impact. Within a week cyclists were contacting us to tell us things had had not only improved, but improved considerably, there were still close passes, always will be, “can’t get them all”, but they have become a rarity rather than commonplace. We noticed the difference, having to move locations on press days as our usual preferred spots now harboured good driving habits, we were literally starting to struggle to find a volume of offences to deal with. Admittedly the huge press attention helped, but if our future efforts to protect vulnerable road users have half the impact that this operation has had we will be guaranteed success each time. Don’t get us wrong, we know there is still a mountain to climb, but if a mountain climbing analogy was needed, let’s just say we’ve got the equipment and made base camp, where we currently enjoy cake and a beverage before pushing on to the lower slopes. The summit, a view from which we can see a land where we let our loved one’s take part in their journey’s as vulnerable road users without undue worry is still sadly out of sight, but hopefully someday soon we will see the view of this promised land. Until then we continue climbing the mountain…..

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Excuses, excuses………..

Feedback from offenders has been good, 99 % of the time. Some of the excuses not so good, but they left with the knowledge and change in perception necessary to firstly be aware of, and then overtake or account for cyclists on the road safely in future. Some said they hadn’t seen the cyclist at all, maybe in the belief that it was better to say this than admit poor driving judgement, both don’t bode well regards their everyday driving ! But they were caught, and hopefully reformed before their poor driving harmed another. The 1% have left with a piece of paper that is titled “Traffic Process Report”, no further explanation is needed, they failed to show not only the driving skills necessary but also the aptitude to guarantee belief they won’t endanger a vulnerable road user again. This 1% of course does not include those who were ruled out of the immediate educational input due to additional offences. These drivers would include those with no tax or insurance, those on the phone, the lady putting her dog back in its cage, the man reading the delivery note in one hand whilst holding his phone in the other…..you think of it, we’ve had an offender who can make your worst road going nightmare come true !

This is why Op Closepass works so well, it targets and catches those who endanger the vulnerable on a daily basis, tens of thousands of drivers have encountered and overtaken our cyclists displaying all the attributes necessary to be not only safe and competent drivers but at times exemplary, we have seen some fantastic driving and although you will never know, if we could stop you and shake your hand we would, unfortunately we still have too many poor drivers to occupy our time at the moment….

But on a side note we always thought that what if in every book of tickets at the back there was a gift voucher that we could give out to particularly good drivers or riders we encountered, that would be novel wouldn’t it. Would people change their driving or riding in the hope that they might get caught being “good”…..(no boss I haven’t drank all the port having finished the fruit cake and cheese 😉

 

What is apparent from Op Close Pass is how little attention drivers actually pay to what is going on around them. This is because of a number of factors but primarily because drivers have little to fear when it comes to their own personal safety on the road. The modern motor vehicle is a fine feat of engineering, it can be driven into a brick wall at 50mph and the occupants can walk away relatively injury free. This “security” has however endangered vulnerable road users where it protects the driver. Drivers with their subliminal feeling of safety relax, pay less attention, start practicing poor driving, they speed, don’t pay attention, all to the detriment of vulnerable road users. This modern day wholesale rapid decline in driving standards combined with ever increasing traffic volume has inevitably seen vulnerable road users bear the unfortunate brunt of this driving trend. As we try to fit an increasing amount of traffic onto the same amount of road the chances of conflict increase proportionally. Factor in the declining amount of attention paid by drivers and the declining standard in driving and it’s only the vulnerable who are threatened. Vulnerable road users instinctively pay more attention, it’s only natural, vulnerability hones the senses. Vehicle drivers cocooned in their protective shells do the exact opposite, they pay less and less attention, to both other road users and road laws.

Falling levels of enforcement have a part to play in this trend, we know this, our last department leader Chief Supt Keasey, now moved onto pastures new stated exactly this to the transport select committee who agreed. You don’t have to be a road safety expert to realise that those with very little chance of being caught will continually offend, that’s why we are determined to utilise our time and talents where they have the most impact, targeted intelligence led enforcement. This combined with greater opportunities for third party reporting should reverse the trend and hopefully see an improvement.

What next

Op Close will is now an everyday part of our workstream, as it should be, its value increasing with each deployment, additional “value adding” offences are being identified, and the operation is continually being honed to be more effective. Locations in Coventry, Solihull and West Bromwich are all pencilled in for attention. We are constantly evolving the Operation, in this New Year we will hopefully be joined by staff from the West Midlands Fire Service Cycle Safety Team, who will deliver the 15 minute educational input instead of one of our officers. Why the change you might ask?, well for a start it frees up our officer to deal with the “other” offences that the operation is detecting in ever increasing numbers. Secondly our partners in the Fire Service come without the “baggage” that some associate with the police and so the educational input is better received.

