Wednesday 23 May 2012

"Not in the public interest to prosecute"

Last month I reported a piece of bad driving to the police.  It was another close overtake in Hounslow and when I initiated a conversation with the driver at the next set of lights, it was quite apparent that his lack of consideration was not due to failing to see me or a momentary lapse in concentration but was because he held a deep seated prejudice against cyclists.  If I got in his way he felt entitled to run me down, he wanted me to ride on the pavement next time and, most incongruously, he had something against cyclists like me riding fast in Richmond Park.  (London Dynamo organise time trials in Richmond Park and it is a popular place for cyclists to train, though I have never cycled there).
When I made my report I made it clear that it was the bad driving I really objected to.  The verbal threats were, in my view, distinguishable from the Lomas case not least because he had not sought me out to deliver the threat from a moving vehicle but was responding to me when I was in a safe position.  What the verbal exchange indicated to me was that his bad driving was quite deliberate.  I am struck by how, almost universally, motorists who run down cyclists claim not to have seen them.  Yet when motorists have come close to running me down, it almost invariably emerges in subsequent 'discussion' that they saw me only too well and chose deliberately not to take care.  'SMIDSY' is a completely unacceptable excuse even if genuine.  My own experience convinces me that it is often a smokescreen for something worse and aptly described by many cyclists as 'SMIDGAF'.
Yesterday the police told me that the driver was sorry and had been cautioned.  I assume the caution must have been for a Public Order Offence relating to his verbal threats, since cautions for Road Traffic Act offences are not given.  When I repeated that I would have preferred to see a prosecution for driving without due care/consideration, I was told that the police had decided it was 'not in the public interest to take it any further than a caution'.
I do respectfully question this interpretation of the public interest.  Our democratically elected Parliament has legislated that anyone driving a motor vehicle on a road without due care and consideration for other road users is guilty of an offence.  The law does not require that this lack of care/consideration has caused an accident.  There is helpful guidance in the Highway Code which is taken into account in determining guilt and includes the following:
After I wrote (the day before this incident as it happens) to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner with a copy to Jenny Jones about the difficulties in getting action taken against bad drivers, I got a response from Jenny Jones telling me that Roadsafe was for gathering information and that she advised me to report bad driving to my local police station.  The response from Roadsafe was to the effect that they try without success to get appallingly bad drivers prosecuted.  I am a great fan of Jenny Jones but if she is advising us to report bad driving to our police stations she is seriously out of touch with the reality of policing in London.  Either there is insufficient evidence or, if evidence is overwhelmingly sufficient, it is not deemed to be in the public interest to prosecute.  Furthermore in what other area are the police absolved of any obligation, beyond information gathering, to act upon a crime that has come to their attention?  I have a degree of sympathy with the Roadsafe view that when they do their bit, others in the criminal justice chain do not do theirs, as this also affects my willingness to bother to report bad driving.  However we cannot all just give up.
I am sometimes accused of representing only a minority clique of 'MAMIL's.  However what upsets me most about drivers like the one in charge of this Landrover, is not that they run me down.  I have developed strategies that, thus far, means that they don't.  It is that they make cycling an unpleasant and subjectively dangerous experience.  The roads should not only be available to the battle hardened.
An apology given to the police in interview may be better than nothing but it is obviously not equivalent to an apology at the time.  Had the driver said at the lights 'I am sorry, I will take care not to do that again', I would not have reported him.  If he was genuinely sorry at interview then I would like to see a prosecution for inconsiderate driving stayed on condition that he attend a bikeability course for cycling on the road.

My witness statement is here and the video below:

Thursday 3 May 2012

Inquest into the death of Svitlana Tereschenko

Ross Lydall reports in today's The Evening Standard the comments of the Deputy Coroner, Dr Shirley Radcliffe, that 'nobody is to blame' for the death of Ms Tereschenko on the Bow roundabout last November.

This has prompted me to update my criminal sentencing table with cases as they come to my attention where no charges have been pursued against the driver who has collided fatally with a cyclist.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Improving the Safety of Cyclists

A regular reader was puzzled by my preference for the evidence given by CTC's Vice-President Josie Dew over that of President Jon Snow at last week's Transport Select Committee and I promised a fuller explanation.

First, I like Jon Snow (a lot).  He introduced me to cycling 10 years ago, shepherding me round my first 100 mile ride and I hope it is not presumptuous of me to regard him as a friend.  He is a high profile figure and an ambassador for cycling.  I am sure he has been an inspiration to many more than just me and I was delighted when he accepted the Presidency of the CTC.  I have never met Josie and did not really know who she was until watching the select committee.

Second I am acutely conscious that what divides the opinions of cyclists is minute compared to that which unites them.  John Cleese's brilliant satire has the People's Front of Judea loathing the Judean People's Front more than they loathe the Romans.  Cyclists can hopefully avoid that.
Having said that, we are not compelled to agree with each other on everything and I have my reservations about Jon's oft repeated and sincerely held views that the roads in London are not safe for cyclists, that cyclists and vehicles do not mix and that they need to be separated.  Josie's willingness to ride her daughter to school on the roads but to lament the standards of some motorists and the weak way in which our laws are enforced against criminal motorists chimed much more with me.

