MPs back CTC’s calls on road traffic law enforcement
Cycling, in fact, makes it into the very first paragraph of the Transport Committee’s report: “The increase in injuries among pedal cyclists is of particular concern,” it says, and continues: “There is no room for complacency”. It even devotes a whole chapter to cyclists whose vulnerability “provides a particular road enforcement challenge”.
Real and perceived safety
It has long been clear to CTC that, for the Government’s promised ‘cycling revolution’ to become a reality, road conditions need to improve. Effectively enforcing laws against bad driving is essential, not only to reduce actual injury rates, but also to improve people’s impressions of how safe it is to cycle, and thus making them more willing to take it up. We are therefore particularly pleased to see the committee highlight the link between how seriously the police take cyclists’ reports of ‘near misses’ with how dangerous people think cycling is.
The report quotes evidence from local campaigns and individual cyclists backing up CTC’s own findings that the police are all too often unwilling or unable to pursue cyclists’ reports of unlawful driving, even when they have camera footage to show what happened.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the Committee found no sign of improvement in the percentage of cyclists who think it’s too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads (around 48% in 2013 and 2012, and 45% in 2011).
Perception of levels of cycling safety is, in theory, of great interest to the Government – the previous administration set it as an ‘outcome indicator’ used to measure the progress of its Strategic Framework for Road Safety.
Happily, the Transport Committee takes it seriously too: “The level to which cyclists feel unsafe on the roads due to a perceived failure to enforce traffic law is at odds with the Government’s aim to promote cycling, and must be addressed.” It thus recommends that the Home Office commissions research on how collisions or near misses are handled by the police.
More police needed
Police resources, however, are undoubtedly stretched. In CTC’s evidence to the Committee, we pointed out that the number of specialised road policing officers has been falling consistently over the past decade – from 7,104 in 2005, to 4,356 in 2014 (England and Wales).
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) also told the Committee about the huge regional variations, ranging from a 45.25% decrease in the South West, to a 1.1% increase in Yorkshire and Humberside, and stressed that “road policing is a specialist skill set and a highly technical specialism”.
In the light of this, the Committee considers whether fewer road police officers has had anything to do with the huge drop in the number of motoring offences detected over the past decade (4.33 million in 2004, but just 1.62 million in 2013). Probably yes, they say. They found that the number of ‘causing death’ offences, which must be recorded by the police, remained about the same, suggesting that “the reduction in overall offences that are recorded does not represent a reduction in offences actually being committed” (i.e. the drop doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s more law obeying going on).
As such, the Committee recommends that the Government takes “measures to support police forces in maintaining the number of specialist road traffic officers”. Furthermore, the report reflects a point CTC often stresses: “For enforcement to be successful and for educational campaigns to be convincing, there must be the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended.”
Dangerous v careless driving
The Committee also recognises the growing and worrying tendency of the justice system to downgrade the type of offence that would once have been classed as ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ to merely ‘causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving’, an offence introduced in 2008.
CTC believes that it is fundamentally wrong to treat dangerous driving as anything other than ‘dangerous’, and is aware of far too many cases where this has happened, often sparking public outcry. We therefore very much welcome the Transport Committee’s recommendation that the Justice Committee, whose remit this is, should look into this matter. This is particularly timely, given the Government’s commitment to carry out a review of road traffic offences, largely in response to CTC’s Road Justice campaign.
On the subject of particularly hazardous offences, the report also considers what the police call the ‘Fatal 4’, i.e. speed, drink-driving, seat-belts and mobile phones. CTC would, however, add ‘failing to look properly’ and close overtaking to this list. Both of these intimidate cyclists and put them in danger.
As HGVs are over-represented in cyclist fatalities, CTC welcomes the Committee’s thoughts on the need to tackle lorry safety.
Transport for London’s Safer Lorry Scheme (introduced last September) gets a special mention. This scheme, enforced by the Met Police, City of London Police and the DVSA, requires most vehicles over 3.5 tonnes to be fitted with certain safety equipment to protect cyclists and pedestrians (e.g. Class V and Class VI mirrors, and side guards). The Committee was impressed enough to recommend that the Department for Transport (DfT) assesses the scheme's impact and, if it has reduced casualties, “… to press the issue in the European Union to make the requirements mandatory for HGVs across the EU.”
The Committee also advises the DfT to evaluate the effect of restricting the hours during which lorries can use the streets of central London, and commends the work of the London Freight Enforcement Partnership (TfL, DVSA, Met Police and City of London Police), which uses shared intelligence to target rogue freight operators.
CTC agrees with all of this, but feels that it is equally important to strengthen the role of the Traffic Commissioners, who decide whether lorry operators should be granted licences or have them revoked. Unfortunately, they do not always exercise their powers as they should. For example, we know of recent cases of cyclists’ deaths involving lorries, where the Traffic Commissioners only took action when the drivers’ court trials brought to light obvious safety failings by the company operating the vehicles involved.
These course are offered, at the discretion of the police, in lieu of prosecution for certain offences. Use has grown rapidly since their introduction in 2004, and several are offered through the National Driver Offender Retraining Schemes (NDORS).
Along with the Committee, CTC has questions about the deterrent effect of these courses, and would like to see research into just how effective they really are.
We do, however, think the Committee should have looked more closely at the greater use of driving bans as part of the Government’s forthcoming review of road traffic offences and penalties. Getting bad drivers off the road altogether is surely the priority.
The Committee also recommends that the Government/DfT:
- Assesses the experience of other countries that have lowered their drink-drive alcohol limit, particularly Scotland (where the blood alcohol limit was reduced from 80 mg/100ml to 50 mg/100ml in December 2014).
- Funds research into development and effective deployment of technology to detect illegal mobile phone use while driving, and addresses the use of hand-free mobile phones as a distraction.
- Assesses the deterrent value of fixed penalty notice (FPN) fines and point endorsements (noting, for example, that at 1.6%, the number of people observed using a hand-held mobile phone while driving hasn’t dropped in England and Scotland since the offence was introduced in 2003).
- Commences Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004: if “commenced” – which successive Governments have been unwilling to do – these provisions would grant local authorities the power to enforce against moving traffic offences. This would include dealing with drivers who don’t comply with the law on cycle lanes and cycle boxes. Commencing Part 6, says the Committee, “makes sense”, because it allows enforcement to take place even where roads police numbers are in decline and provides valuable local accountability. Thus, siding with the previous Transport Committee on the subject (and roughly translated), they tell the Government not to be so silly.
- With regard to the relevance of this report to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Committee says:
“The issues of road traffic law enforcement discussed here are primarily only applicable to England and Wales or England only and are within devolved legislative competence in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and (in some instances) Wales. Statistics gathered by the Government vary in their geographical cover: for example the primary source for road casualty data specifically covers Great Britain only. At present, road traffic law has not diverged enough between devolved legislatures to make using these statistics inappropriate. Where sources cover varying parts of the country, this has been noted.”
- Committee's report.
- CTC’s Policy Director, Roger Geffen, gave evidence to the Committee on 23 November 2015.