Tag Archives: distracted driving

Driving…an extinction event

The golden age of driving….the beginning of the end

This blogs all about the current state of motoring, not only in our region but nation-wide, and is a wake-up call to all those who think that the golden age of motoring has a future. It’s hard to admit, especially for the likes of ourselves, after all most traffic officers have an emotional attachment to driving and the internal combustion engine in at least one of its inceptions, but the writings on the wall, we are living in the last generations of driving, and with it the last generations of Traffic Officers, at least in their current inception….so grab a brew, a few biscuits and dunk and read away, or drop a few crumbs if you prefer not to dunk. Oh and the soundtrack to read this one to should be a Black Sabbath track as Aston’s finest have called it a day, maybe The Wizard or for the “hard pressed motorists” out there (aka those who can’t drive or ride within the law)…….. Paranoid……

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Ahhh, another “trusted” driver fails to uphold their end of the contract

 

 

 

 

“Pleasure drive” – the ultimate oxymoron?

Hilarious isn’t it the term pleasure drive, is there such a thing anymore? There certainly doesn’t seem to anyone relaxed and enjoying the experience, at best a stressful yet functional part of modern life, at worst a bizarre form of 21st Century mock gladiatorial combat where the participants (supposedly law abiding citizens of the land) exhibit traits and behaviour they would never dream of displaying in any other area of their everyday life. Welcome to the beginning of the end, and as with everything that ends, it is usually down to our own behaviour. This particular extinction event, the demise of the driver is no different.

 

The end is nigh!

We were trusted with the ultimate responsibility, the task of piloting motorised vehicles, all be it to a strict set of laws and guidelines, necessary due to the damage a motorised vehicle of any size or form can do to the frail human form. Yet we have shown as a collective, us drivers and riders of mechanically propelled vehicles, that we are incapable of carrying the burden and shrug continually the social responsibility of being good law abiding road users. We championed and celebrated all that is good and enjoyable with motor vehicles, the performance, the luxury, everything that made us look beyond the negatives, the current main one being the 5 people who die and 63 who are seriously injured daily on our road network due to the way we pilot them. Not to mention the tens of thousands a year whose early demise is aided by our favourite steel polluting machines, an impact that is now sending serious repercussions throughout the health and transport world. Imagine if you put those 5 people who die daily and 63 who are seriously injured on a train or plane, there would be a national outcry, no one would use such a dangerous form of transport, it’s insane, almost inhuman some might say. But alas it’s the selfish price we continue to pay, a price that could be dramatically reduced if everyone just obeyed the law and showed due respect to each other, but as I have previously mentioned we have proved ourselves incapable of doing this. That is why technology has taken control of the driver’s destiny, and that destiny is the demise of the driver.  Manufacturers see this and are striving to be the first to make it work. It’s also part of the answer to congestion and pollution issues, after all your self- driving vehicle will not make the errors of judgement or break the road traffic laws that drivers currently do, reducing collisions dramatically keeping roads running smoothly at the busiest of times, and of course driving in the most environmentally appropriate fashion at all times. Computer controlled vehicles will link in with traffic systems reducing waiting times; they won’t block junctions, roundabouts or crossings. Basically they will do everything the human driver or rider has proven themselves unwilling or incapable of doing.  But in the meantime let us explore what those who are minded to do something about the current dire state of motoring can actually do to reduce the horrific cost in death and injury the nation currently demands to keep our road network running.

 

The Behaviour test

Stand outside a school at the start or end of the school day and watch the behaviour of passing drivers. See how many you can catch with a phone in their hand, speeding and the other multitude of sins we have to deal with daily, but surely this should be where a driver is most cautious, after all the likelihood of a child making the ultimate error is at its upmost at such a location, drivers care….don’t they ?. Then go into the busy city centre with its 24/7 congestion plus thousands of vulnerable road users, cyclists and pedestrians everywhere, again surely the drivers would be paying attention, driving slowly, just in case? Then go onto the rural road, unseen potential hazards everywhere around each corner, horses, cyclists, farm vehicles, do you ever see any driver driving to the conditions before them. How many collisions in rain or fog are due to vehicles being too fast and too close? How many of our children must we lose because people think they can drive a car or ride a motorbike like it’s a video game? It’s all down to driver behaviour, remove the driver, remove the collision, it’s simple, vehicles don’t crash themselves. Some will be reading this and uttering to themselves “It’s just the few, I’m a good driver”, are you? Do you drive like it’s your driving test every day? Do you stay under every speed limit, always signal when you should, use your lights correctly, stop at the amber instead of inanely racing towards it to beat the red, wear your seat belt?, The list is endless when it comes to things supposed “good competent” drivers don’t do. The test is the minimum standard, if you don’t drive or ride to that standard every time you get on the road you are part of the problem, be honest with yourselves…….

