Thursday 26 October 2017

We need longer sentences for killer drivers AND more disqualifications for dangerous drivers

There's a very good blog article here arguing we don't need longer sentences for killer drivers but we do need to disqualify more dangerous drivers. And I agree with most of the points Matthew has made there, but I don't entirely agree with his conclusions - and I think its worth explaining why.

Matthew goes through his though process in response to the Ministry of Justice conducting a review of punishments available for driving offences, but has started with the same baffling assumption that we so often see:
The consultation did not mention that we already have amongst the safest roads in the world.
This is something repeated so often we don't challenge it - and its flat out untrue. Yes, if you very crudely divide the number of kilometers traveled by the number of fatalities, we do very well. But we achieve that through exclusion of vulnerable road users - we don't attain low fatality rates through a safety culture, we do it by making our roads so hostile to walking or cycling that almost no one dares. Vulnerable road users die at a higher incidence in the UK than in most other EU countries, and as a result we have very low active transport rates. We know that fear of getting hurt is the main reason for our low cycling uptake, and that fear stems from the fact we've created a hostile environment for cycling. We scare pedestrians and cyclists out of public space and then congratulate ourselves that fewer of them are dying. That isn't ok.

So, I reject the premise we're starting form a safe road environment and that there aren't big gains to be made. Reducing casualties by excluding people from public space isn't in any meaningful sense a good safety record.

I accept that in theory there are harsh punishments available for dangerous drivers who kill. The trouble is, we're not using them. Now I'm not saying that we should have life sentences (I agree for the reasons Matthew gave, that would be inappropriate), but there's a problem when we're letting a quarter of those who killed a cyclist drive home from prison, and where less than half face any prison sentence at all. So I agree with Matthew that the 'life sentence' option is populist nonsense, and that our prison population is unsustainable. But I've seen too many killer motorists walk free. We are routinely not prosecuting motorists for manslaughter when they kill innocent people they should have seen - we need root and branch reform here. I would say increasing sentences is an option - but I'd argue that until we address why it is you can get away with killing a cyclist who was blatantly visible in front of you on a clear road on a sunny day sentencing is almost irrelevant.

I entirely agree that we need to prosecute (and ban) motorists who are endangering others before they kill. Over the years, in this blog, I've posted countless links to staggeringly dangerous, illegal driving that Cambridgeshire Constabulary have flat out refused to prosecute, even with incontrovertible video evidence

You can go your whole life as a bad driver and not kill someone on Britain's road. But you're still part of a culture that discourages uptake of walking or cycling - activities we need to increase to tackle both pollution and obesity crises. Addressing dangerous driving before a motorist kills seems like a no-brainer to me. But its not quite as headline grabbing, is it?

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Police Commissioner for Cambridge Doesn't Get It

There's been quite a response to our local police service rejecting Operation Close Pass because they prefer motorists to be able to overtake dangerously without facing any legal repercussion. And eventually, the elected Police Commissioner had to respond.

Firstly I'd like to thank Commissioner Ablewhite for his response. I'd like to go through that and give some thoughts...
As Police and Crime Commissioner, my job is to protect all road users, whether car users, cyclists or pedestrians. That is why I support a multitude of different safety initiatives. 
There are 6,000 roads and streets in Cambridgeshire and the police cannot be (and never have been) on every single road. With ever-reducing budgets impacting on police resourcing as well as on other bodies, it is more important than ever that we work together to find new solutions to keeping all of our road users safe.
I find it odd that the commissioner should choose to discuss how many roads we have in this region as if that somehow differentiates us from any other. There are, I gather, a lot of roads and streets everywhere, and none of the police services running an Operation Close Pass have conspicuously fewer streets than we do. No one is asking cor a copper on every corner, we do't want a 'police state' on our roads with omnipresent police officers waiting behind every tree. The purposes of Close Pass has been to police in specific locations and use the publicity associated with that to change the culture across all roads - it is a rational response to the scale of the policing job. By making getting caught and prosecuted a possibility, motorists across the region start to comply with the law. Its really not that complicated.
People need to take a sensible approach to overtaking cyclists and I’m pleased to see the majority do. The code is clear – don’t get too close to the cyclist you intend to overtake, use your mirrors and signal when it is safe to pass, allow plenty of room without putting other users at risk.
I agree that the code is clear, but lets be honest - some motorists do overtake with plenty of space but Commissioner, you know for a fact that this far too common a crime, and you know full well because I've brought you clear video evidence of precisely such crimes, which you know full well Cambridgeshire Constabulary have not sought to prosecute. You know this is a problem and you know its not being dealt with.
My first priority is to reduce road deaths in our county, fatalities which are primarily car drivers caused by other people driving dangerously or inappropriately.
Commissioner you've slipped a massive, massive assumption in there. And I must challenge it. 

