I have been extremely critical of Greater Manchester Police in this blog ever since I started it, as you can see from this set of articles. However, today is the start of a new dawn (to steal a phrase from West Midlands Police). From today, the 20th of March 2017, the message from Greater Manchester Police is this:
“Our warning to reckless drivers is that the next cyclist you overtake could be a police officer.”
(Inspector Paul Rowe, GMP Traffic Division).
GMP are the latest in a surge of police forces to take on board the lessons from West Midlands Police and start to take action to improve conditions for people who cycle on the roads through education of drivers, and enforcement of traffic laws. The first step is to put officers on bicycles in plain clothes, with cameras mounted on the front and rear of their bicycles. Motorists who behave aggressively or inconsiderately towards them will then be pulled over and educated or prosecuted, depending on the severity of the offence and their attitude when spoken to. Hopefully, this will reduce the number of incidents like these that people riding cycles have to put up with:
To give an example of how poor the police response has been up to now, the last example in the video linked above – this case:was reported to the police and the reaction from the police was “no further action”. In the case that I showed with a picture of my granddaughter on the back:
a PCSO was sent to talk to the driver and that was the end of it. To be fair, responses like these were always from local police divisions rather than traffic police; I have always found the Traffic Division to be very understanding, but the problem has been that it was impossible to get through to them because of the way in which the police have been organised.
I have even been told by local officers on more than one one occasion that they agreed the incident was careless and inconsiderate driving, but they don’t do anything about those cases unless there has been an actual injury or death. This whole movement represents a significant change in attitude from the police, driven by the people in Traffic Divisions, which is captured in this quote from the West Midlands Police Road Policing Unit:
“If poor driving makes people too scared to cycle, it’s a police matter.”
This shift is important because, mile for mile, the danger of cyclists being killed or seriously injured, whilst a problem, is actually similar the danger of pedestrians being killed or seriously injured, resulting in a lack of prioritization of the issues of close passes and aggressive driving around people riding cycles. The shift shows a recognition that the current state of affairs robs people of the benefits, and pleasure, of adopting a healthy means of travel because they are too afraid to go out on the roads. That is a huge issue for society given the problems of obesity, diabetes, poor air quality, noise, broken communities, escalating health care costs, motor traffic congestion … the list goes on.
The GMP close pass initiative, part of Operation Considerate, was trialed in a number of places across Greater Manchester. As part of that, the driver featured in this video, taken on St Helen’s Road in Bolton, was served a warning under Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 (sometimes called a motoring ASBO). Any further occurrence of offending behaviour by anyone behind the wheel of this car, or by this driver behind the wheel of any other car, will result in the vehicle being seized:
The next stage in this process is likely to be the introduction of a process for handling third party video evidence leading to prosecutions. West Midlands have had some considerable success with that aspect and GMP are in the early stages of developing a similar approach. Northumbria Police are among the forces that have already started to do this, stating that:
“We don’t have to be at the scene to prosecute drivers who put cyclists at risk. Send your footage to us today.”
It’s been a long, hard slog by many people working to bring about changes like these – both publicly through blogs and video clips, and privately through meetings and discussions with the police themselves – but we are now starting to see the changes that are needed.
Next, of course, is to focus on getting local authorities to set about re-designing our towns and cities, as well as the routes that join them together, to prioritise people rather than motor vehicles. Only then will we be happy to allow our children and grandchildren to do something as radical as cycling to school. When that happens, we will finally be able to say that we have moved forward out of the urban disaster that was the 20th century.