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So many people to look out for yet most drivers see none of this or chose to ignore, to everyone else’s peril !

Some will say, “why don’t you tell them to pay attention, slow down, take care” well let’s play a game, how many road safety campaigns can you remember….., it’s not hard, we have over a dozen in their various forms a year. We’ve tried to tell them, to educate. We even have a theory and practical test to ensure motorists are fit for the road to reinforce the necessity of complying with the law and having a careful and considerate nature towards our road use. Do the campaigns or test’s effect driver behaviour? we all know the answer. People will read headlines in the national press about families being killed by a driver who used his phone, broke the law, and utter how terrible it was…….. as they travel down the road above the speed limit, phone in their lap with a light out, having never checked their tyre pressures or condition……but they did take the time to have illegal dangerous tints to fitted their drivers windows, or hang something from their rear view mirror that partially blocks their forward view……

 

Changing behaviour, the tools of the trade

The most effective tool to curtail adverse driver behaviour is the threat of prosecution ,if people think they will be caught doing something they don’t do it, we’ll come onto that later…but first another piece of technology that precedes the driverless car, the insurance black box. Yes that’s right those little black boxes really do work, it would seem that the threat of having your insurance cancelled and suffering a large financial penalty if you drive to a substandard level seems to work, fancy that…..it’s almost like enforcement by the back door, shame that insurance companies don’t make them mandatory really, the effect would be profound, cheaper policies, better driving, insurance monitoring black boxes literally saving lives, contributing to the wellbeing of society………just a thought. And for those who are screaming “it’s just the big brother nanny state telling us what to do and how to live our lives” just remember, drivers were trusted to do the right thing, but alas can’t, just stand at the side of any road with a speed gun and see how many cars actually exceed the speed limit, most do. Some may complain of the nanny state but it’s become increasingly necessary when it comes to motorised road use, just look at the comments by most drivers regards road safety on social media, attitude says a lot about behaviour, if you went on some comments seen on social media regards sharing the road and improving safety you wouldn’t let these people drive a child’s pedal car around your garden, let alone a vehicle on the road with all the risk that carries. You see many like to blame someone else, blame the victim, many just don’t have the attitude or demeanour to be on the road in the first place, modern day personalities and priorities just don’t mix with being in charge of a potential killing machine.

Which leads us nicely back to our definition of the “hard pressed motorist” ….the motorist who is expected to obey the law……..

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A speed check at one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in Birmingham, drivers caught at 50 % above the speed limit whilst on their phone, says it all really….

 

 

 

The perfect storm is coming

What’s he on about now I hear you say, well it’s like this, traffic levels are rising at about 1.4% a year. Factor in population growth, of which those in the age bracket most likely to drive is swelled by migration and you see that within 8 years we will have over 10% more vehicles on our roads. Anyone think we’ll have 10 % more road capacity? Imagine the cost for a start, it’s impossible.

So we have more motor vehicles, at the same time we will have more vulnerable road users, as those who are economically excluded from the motor vehicle select club or those who have consciously chosen to “do their bit” and participate in a healthier, cleaner form of transport actually look to take advantage of their local authorities transport plan. You will notice that no local authorities are looking to increase vehicular traffic, to do so would be tantamount to community “self-harming”. The consequence to the driver of this “perfect storm” is more time spent watching a stationary queue of traffic stretching before them, the consequence for those not sat in a vehicle is an increased risk of injury, here’s why ……

You see 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, release their frustration that’s been compounded by sitting in slow moving or stationary traffic with an aggressive driving demeanour, all to the detriment of vulnerable road users. Just look at how may don’t wear a seatbelt properly or at all, this is the best evidence of how safe most feel inside a modern vehicle. Given our increasing levels of both vehicular traffic being driven to an ever poorer standard and more vulnerable road users in a finite area of road we are left with only one inevitable consequence, more vulnerable road users killed and seriously on our roads, in contrast to those in vehicles who become safer in heavy traffic due to reduced collision speeds. Now as a police force we are duty bound to protect the vulnerable, pedestrians, child and elderly pedestrians especially, those making socially beneficial transport choices such as cyclists, we are duty bound to support our communities transport policies and do all we can to create an environment where they can succeed. The long and short of it is drivers, who pose the greatest threat of harm on our roads need to get their house in order, or we’ll do it for them.