The most recent data we have is from 2016. Yes, motorists do die in larger numbers than pedestrians or cyclists (not in proportion to how many there are or how far they travel, but in terms of number of deaths), and I accept that as every death is a tragedy we need to address all such incidents. But your assumption is that the primary cause is other people driving dangerously. I don't see any evidence that. In fact we know pretty well what causes deaths on our roads -  65% are caused by motorists error, 31% are caused by driving too fast. Here it is - here's the full report here.

Yes, policing motorist behaviour is worthwhile, but the claim that it is other motorists to blame is demonstrably facile. The point of Close Pass is that it is addressing precisely the kind of risk-taking behaviour that is endangering other road users. It conforms precisely to what it is you claim to want to do - protect people from others who would risk their lives. Focusing on motorist behaviour to protect other motorists from them is not a good use of police time. 
That is why earlier this year I invested in a Casualty Reduction Officer. Jon Morris has years of experience in dealing with these issues and continues to work on a daily basis with a wide range of statutory and non-statutory agencies to help educate all road users about keeping safe.
John Morris was wrong in his statement. He claimed our roads are narrow but, except for right in the tiny historic centre of Cambridge they are not. He intimated that motorists having to go on to the other side of the road to pass is a bad thing, when in fact that is precisely what the Highway Code shows is correct. Officer Morris presented 'potentially forcing motorists to drive at the speed of cyclists' because the alternative is to risk the welfare of a cyclist as a bad thing. He is wrong, his advice is contrary to the highway code and a poor interpretation of the law. Just as importantly, in rejecting Close Pass, officer Morris has directly contradicted your supposed wholehearted support. Or in other words, by asserting that actually obeying the law is just too hard and inconvenient, he has condoned dangerous overtakes and abdicated the responsibility for policing demonstrably illegal and dangerous driving. 
One such scheme is Speed Watch which I’m pleased to see now has over 2,000 volunteers. I would encourage anyone in any parish who wants to set up a scheme to contact Mike Brooks, the Force Watch Coordination Officer:
Very nice. I don't care, we're talking about Operation Close Pass. This scheme has got nothing to do with that.
Another initiative is the introduction of Drive iQ which I introduced in June this year. The web-based learning programme is helping educate young people how to keep both themselves and others safe while driving.

Again, I don't care. That has nothing to do with operation close pass. 
It is clear that enforcement alone will not reduce fatal and serious collisions and it is vital the police focus work on preventing them from happening in the first place.

That's the whole point of Operation Close Pass. Its about changing the culture of driving, to prevent close overtakes through educating the entire driving population through highly publicised targeted policing - through such a focus it has been shown to be a cost effective and highly effective way to reduce the number of injury causing incidents on the road, and in so doing to facilitate a greater uptake of a means of transport (cycling) that brings orders of magnitude less risk to others than driving. 

I'm sorry Commissioner, you're just wrong here. Your officers claims were wrong, and you are wrong to double down on that by supporting him. Reconsider.

Monday 9 October 2017

Dangerous Cycling Epidemic?

