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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.