I have been involved with Operation Considerate for a very long time – since before its inception by Insp Paul Rowe and his team – and was actively involved in helping to get the online submission service off the ground; even appearing with them on two editions of Crimewatch Roadshow on the BBC. Over the past two years, I have continued to submit videos, though the rate at which I needed to submit them has been considerably reduced over the past year since I started riding with a big safety flag attached to my bike.
Last year, I reported on two different cases resulting from my online submissions that went to the magistrates’ court, both of which resulted in convictions. In recent times, though, I have been noticing some dissatisfaction with the service from some cyclists who submit videos, so I decided to ask for the results of the cases I have submitted myself in the past year or so.
All-in-all, I got feedback on 47 cases. 19 of those resulted in tickets being issued for offences. 19 resulted in warning letters being sent (presumably to the registered keeper of the vehicle). 9 were flagged for no further action.
In this article, I analyse all of these cases, and show video footage of most of them. (I’ve cut those down to be as short as I reasonably can.) It is rather long due to the number of cases and issues, but hopefully people will find it interesting.
Although in parts what I say may seem a bit negative as I focus on issues I have with some of the cases, there are many good results and the overall conclusion for people submitting cases is that you should continue to do so. Although there are considerable improvements to be made, it is certainly worthwhile.
By far the majority of the cases I submitted during the period involved close passes, so I will concentrate on these first, breaking them down according to the decisions that were made by the OpConsiderate officers.
For close pass submissions, I usually provide video footage of the incident, showing 15 seconds before and after the incident, along with one (or sometimes more) still frame images taken from the video showing the passing distance. I think it is important to have part of the bicycle in the frame as well as the motor vehicle and have discussed that in detail in this article and analysed another example in this article.
This video is an example of the full footage that I submitted from one incident:
The still-frame image that I submitted for this one is shown below:
These are the 17 close pass cases (including the one shown above) that resulted in a ticket being issued; a result I am very happy with. I don’t have information on what happened after the tickets were issued, but I believe they will have either received a fixed penalty notice, or been required to attend a driver awareness course at their own expense. The video starts with four cases involving buses, and it is pleasing to see that these have been dealt with firmly as they are extremely dangerous cases.
The driver of the yellow and green bus at the beginning was ticketted for driving without due care and attention. The rest were ticketed for “close pass”, which I assume means careless and inconsiderate driving.
It is interesting to note that the drivers of three of the buses each did two very close passes within a short space of time, which were almost certainly deliberate. This is a dreadful state of affairs in which a small number of bus drivers think it is fine to put people’s lives in danger, and it really does need to be dealt with severely. I was rather shocked by the very bad First Bus example, given the good experiences I had on visiting the First Bus training depot 7 years ago.
Warning letter sent
The 14 drivers shown in this video received a warning letter from the police for close passing. I suspect the letter would have been sent to the registered keeper rather than the driver, but I imagine in most cases that will be the driver.
These I am not quite so happy with. Whilst there are a small number of them that are low speed or not quite so close, which I agree warranted a warning rather than prosecution, for the most part they are just as serious as the ones that received a ticket. The fifth one showing the turquoise bus was pretty much identical to the one showing the yellow and green bus that was ticketted in the video above.
Two of these close passes were on my left, when I was turning right or getting into the right hand lane, and I have noticed a reluctance in the past to deal with such cases.
There appears to be a serious inconsistency in the way these close passes are being dealt with, although is good to see that they mostly are being dealt with in some way rather than just being dismissed.
No further action – insufficient evidence
However, there were 2 close pass cases in which the police disregarded the report due to “insufficient evidence”:
It is very hard to see how there is insufficient evidence in these two cases compared to the other cases shown above, and these two are just as serious as some that received tickets.
No further action – victim blaming excuses
The inconsistencies I mentioned above are a little annoying, but the overall picture gained from them is not too bad. However, there are three close pass cases that I really think need to be seriously questioned. In these cases, the officer making the decision has chosen to indulge in what I can only describe as victim blaming in deciding to take no further action.
The first two I will look at are quite similar both in the nature of what happened and in the response of the police officer(s) making the decisions:
These are both cases that ought to have resulted in at least a warning letter being sent if not a ticket. However, it is the responses that the officer made on the records that are particularly alarming, which were, respectively (NFA means No Further Action):
“NFA-cyclist not using a cycle lane, cycling in the middle of the road”
“NFA-cyclist not using the cycle lane and taking up lane 1”
This type of response is unacceptable from any police officer, and particularly from a traffic officer, as the choice of road position that a cyclist takes up is their own decision and has no bearing on the responsibility of a driver to drive with due care and attention, especially around vulnerable road users.
These responses are particularly annoying given that, in my statements for these two incidents, I wrote:
“There is a cycle lane on the left of this lane, which I avoid as it is very dangerous. (I can produce video evidence from the past to demonstrate this fact.)”
“There is a narrow cycle lane to the left, which I avoid as I have found it to be dangerous.”
For the record, the video evidence I mentioned is this:
But it is actually completely irrelevant why I choose not to use the cycle lane, and any traffic police officer that does not understand this really needs to be (re-)trained.