New bespoke operations concentrating on distracted drivers and also protecting schoolchildren and the elderly on their pedestrian journeys are being approved in the same vain as Op Closepass.  Our favourite analyst Chris has worked his magic once again and has been duly rewarded with calorific carbohydrate mood enhancing treats (otherwise known as chocolate biscuits). One lowlight of the analysis was the finding that over a third of pedestrian KSI’s occurred on or at pedestrian crossings…which again begs the question what are drivers paying attention to at such vulnerable locations…

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Our analyst Chris has been busy again, as has PC Hodson who doodles when thinking!

Birmingham’s 20mph limits are now old news, which means every driver should be aware and complying, to ensure they are we will be out doing what we do best, enforcing the law in these areas. There is really no excuse for speeding, no-one seems to do it on their test………, we’ll be out there with the speed gun, every willing participant will leave with a piece of paper, resulting in a fine and points or an educational course, for those who might disagree with speed checks, read this https://trafficwmp.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/cash-cows-stealth-taxes-and-revenue-raisers/ and if you still disagree, well then you really shouldn’t be the road at all !

These new operations primarily designed to protect pedestrians will of course naturally protect all other vulnerable road users as they significantly concentrate driver’s attention in the most vulnerable of areas. It all supports our regions latest transport plans, and rightly so, after all our communities rightly deserve cleaner, healthier and enjoyable transport opportunities, it’s our job to create an environment which enables safe worry free participation, and as we all know that means curtailing the behaviour of those road users who endanger vulnerable road users, only then will our regions transport goals be achieved.

As we have said previously we will concentrate on those offences and offenders who pose the greatest threat of harm to others, our analysts will help pinpoint locations and also shape our tactics. For example although we like to be highly visible as it has crime prevention and reassurance benefits, if a particular road safety problem requires a covert approach we will use it, offending drivers are going to have to get used to the reality that we will use every tool at our disposal to save lives on our roads.

We aim to rely ever increasingly on our road safety partners to deliver what we term “soft education”, the educating in schools, youth and faith groups, the exchanging places scheme etc. We realise that we, traffic officers are becoming an ever increasing rare and valuable resource, and so our time needs to be spent doing what we do best, enforcing the law and delivering “hard education” as seen in Op ClosePass.

 

Third party footage prosecutions

 

Much like #OpClosepass, third party footage prosecutions have now become the “norm” for ourselves. The numbers of close pass due care offences we receive have dropped by about 50% since the #GiveSpaceBeSafe initiative took effect on our regions roads, we still get the same amount of red light, mobile phone and other offences via third party footage though, no change there yet!  Ultimately Op Closepass will be judged on KSI figures and the increase in the number of people cycling, and rightly so, but what is certain is that to succeed it must run alongside a good easy to use and successful 3rd party reporting scheme. We believe we have achieved this to the point where offenders are starting to realise there doesn’t need to be a police officer present and witnessing for their offending to be detected and punished, that element of doubt put in a potential offenders mind works wonders, the psychology of offending is a wonderful thing and easily manipulated as soon as the threat of potential continuous detection is introduced.

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Third party video prosecutions, protecting all road users not just cyclists

The one thing third party reporting has brought to the fore is that the majority of good law abiding road users, not just vulnerable ones, want the opportunity to report poor road use or offending and see it acted upon . This stream of offence detection and prosecution really will have a large part to play in the future of road safety, after all we can’t be everywhere at once to deal with offending on our roads, but given the ever increasing traffic levels and the spread of vehicle born cameras, there will always be someone with the right intentions waiting to do the right thing.  We are still awaiting our digital reporting portal, this should make the process easier and encourage more to participate, but we have literally stopped counting how many road users we have prosecuted now using 3rd party footage, it’s just normal policing and will pay a large part in future efforts to make our regions road network safer for all.

It’s not all been going to plan though, we have had at least one report made to the traffic process office that wasn’t dealt with in the correct manner, this was a mistake made and apologies have been made, Processes have been put in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, like we said at the start “base camp achieved, the summit is a long way off”.

 

A Thankyou

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Smiling, twice in one blog, that’s a record for traffic officers !

