Well, probably lots of things, but I’m referring specifically here to cyclists’ reports about dangerous motorists. After I posted my last article, a discussion ensued, in response to a comment from a Twitter user, in which GMP Traffic division participated. That discussion can be seen here on Twitter: (although it is hard to follow because there is apparently a problem with threading in the Twitter app the police use.)
The discussion revolves primarily around the assertion from GMP Traffic that local resolution teams must be responsible for dealing with minor traffic offences as they have the resources that Traffic division do not have, and the assertion from myself and others that local resolution teams lack the expertise to discharge that responsibility. That discussion culminated in the following question from the GMP Traffic officer:
This might seem like a simple question, but my own experience (and I’m sure that of others who have tried to get the police to deal with the problems) suggests that it is far from simple. The expertise you need is the ability to recognise that the offence has been committed at all, and that it is serious enough to warrant action.
So here are some key areas in which I think the police in (non-traffic) divisions need to be educated in relation to dealing with incidents in which vulnerable road users are, either deliberately or through ignorance, put in danger by bad motorists. These are all based on my own experiences with the Bolton and Salford divisions of Greater Manchester Police and I am confident that most police officers in the Greater Manchester divisions are ignorant of some or all of them. It also seems from experience that the degree of ignorance on these matters in general increases as the rank of the officer increases.
- Driving too close to a cyclist (either tailgating or passing) is not equivalent to driving too close to another motor vehicle; it is the difference between risking killing someone and risking scratching the paint on someone’s car, and the Road Traffic Act is clear that the context in which an action occurs is relevant in determining whether an offence of careless or dangerous driving has been committed.
- Threatening or deliberately endangering someone using a motor vehicle is just as serious as threatening or endangering someone with a knife, baseball bat, machete or gun; it is assault, plain and simple, and needs to be treated with the same degree of seriousness.
- Passing a cyclist closer than 1.5 metres at 30 mph is too close, that distance needs to be even greater at higher speeds, and tailgating with less than 2 seconds gap is very dangerous and threatening.
- A cyclist has the right to adopt whatever road position they feel is appropriate, even in the presence of a cycle lane, and a motorist’s (or police officer’s) opinion on that has no bearing on whether they are culpable if they endanger or threaten that cyclist.
- The fact that something is a common occurrence does not make it OK; indeed, that is all the more reason to deal with the problem.
- Whether a cyclist was wearing high visibility clothing or a helmet at the time they were threatened or endangered by a driver is irrelevant to whether that driver has committed an offence.
- Section 59 of the Police Reform Act is applicable in all cases where a driver is using their vehicle in a manner that is causing, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public, and there is no requirement for the driver or vehicle to be observed doing that more than once before a formal warning is served under the Act.
- If a vulnerable road user such as a cyclist is hit by a motor vehicle, that is never “just an insurance matter”; it almost always involves at least careless and inconsiderate driving, and very often dangerous driving.
I have personally observed officers showing, or perhaps feigning, ignorance of each of these points. I will add to this list in the light of further experience.