The third one of these three is in some ways even worse, because it involves the police officer making a false statement in his report. This is the video of the incident:
The decision of the traffic officer in this case was reported as:
“NFA-cyclist in middle of the road not giving direction to other motorists”
First, there is the rubbish about my being “in [the] middle of the road” – it can be clearly seen that I was overtaking stationary vehicles and was in the centre of the outside lane, and my choice of road position is irrelevant anyway.
But particularly serious is the statement that I was “not giving direction to other motorists“, which I can only interpret as stating that I failed to signal. It can be clearly seen from the video, at 0:05, that I gave a very clear hand signal before moving out into the outside lane. Moreover, in my statement I wrote:
“As there was a car and a truck parked in the inside lane ahead, I waited for a car to overtake me then checked behind and signalled my intention to move into the outside lane to pass the parked vehicles, which I then did as the number of lanes changed.”
This could not be clearer, and I think the officer concerned really should be asked to account for this statement. I also think it is notable that this incident occurred on the same journey as the second one in the previous video above, so was almost certainly assessed by the same officer.
This aspect of the OpConsiderate process needs considerable improvement. There would appear to be prejudice operating here, and that must be dealt with.
Five of the reports I made during the period concerned involved tailgating. I get particularly concerned in these cases because they often involve deliberate aggression on the part of the driver. These cases are shown in this video:
It’s worth saying a little more about the evidence I generally submit for these cases. I don’t have a rear facing camera (I used to have but it was stolen), so I have to rely on footage from looking back with the helmet camera. This is why I submit so few tailgating cases. However, in the cases that I do submit, I include two still frames showing myself and the tailgating vehicle passing the same point on the road, and state how far apart in time they are on the video. This allows the gap between myself and the tailgater to be measured very precisely and accurately.
In the first case in the video, the driver was sent a warning letter. I am actually happy with this, because the nature of the evidence, whilst in fact very reliable, could create difficulty in court (though that ought to be tested).
The second case (starting at 0:18 in the video) was particularly annoying because the driver was tailgating just 1 second behind my 7 year old granddaughter. The case was disregarded because the officer did not believe an offence was committed. He also, in relation to the “2 second rule” stated:
“Please see the below from the Highways agency web site, it mentions higher speed roads which I would suggest motorways, a 2 second gap. On lower speed roads the time gap is going to be a lot less, even shorter for bike speeds.”
This is, of course, nonsense. At lower speeds, two seconds corresponds to a smaller distance (as opposed to time), but the reaction time is still the same. Some education is needed here I think.
The second case there was annoying mainly because it involved a small child, but the one other case I want to look at in detail is the last one, starting at 1:31 in the video. The police response to this one was:
“NFA-no offence committed, the driver stayed well back behind the cyclist”
This is clearly rubbish. My speed on exiting the roundabout was around 20mph and the video proves that the van was less than a quarter of a second behind me when I left the roundabout. Moreover, when I signalled the driver to back off, he just sounded the horn and continued to tailgate. The driver then continued to behave aggressively until he turned left at the end. It is my belief that this is again a case of prejudice on the part of the officer concerned.
In general, my experience is that the OpConsiderate team do not deal appropriately with cases of tailgating, particularly when that is coupled with overtly aggressive driving and use of the horn to intimidate. This is an area where significant improvements could be made.
Phone users and red light jumpers
The reason I report drivers jumping red lights and using mobile phones whilst driving, even when they do not put me directly in danger at the time, is that many cyclists and pedestrians are put in severe danger by these behaviours, and that includes me and my family.
I’ll start first with the 3 red light jumpers that I reported in this time period. These are shown in this video:
These were dealt with straightforwardly by the police. The first two were ticketed for contravening a red traffic light, and the third one was went a warning letter, presumably because they went through a light that had only just turned red. Times seem to have changed – I remember many years ago a friend of mine was fined for going through an amber light; no such actions nowadays, it seems.
Finally, there were three mobile phone users, all of whom were sent warning letters. This is understandable because the quality of the images from my camera in 960p format are limited, and could be challenged in court. Here is an example of a cropped still-frame from one of these.
The results of 47 cases were analysed. 19 of those resulted in tickets being issued for offences, 19 resulted in warning letters being sent. 9 were flagged for no further action. Here is a summary of my views from this analysis:
- As far as close passes are concerned, I think Operation Considerate is doing a reasonably good job of dealing with (my) submissions.
- I think there is a need to develop clear policies that will ensure greater consistency in the decisions made.
- In a small number of cases, there is evidence of, at the very least, poor understanding of the issues involved, and that could even be indicative of anti-cyclist prejudice. This needs to be looked into to avoid damage to the reputation of the unit.
- Particular attention needs to paid to developing policies around what constitutes tailgating and appropriate actions in response.
I have one final comment in relation to the effectiveness of the Operation Considerate campaign as a whole. The ultimate purpose of exercises like this is to make the roads less hostile for vulnerable road users; particularly cyclists in this case. It is not only about the safety of existing cyclists, it is about people who would like to cycle but are too afraid to do so. To quote the marvellous, award-winning West Midlands Police Road Harm Reduction Team:
“if poor driving alters people’s lifestyle choices by making them too scared to cycle on the roads that is a police matter, as it would be in any other area of life”
Such a campaign is only really effective if it is given sufficient publicity. Drivers need to be aware not only of their responsibilities to others, but also that they will be dealt with if they do not discharge those responsibilities properly. The production and publication of overall statistics on the outcomes from online submissions could go a long way towards achieving that.