I have no problem with people who seek more and better segregated facilities in the belief that it will encourage more cyclists.  However there is a very real threat that things could be made worse for cyclists than they already are by jeopardising our entitlement to use most roads.  We should not forget the case of Daniel Cadden.  The same police and CPS who do not have the time or inclination to pursue motorists who endanger cyclists, found the time and inclination to prosecute Daniel for inconsiderate cycling because he was riding his bike in the road instead of a nearby unsatisfactory cycle track.  The CTC assisted his successful appeal.  The CTC also made representations over the Highway Code to ensure it was clear that the use of cycling facilities is not mandatory.  I applaud the CTC for this and it is a major reason that I am a member.

My own personal experience is that there are plenty of motorists who resent our right to use the roads and would like to see us off them.  Only yesterday morning I was 'buzzed' and sworn at by a motorist who said (in effect and removing the colourful language) 'This is a road not a cycleway and if you get in my way I will run you down'.  I wish I could say this was an unusual experience.

Different cyclists may have different requirements.  My commute is only marginally practicable at 20 mph.  If I had to slow down for significant sections it would become completely impracticable.  A 20 mph speed limit would mean that all those motor vehicles would no longer 'need' to squeeze past me.  Even if I represent a minority of cyclists, we probably cover a disproportionate number of miles and I look to the CTC to continue to represent our interests as well as those of other cyclists.

Although Jon made clear, as he always does, that he was speaking as a private citizen and in a personal capacity, it is a reasonable assumption that he (and Josie) were invited to the Select Committee because of their CTC roles.

I was not keen to hear Jon and James Harding propose as policy a 20 mph limit in residential areas but to be lifted to 30mph (in residential areas, I should stress) where there was a separate cycle track.  James Harding was calling upon an unholy alliance between motorists wishing to go faster and cyclists seeking segregation.  The aim of both being to get cyclists off the roads.  Cyclists remaining on the roads after these facilities have been designed, built and adjudged adequate (very likely by non-cyclists) would not benefit from reduced speed limits.

Separate cycle lanes are not necessarily safer.  I mentioned I would like to see statistics on this.  This does not seem to me unreasonable if they are promoted as a safety measure.  Most of us will have seen diagrams like this one:
Even if you give the priority to the cyclists, I am a defensive cyclist (and so should you be) and you cannot rely upon motorists giving way.

I am all for 'Going Dutch' but my understanding of this is that it involves at least as much control over where motorists may go as of where cyclists may go.  I am all for putting up bollards in the middle of our streets that we can whizz by but which block the path of through motorists.  The trouble is that 'The Times' is not calling for infrastructure changes that may adversely impact motorists and almost all politicians have difficulty with this too.  I acknowledge with gratitude that The Times campaign is calling for 20 mph speed limits but their editor is solicitous of the interests of motorists who may be affected by this.   Of course in practice a 20 mph speed limit in London would not slow overall motoring journey times save in the dead of night.  We run a very real risk of heading for the worst of all possible worlds with inferior infrastructure used as an excuse not to lower speed limits in residential areas and with a growing expectation that cyclists are not entitled to the roads.

This is essentially a non-political blog and I am not the holder of a vote for this Thursday.  However Jenny Jones was surely right at yesterday's hustings to call for lower speed limits and better policing of motorists.  This strikes a chord with me.  As it happens I wrote to the Met Police Commissoner last weekend and sent a copy to Jenny.  You may read it here.

Fortunately I can afford to provoke a storm.  I am not a politician and do not sell newspapers.

A transcript is available here.  This is the bit that worried me about 20mph limits in residential areas:

Q423 Chair: What about the 20 mph speed limit suggested for local roads? Would that make a big difference?
Josie Dew: Yes, it definitely would. Past Molly’s school there is a 40 mph speed limit, which means I am often overtaken at 50 mph with children on the back. I went to the council last December and said, "Can we get a 20 mph speed limit past the school?" If you hit a cyclist at 40 mph, 90% of children would die. If you hit them at 20 mph, 5% would die. That is a huge difference. They said, "Oh well, we can’t really do that." There is all this umming and ahhing. They just make excuses. You have to get on and do it. They said it has to be petition-led, so I have to go traipsing round the whole village. Some people say, "I don’t want to slow my speed because I want to get to work." Portsmouth has put in 20 mph speed limits.
Q424 Chair: If there was a system of a default 20 mph speed limit on local roads, would that be something the other panellists would support?
James Harding: In areas where there are not segregated cycle ways. We would argue for a 20 mph speed limit in residential areas where there are not segregated cycle ways. One of the things about that, as Josie says, is that it is not only safer, but it would reinforce the sense that the interests of cyclists and drivers are aligned. Drivers want to go faster, in which case there need to be segregated cycle ways.
Jon Snow: I agree with James.
Q425 Mr Leech: I am interested to hear why you think that the residential streets where there are segregated cycle ways should not have the 20 mph limit. There is a danger, if you keep it at 30 mph on those streets, that drivers are less inclined to stick to the 20 mph speed limit on the other roads. Is there any reason why you have gone for that particular view?
James Harding: As Josie said, the reason is that 20 mph makes it safer. I think that you need to put in place many more segregated cycle ways and you need to incentivise drivers behind that idea too. Being able to free up drivers to drive a little more quickly where there are segregated cycle ways reinforces that point.