As many will be aware we were given an award for our efforts by the Road Danger Reduction Forum and had a great evening at the House of Lords enjoying the company of many who are as passionate as ourselves when it comes to saving lives on our roads. As I wrote earlier, we are not used to praise from outside our organisation, it is quite alien to ourselves, we are grateful to all those who support us and our work. We really couldn’t do it without you and even though we have an exceptionally supportive management team right the way up to our Chief Constable, it is reassuring to know for both them and ourselves that our efforts are well placed and valued.

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We would love to personally thank whoever sent these choccies but the card had no details, but if your reading “Thankyou”, carbohydrate based mood enhancement is always appreciated, good fuel for the Operation as well !

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Thankyou to Safe Cycling Eire for the goodies, this will appear as part of #OpClosePass in the very near future

 

 

 

So to all those who have supported with kind words, sent kit to use or chocolate to fuel the Op Close Pass cyclists, thankyou.

“Shine a light”

For the last two years we’ve tackled the issue of unlit cyclists by having the now well used “alternative” to prosecution approach of giving away light sets provided by Birmingham City Council and local Universities. We have dealt with over 400 offences in this fashion. We don’t have special events or targeted operations anymore, we carry a few sets of lights in our kit bags and deal with offences as we come across them. What we do notice as that most offenders participating in the scheme are teenagers or from newly arrived communities and are apparently unaware of the law attaining to lights on cycles at night. Both groups often have never had any cycling training or road law input. Many of the teenagers or young adults are of a generation that had no “Bikeability” training or the like during their school years. Now with the widespread use of “bikeability” type training both in schools and in all areas of our community’s, hopefully this should be slowly addressed and we should find ourselves giving away fewer sets of lights.

The rise in numbers of these offending groups however only shows how cycling groups that aren’t really accounted for under the usual statistics are on the rise, which is a great positive for the future of cycling.

“Illuminating Stuff”

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Two up front, three behind

Want a little advice on lights well this is our take on what’s best.

  1. A steady light is better than a flasher but if you can have both then that’s the best option. The combination of the 2 provides attention, and the 2 lights even with one being a “flasher” are better for the eye to track making judging speed and direction easier for the observant motorist or pedestrian.
  2. Two to the rear is also the best option, again for the same reasons as above and if you can place them on differing axis i.e. one on the seatpost and one on a chainstay or seatstay again the effect is enhanced.
  3. Position so as not to “dazzle or blind” other road users. Most quality front cycle lights are better than the lights on some scooters, position for best road illumination but also be considerate.
  4. Two lights to the rear and fore also cater for a light or battery failure. Personally I have two front lights and 3 to the rear.
  5. Beware the “Halo” effect. At night you can become very hard to see no matter how well you are lit if you have a bright light very close to the rear of you, i.e. if a following vehicle has its main beams on or an inappropriately fitted bulb and is tailgating you or uncomfortably close not giving room to the rear. On the approach to junctions this can be particularly problematic. If the following vehicle flicks on an indicator and turns left the waiting vehicle might exit the junction not having seen you in front of the turning vehicle as you can become hidden in the “glare” of the vehicle’s lights behind. Although this set of circumstances is thankfully extremely rare you can combat any such effect by moving out from the nearside to an almost prime position, so your light doesn’t get lost in the “Halo” effect of the following cars lights, also an “flasher” can help getting you noticed in high traffic volumes with many lights to get “lost” to the attention in.
  6. If you look directly at a driver with a helmet mounted light on you can be effectively shining a light in their eyes, save the bright helmet lights for the trails, a simple single low level led flasher on your helmet does the trick nicely on the road if you want a light on your helmet.
  7. Nothing to do with lights but when it comes to clothing at night remember reflectivity is the key. Black kit covered in Scotchlite or similar is far more effective than hi vis with none.
  8. And remember, you could be as easy to see as a supernova exploding in your neighbour’s garden, but if another road user is distracted by their phone, lunch or whatever else they prioritise above your wellbeing they won’t see you because they aren’t looking. Ride defensively always, think the worst of everyone and prepare for the unexpected, give yourself time and space to react wherever possible, that’s the mind set we use in our road use, at work and at home, unfortunate but necessary until we reach the “mountain summit”.

 

 

Time for a coffee and a mint, nearly finished !