The problem with the English language, or, I suppose, most languages, is we don't always have the right antonym when someone hurls an accusation at us. And boy have we got a doozy of an example today.

There's an epidemic of dangerous cycling. Apparently. Look, LBC tell us that two people are being injured per week by dangerous cyclists. Really that shite-mongering flay-dio shock jock excuse for a station is merely channeling the Express - you'll excuse me for not linking to a hate-site but they're also telling us that two people a week are being maimed or killed by cyclists. Likewise the Telegraph has delved for dodgy stats so it can similarly misrepresent the problem, and sadly Matthew Briggs (who increasingly seems to be campaigning against cycling as an act of vengeance I can entirely understand) has fallen for that hook, line and sinker.

It shouldn't be necessary to second-guess supposed journalists and question their use of statistics. One would hope that among their number would at least be a few with the integrity to speak the truth. But no. we don't have that kind of journalism in the UK any more and its down to us as individuals to call them out on this nonsense.

So lets ask the question - are two people being 'maimed or killed' by cyclists a week? Well, no. There are two people per week, roughly, admitted for hospital treatment in such collisions. They aren't 'maimed'. 'Seriously injured' in British accident stats means admitted to hospital, i.e. taken to A&E. It doesn't mean 'maimed' - such a statement isn't so much an over-statement as an outright lie. 

Has the number of people killed or 'maimed' by cyclists in the UK doubled? Not demonstrably. Firstly, the data analyzed by the Telegraph doesn't apportion blame - we don't know who caused the incidents linked to. That wouldn't be a big deal if talking about thousands, but we're not. We're talking about small numbers who are killed and very few injured - when you're looking at 1, 2, or 3 per year attributing responsibility is crucial in understanding the data. No newspaper source has attempted to do so. But more crucially, doubling accident or injury rate from a low-point in the data (2006) to the present very much risks over-analyzing statistical noise. In 2016 we're only looking at 108 injuries - and tiny changes in awareness in reporting or accident report form wording are sufficient to skew these numbers enormously if we merely look at percentage changes.

To get this right we need to look at a wider context if we're going to understand what this means with over 60 million people. Nearly 60 times more people are hospitalised by tea. You are 100 times more likely to be hospitalised putting your socks on than by a cyclist. Motorised vehicles kill around 70,000 times more than cyclists

Look, no one discussing this topic is a proponent of dangerous cycling - but we're facing a backlash against cyclists based on injury events that kill fewer than half the number bee stings cause. This near obsessive focus on a group whose activity has a colossal net positive impact on the nation by saving money, reducing carbon emission, reducing pollution, easing congestion and taking colossally more hazardous vehicles off the road. By focusing on those whose actions reduce risk at the expense of dealing with those who hospitalise tens of thousands we can only increase the net harm caused on our roads. This is not a route to 'greater good', it is demonstrably the opposite. 

There isn't an antomym for 'epidemic' that we can fall back on when discussing this alleged 'epidemic' of people 'maimed' by cyclists. All we can say is that the claim is a shameless lie.

Friday 6 October 2017

Cambridge Police Condone Endangering Cyclists.

So Operation Close Pass is a great idea. West Midlands Police talked to cyclists about what scares them most on the roads. And, unsurprisingly, its close passes. You know the kind of thing, you just want to get where you're going with as little fuss as possible, and you hear a car behind you. You've got two choices - keep the lane, indicating that the driver should wait until its safe to pass (this is what's recommended in cycle training courses), or you can shuffle over to the kerb. Now it oughtn't matter, because either way the driver behind SHOULD obey the highway code and give us plenty of space. The reason why we're trained to say in lane is because the world doesn't work that way, and by 'claiming the lane' we reduce the frequency of close passes. If they've got to pull out to pass, the theory goes, then they'll actually pull out to pass.