 

Twenties plenty and the car vs pedestrian

Why 20mph limits? Well because firstly it cuts down dramatically the numbers killed and seriously injured on our urban roads, quite simply it gives drivers and other road users the time needed to first make the correct driving decisions and second react to others mistakes, i.e. that child who suddenly runs into the road or the vehicle that pulls out in-front of you. If nothing else it lessens the seriousness of any collision. 20mph is not far below the average speed for many of our urban roads anyway so time wise drivers are not really losing out either, even if they were, small price to pay to lessen the carnage on our roads surely…..now don’t be selfish drivers after all you only get to the back of the next traffic jam fractionally quicker! Plus it won’t be long given the rising congestion levels before we reach the capital’s average speed of 7.5mph!! So just think in a few years a 20mph limit will be literally be light speed compared to the average speed of traffic on our roads.

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Many will say that no one drives to Birmingham’s new 20mph limits, this is true many don’t, but they will. Despite a highly publicised campaign of educational measures including roadside educational alternatives to prosecution we get numerous complaints and too often see the effects of drivers exceeding the limit. So “Out goes the carrot and in comes the stick”, after nearly 6 months of the limits it’s apparent that many drivers just don’t care or are incapable of driving to the new limit, just like they can’t drive to most limits, including the old 30mph limits. Again we come back to the previously stated situation where drivers proved themselves incapable collectively of driving at 30mph or below, you had your chance now 20mph limits are deemed necessary to protect our communities from drivers who don’t meet the standard of “safe and competent road users”. We need somewhere in the region of one in four compliance for the limits to be effective given urban traffic levels, the one in four slow everyone else down and produce safer roads. We will achieve this through enforcement, we will even use covert speed checks if necessary in the most vulnerable of locations, the loss of life on our regions roads is unacceptable to our communities, some drivers may be dismayed and distraught at the idea of us getting all “sneaky” to catch dangerous drivers, but they had their chance, “the gloves are off” as they say when it comes to the fight against the dangerous motorist in our region. But remember those who can drive to the required standard, “the law abiding motorist” have nothing to worry about, quite the opposite their journeys should become more pleasant as a result. Whilst we are on the subject our region does have some very good drivers, our plain clothes cyclists used in #OpClosePass have been overtaken by tens of thousands of very good, considerate drivers on our regions roads, and they are in the majority and should rest easy in the knowledge that we target only those who pose a threat, those doing the speed limit, not using their phone, not driving without due care and attention never get stopped, funny that………and they never complain when we start prosecuting those who do not comply with the law either, only poor incompetent drivers complain about enforcement campaigns, because they are the ones who are the problem and need to worry.

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Analysis of KSI data shows that drivers are not paying attention at vulnerable locations.

 

And for those who say “traffic cops, nothing better to do…” your right…..we haven’t got anything better to do…….reducing the amount of people killed and seriously injured on our roads is at the top of our list of priorities, so why would we do anything else ?

Our 2017 wish list

If we could change anything to make this year better than the last, these would be top of our road safety wishlist….it is representative of the personal opinions of myself and my colleagues, not the West Midlands Police, though you would be hard pressed to find anyone in our organisation who would disagree.

Points don’t mean prizes !!

12 points is hard to get for a competent safe driver, in fact they don’t get anywhere near. Some pick up 3 at some point during their driving when they switch off and fall below the expected standard, triggering a speed camera or the like, or some might have to attend an educational course when their driving again slips below the expected standard. It serves as a wakeup call to most that their driving and awareness isn’t up to the required standard and they rarely trouble the Traffic Process Office again. So to get to twelve points shows a real inability to drive to a safe and competent level. 12 points should result in disqualification, the farce of letting drivers continue past 12 points for whatever reason is an affront to those who have lost loved ones to drivers who regularly break the law, time it stopped.