Well that’s it for now, we recommend reading the next Traffic Blog which will be published in a couple of weeks, it will concentrate on our efforts to prevent pedestrian KSI’s but will include measures that will keep all vulnerable road users safe. Expect more Op ClosePass updates as the year progresses. On 13th January we are holding a Close Pass forum to spread our mindset more than anything when it comes to protecting vulnerable road users, we will of course be covering the practicalities of the operation also for those attending. The actual Operation is easily replicated, changing decades of thinking and resulting practice which is now largely inappropriate given the transport and associated road safety issues we collectively face as a nation is a much harder task……mountains to climb you see…….cake to eat……port to…..I’ll stop there.

 

Safe Cycling All.

Junction Malfunction and a New Dawn

 

 

Despite the first part of this blog being about collisions and keeping safe at the most vulnerable parts of our cycling journeys, hopefully you will come out the other side of this edition of the Safer Cycling blog with a large amount of positivity, so grab a coffee, and maybe even a slice of cake and read on. Oh this blog is a little on the large side, we tried to make it smaller but I’m sure you’ll agree everything that’s in there is necessary, there’s no padding for effect, so in hindsight might want to make it two slices of cake……

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Yet another near miss as a driver pulls across the path of the cyclist

 

Junction Malfunction

When we started the Safer Cycling concept we needed some direction, something on which we could concentrate our efforts to best see results for the work we wanted to do, our core task being to keep vulnerable road users safe on their journeys about the region. In order to make our efforts precise and properly targeted we enlisted the help of our in house analysts at the Central Motorway Police Group. They did what they do best, crunch figures, draw conclusions and give recommendations, the results were as expected, well as expected to those with experience of dealing with collisions involving cyclists, and these collisions were often the ones that did not make the headlines.

The most common complaint we receive from cyclists and now action in the way of prosecution is the close pass scenario, the classic due care and attention offence. This isn’t to be un-expected, we have even highlighted our own close pass experiences and footage/photo’s on our twitter account and previous blogs. So it’s no surprise to all that this remains the priority for most cyclists and more importantly “those considering cycling” when it comes to keeping vulnerable road users safe. However whether it’s a misconception by many or just a lack of awareness the close pass scenario is far from being the greatest threat to cyclists on our regions roads. Between 2010 and 2014 there were 530 KSI (killed or seriously injured) RTC’s (Road Traffic Collisions)involving bicycles, 517 of those KSI RTC’s (98%) involved at least one other vehicle. Of these the most common vehicle to be involved in a KSI RTC with a cyclist was a car (84% of KSI RTC’s).

But this is where the big misconception arises as 75% of KSI RTC’s involving cyclists in the West Midlands from 2010 to 2014 occurred within 20 metres of a junction, involving a cyclist and “another” vehicle. Further analysis (I won’t bore you with the figures, tables etc.) showed that the majority of KSI RTC’s in the West Midlands involving cyclists occur when a car has pulled out of a junction in front of a cyclist that is mid- junction because the car driver has failed to spot the cyclist.

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From the nearside…….

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or the offside drivers just are not looking out for cyclists at junctions

 

Birmingham city centre was the regions hotspot for such collisions, which, as this is where most daily commutes are to and from, and given the heavy traffic volumes, came as no surprise. Further analysis of all KSI RTC’s involving cyclists show that, in the majority of cases there are no environmental factors that have contributed to the collision. In most instances the weather conditions are fine with no winds nor are there any identified carriageway hazards or issues with the road surface. Further, there are regularly no identified special conditions at the collision site (e.g. roadworks, defective signage or markings). Lastly over half the cyclists involved in a KSI collision on the regions roads were commuting to or from work, so in the main we are dealing with experienced cyclists.

Anyone still awake after the number crunching? Well it’s onto the interesting bit….

Conclusions from the statistical analysis and what to do about it……

 

For those of us that cycle daily to work the results came as no surprise. Although the “close pass scenario” remains the greatest concern for the majority of cyclists or for those considering cycling the actual greatest threat we cyclists face on the roads of the West Midlands is the driver pulling out in front of or across a cyclist mid junction, either because they haven’t seen them or miss-judged the cyclists speed or path.

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Classic close pass at a pinch point, aka. driving without due care and attention.

What can be done, well we have two parties involved in this type of collision, analysis of the collisions shows that in such circumstances the blame would lie solely with the driver not the cyclist. This is not uncommon as most drivers are trained and habitually look for other vehicles when negotiating junctions and show a total disregard when it comes to looking for or being aware of vulnerable road users (analysis of KSI collisions involving motorcyclists and pedestrians would prove similar).