Lets be clear, close passes are never accidental. Some drivers don't care that they risk harming us, some want to. None are judging distances, at speed, to within inches, accidentally. So for a police service to specifically target this makes sense. And it has been spectacularly successful - by addressing one of the key dangers a class of vulnerable road users faces, West Midlands Police have seen a huge reduction cyclist casualties. They're down by about a fifth. It has been so successful that police services across the UK have been paying attention, and rolling out similar schemes.

So, the question has been, what would Cambridgeshire Constabulary do? Here, in Cambridge, we're Britain's cycling capital, and we've lots of accident black-spots that we could do with addressing. Milton Road. Histon Road. Cherry Hinton Road. Hills Road. And what have our Police said?

Go fuck yourselves.

Actually... No. The said 'go and get fucked, we don't care'.

And I could cope with that if they were at least honest, but they're not. Their statement is full of frankly bizarre interpretations of the highway code and outright lies.

Here (with my responses interspersed in old-school Usenet style) is their statement:
"We have been liaising with officers in the West Midlands about Operation Close Pass and have explored the possibility of implementing something similar locally.
And so you should. Its been a long time coming. 
"The average road is approximately 3.5 metres from the kerb to the white lines. Cyclists are advised to cycle 0.75 metres away from the kerb to avoid drain covers and an average car is about two metres wide. Operation Close Pass recommends drivers leave about 1.5 metres when passing a cyclist. If we add all those figures together it would mean drivers are moving into the opposite lane to overtake.
Yes, that's right. That's what is shown in the highway code. Here you go, rule 163. When you overtake a cyclist you should be going over to the other side of the road, if its a normal road. A road where you can overtake a cyclist without doing so has to be exceptionally wide. Seriously, where did this copper get his driving license? Was it out of a Christmas cracker? He's actually saying that driving according to the Highway Code is a problem that the Police can't possibly be asked to address.

"For Cambridge city where roads are narrower and often very congested we would be potentially forcing motorists to drive at the speed of cyclists when there isn’t the recommended space to overtake.
Let me stop you right there. Yes, Cambridge does have a core with some narrow streets. Its beautiful, the Luftwaffe left our city mostly to its own devices, and then the developers who destroyed so many other cities in the '50s and '60s failed to over-power the old University colleges, leaving a network of narrow, medieval streets. But that part of Cambridge is tiny, mostly consisting of one-way streets, and some of it is restricted access to cars anyway. The vast majority of Cambridge is the same as the vast majority of every other city. Normal roads, of normal width. And I believe the Police Officer here knows that, and knows that he wouldn't be asked to do an Operation Close Pass in that part of Cambridge. To knowingly argue something untrue? I believe that's called lying. And overtaking on those narrow streets? Well there isn't room to do that at all, let alone safely.

Driving at the speed of the vehicle in front when you haven't got space to overtake safely? And? What of it? That's the law, and it's your job to enforce that law. It isn't your job to argue that it is reasonable to take risks with the safety of vulnerable road users because you want to prioritise your journey over their welfare. If there isn't room to overtake safely, there isn't room to overtake. A dangerous overtake doesn't become safe (and legal) because it would be inconvenient waiting a while to pass.
"Cyclists are vulnerable road users and it’s important that we are doing all we can to make the roads safer for everyone but at this time we don’t believe Operation Close Pass in its current format is practical in Cambridge."
Cop out. They know full well that on Histon Road, Arbury Road, Chesterton Road or any other suburban road in Cambridge they could run this operation, but they choose not to because, bluntly, they hate cyclists. Seriously. Cambridgeshire Constabulary have not only systematically dodged all responsibility in policing dangerous and obstructive drivers who knowingly risk harming cyclists, they're also among our key culprits.

This cynical, crass Police statement is indicative of the gross dereliction of duty towards cyclist safety that is endemic of Cambrideshire Constabulary, which is in effect a well armed, empowered branch of the car lobby. They have here declared themselves our enemies by openly stating its ok to endanger a cyclist if you'd otherwise be inconvenienced.

This is a declaration of war by Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Its frightening to think what might come next.