Disqualification = mandatory retest

In order to get disqualified from driving you will have had to show a continued disregard for the law or a single act of such magnitude that a court feels you must lose your licence for a period of time. Either of these scenarios shows that such a driver clearly does not have the correct demeanour, responsibility, ability or attitude to be a safe and competent driver and as such is a risk to the safety of everyone else on the road. Surely then given this they should be all be retested as a result, they have clearly displayed the inability to be a safe responsible road user, only a retest can ensure they once again, following their disqualification be deemed fit to be a safe licence holder once again. Courts can impose a disqualification until test passed, we would like to see it imposed for all disqualifications under all circumstances. After all we revoke the licences of new drivers who reach 6 points in their first 2 years of driving resulting in a retest, why not do the same for those who reach 12, or are disqualified for a single offence. By taking a theory test and practical test only then can they prove they are once again at the level that is both practically and mentally suitable to be in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle on our roads.

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You are a huge threat to others when behind the wheel, drivers need to wake up to that fact and drive accordingly ! A wholesale change in driving attitudes is required.

 

 

Reduce the drink drive level

It’s been a success in Scotland, is any other reason needed to follow suit ?, and although this will cause great dismay to many Brexiteers Europe also has the same level as Scotland with no issues making the roads safer all. It’s about time we woke up and caught up, a reduction in the drink drive level leaves no uncertainty such as the situation we have currently where people think its okay to have one or two and drive. The correct amount to drink when driving is nothing, anyone who thinks otherwise again displays all the qualities that lead to the innocent dying on our roads. Once again our drink drive level is yet more evidence as to our prevailing attitude towards road safety in our country.

 

A change in attitude

If I was to say we have a problem with a “Top Gear” mentality its’s not an intentional slight on the programme, it’s a scenario where the selfish, inconsiderate attitude of a motorist takes precedence over the safety of others. This is clearly displayed all too regularly on our roads, it need s to stop. We need caring considerate motorists who display all the traits that prove they are responsible road users. Our vulnerable road users need to come first, those whose choice of transportation is environmentally friendly, reduces congestion, leads to a healthier lifestyle lessening the burden on other public services are doing everything right, everything society asks of them, the motorist, all be it under some circumstances with no alternative, is doing the opposite. Expect in the coming years road safety practitioners to increasingly look to protect and promote those transport choices currently considered vulnerable by making them safe, secure and desirable transport choices. Motorists are going to have to get used to this and the changes in their behaviour and road use it will bring, a change in attitude and an acceptance of no longer being the priority on our road system will be needed.

So that’s where we are, this blogs been a bit of a “scene setter” if you like for what you will see over the next few years. Anyone who thinks differently really does have their head in the sand, if you don’t believe me, have a look at your local transport plan, you will see that vehicles and drivers have no place anymore in our transport solutions, at least not until the driver is finally extinct, having being replaced by a computer and all our vehicles are cleaner and more efficient to the point where they no longer negatively impact on our communities. In an age where we are building record numbers of vehicles in this country we are no longer building roads for them, quite the opposite, all major transport investment is rail, cycle or pedestrian focused.

In the meantime when we do drive our vehicles we must remember that when we do we pose a greater threat to other people than at any other point in our existence. The motor vehicle is a far more destructive and efficient weapon than the gun, remember that next time you drive or ride. If someone handed you a loaded gun you would handle it with the upmost care, do the same in your motor vehicle, because if you don’t, the results are pretty much the same.

At the start you will have read “The Beginning of the End” and it is just the beginning, there’s a good few more years of people being able to drive yet before the technology is ready to take over completely, until we get there let’s make it as painless as possible, take great care when you’re out there, because remember it’s at this point in your daily existence you are the greatest threat not only to yourself, but everyone one else on that road.

For those who have read this and are distraught at the thought that the days of driving are numbered listen to one last Black Sabbath track……”It’s alright”….and remember you can always drive however you like on your games consoles 😉

 

In the next few blogs we’ll look at enforcing the new mobile phone penalties due in March, our new Operation to protect all vulnerable road users at collision hotspots OpSaferCrossing, and everyone’s favourite  insurance, it’s scams, the uninsured, the falsely insured and we’ll also focus on the insurers, and how some companies aren’t really helping a worsening situation.

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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”

 

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?