We could make use of social media, press releases etc. to tell motorists to “look out” for cyclists, but this has been ongoing with both cyclists and motorcyclists and although has some positive effect it doesn’t reach the target audience we need to engage, those unwilling to take on the message or dismissive of vulnerable road users altogether, which given the rise in KSI collisions involving vulnerable road users seems like the majority of motorists.

Our time and effort, we have quickly realised, is better spent enforcing the law and prosecuting, thus creating a scenario whereby should someone not give a cyclist the time and space necessary or fail to see them completely they should expect to be prosecuted. In other words the carrot goes out the window and in comes the stick. Why some might ask? Well if drivers expect to be prosecuted for committing offences they suddenly stop committing them, unsurprising correlation I know but it’s the truth. Once drivers become aware that an infringement involving a cyclist is one they should expect to be prosecuted for, they suddenly become more aware of them on the road and in turn start giving them the time and space they should lawfully have as an equal road user.  Cyclists suddenly occupy a drivers attention, they actively look out for them and so are less likely to miss them at junctions and contribute to our KSI statistics.

Any offence that would contribute to a driver failing to see a vulnerable road user needs to be enforced, and as has been considered of late, some say needs a greater penalty. Whether that be excess speed that doesn’t give the motorist time to see or react to the vulnerable road user, distraction offences such as mobile phone use, or drug and drink driving.

So drivers need to expect a zero tolerance approach for any offence involving a vulnerable road user, or an offence that could contribute to a collision involving a vulnerable road user. The only way to change driver behaviour and concentrate minds on looking out for vulnerable road users and change driving habits is through enforcement, and the resulting fear of being prosecuted. Now for those who will no doubt be spitting out their finest percolated roasted bean brew at this moment screaming “what about the cyclists !” well…….statistical analysis shows they aren’t to blame, innocent in the majority of KSI collisions it would be a waste of our time, and thus public time and money to concentrate on cyclist behaviour. The figures speak for themselves…….driver’s don’t let your prejudices get in the way of the truth…….

But for those cyclists who want a bit of advice……

Before we carry on, this next section isn’t victim blaming, having read the last several paragraphs you should all have no doubt as to where we think the responsibility lies for the majority of KSI collisions involving cyclist’s and vehicles on our regions roads. I have no doubt a few will be appalled that we offer some safety advice to cyclists on what to do and look out for on the approach to junctions but this isn’t your standard advice, it comes from our thousands of hours watching road user behaviour from an trained advanced road user perspective, even the doubters might learn something from the next section…….and if you’re prepared for the worst you can often avoid it.

Don’t look at the eyes….

Many will say “make eye contact, this ensures they have seen you”, absolute rubbish this, half the time they will be looking not at you but right through you. Ignore the eyes of the driver; watch the wheels of the vehicle instead. A vehicle won’t move without the wheels moving, and you will see the wheels move far before you realise the vehicle is moving thus giving you that split second extra that to react and hopefully avoid a collision.

A red light never stopped anything….

Goes for all road users this one, red lights don’t stop vehicles, they instruct road users to stop their vehicle, if the driver (or cyclist) misses the red light or chooses to ignore it, a miss-placed faith in the power of the red light might be your undoing. Always check the opposing traffic is slowing and intends to stop at a red light, the glance only takes a second, it could be a very valuable second well spent

Hi viz doesn’t mean highly visible and the positive “wobble”

Don’t think hi viz clothing will keep you seen, although hi viz has a place in some circumstances such as low light conditions, it is contrast that catches the attention of the driver who might pull out on you, that, and movements the human eye and brain are wired to detect. White and black all have their place in being seen, white is a particularly visible colour not often naturally occurring so stands out, ever wondered why traffic officers hats are white ? It’s not because we want to look like ice cream salesmen! Lateral movement on the road on the approach to a junction triggers all the receptors visually that drivers need to see, recognise and subsequently react to the cyclist on the road. In low light a flashing front light doesn’t hurt either. So moving out an extra 6 or 12 inches on the approach to a junction can go a long way to making you the centre of the waiting or approaching driver’s attention, as an object moving steadily towards you in a straight line can be missed, the object that is coming towards you with some sideways movement is more easily seen by the drivers whose attention we wish to occupy.

A New Dawn

Cycling is a fantastic thing, it’s benefits are well documented, traffic congestion is reduced, as is pollution, health and wellbeing are boosted for the participants and not forgetting the resultant benefits of less dependence on a stressed NHS. When it comes to playing our part in supporting cycling and cyclists it’s not a case of “why should we?” it’s a case of “why wouldn’t we?” Supporting cyclists and cycling is really a case of policing for the benefit of all, a prime case of policing for the greater good of the community.

Cyclists don’t cause us, as an organisation, problems, that’s because they aren’t causing our communities problems, they aren’t killing nearly 100 people on our regions roads as mechanically propelled vehicles currently do. Yes we do get complaints of the “nuisance” variety, pavement cycling, some anti-social behaviour (usually yobs on bikes rather than “cyclists”), red light running etc. but you get the idea, most peoples interpretation of “1st world problems” or the “modern day blues”, nothing that’s a priority for a force like our own in a modern day society. Bad cycling is an “irritant” to the wider community rather than a danger, and maybe an improvement in infrastructure and policing may alieve many of the reasons that cause a very small minority of cyclists to be an “irritant”

So what can we do to do our bit ?, to encourage along with our partnership agencies people onto bikes and get the personal and community benefits already discussed. Well as we already touched upon in the first part of this blog, people’s fear of the dangers of cycling is the largest barrier, particularly the close pass. The media plays a large part, every cycling tragedy is to the fore, not that they shouldn’t be, such incidents can be a force for change but there is very little to re-address the balance, to convince people that cycling is safe. We as a force must do our upmost to protect the vulnerable on our roads and convince them that if anyone does endanger them on the road the perpetrator will be dealt with. The flip side of this is of course that anyone endangering a vulnerable road user should expect to be identified and prosecuted; this is the key to policing the problem.

The way forward

Although we have had great success prosecuting using cycle camera evidence sent to us by cyclists, not all, even those running cameras on their daily journeys have the desire to start reporting offending drivers (as previously discussed here : Lights, Camera, Action !  ).

So we need to be proactive, and so in partnership with Birmingham City Council we have a new partnership scheme which will see a traffic officer riding the most vulnerable locations for cyclists looking to instantly act upon close passes, distracted driving and the like. The cycling traffic officer when passed too close will let the officer up the road know, who will in turn stop the motorist. Then the offender will be given a choice, prosecution or 15 minutes spent being educated as to the correct way to pass a cyclist.

It’s simple but effective, drivers are shown how far they should be from a cyclist, we have chosen the widely advocated 1.5mtr as our minimum but of course a much further distance will be needed in many circumstances depending on the vehicle type and speed. For instance if the opposite carriageway is available for an overtake and isn’t used in its entirety the driver will be pulled and shown why they should utilise all the available road room available to facilitate a safe overtake. A full sized replica road floor mat with various hazards positioned on it will give perspective and equip drivers with the knowledge needed to prevent further offences being committed.

Those who are committing any other offence as well as the “close pass” due care offence will be prosecuted for all offences, no immediate educational alternative for those who show such a low standard of driving.

Days without education

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Expect prosecution, not education for anything of this standard !

Following a period of education at a particular location if offences persist we will have “enforcement” only days where education isn’t an option for those committing close pass due care offences. Hopefully given the amount of publicity we anticipate this tactic will receive, most drivers should very quickly get the message and hopefully the enforcement only days should be few and far between!

We anticipate a change in driver behaviour as awareness of the tactic spreads, after all, every cyclist on the road ahead may well be a traffic officer on the operation, as our cyclists will not be liveried in any way, drivers will have no way of knowing !

RoSPA

For those who are reading this and think they need to make themselves or others (for example employee’s, friends or colleagues) more aware of how to share the road with cyclists in a way that will avoid prosecution, we recently teamed up with RoSPA and produced an interactive presentation which is free to download and is ideal. The presentation gives drivers examples of how to overtake cyclists, examples of what cyclists may do in certain situations to ensure their safety, and highlights blind spot awareness plus much more, and unlike anything that’s gone before it is filmed on live roads with live traffic, so those who have never cycled on a road get everything from a cyclists perspective. Well worth a look you’ll find it here : RoSPA Share the Road

Well that’s it for this blog, that’s where we are at, anyone from the media who would like more details of the new “Share the Road” scheme which proactively deals with close passes or attend a media launch day for the scheme in the coming week please contact Brigg Ford at our Corporate Communications Department, as for the rest of you, feel free to tweet us with any questions.

Until the next blog

Take care and safe cycling.

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”