We had another meeting with West Yorkshire Police this week. Inspector Field and Sergeant Butler represented the road policing team; Will, Martin, Tor and Miranda from the campaign. Ewhen Chymera also attended from West Yorkshire's Road Safety group.
We started by discussing Miranda's recent incident where a car 'left-hooked' her at a roundabout in Leeds. The driver failed to stop. Miranda was left with a broken pelvis. There were several witnesses and the police soon caught up with the driver at home - she claimed not to have noticed she had hit anyone despite damage to her car. The driver was eventually charged and pleaded guilty to 'driving without due care and attention' (same as 'careless driving') and was fined £75 and given 6 points on her license. The driver wasn’t charged with failing to stop. The justification was that she claimed not to have noticed she had hit anything. This seems unlikely but the police felt unable to pursue this.
Miranda was generally pleased with the police actions and courtesy but raised several issues. Firstly the driver had not been breathalysed. Insp Field confirmed they should have been. All police normally carry kits and it is standard practice to breathalyse anyone involved in an 'injury incident'. Because the driver pleaded guilty they were subject to a lesser penalty than if they had pleaded not guilty and been subsequently found guilty - this is normal in the British justice system. They were also not eligible for the driver awareness course which is offered to lesser offences like moderate speeding. We felt that the course might be useful in addition to the penalty, in order that the driver might change behaviour. This is something we need to take up nationally.
We also asked whether the driver's phone records should have been checked - a possible explanation for her not having been aware of the collision. Insp Field explained that the law regarding phones was difficult. Getting access to phone records was only possible in serious cases (fatalities or life-changing injuries) and also that the law specifically covered use of a phone to make a call or SMS, not other use (say playing music or, like Jimmy Carr, dictating a joke). This ambiguity doesn't help anyone and everyone felt it would be much better to have a simple rule that said 'no phone in hand whilst driving'. Again, this is a national issue to pursue.
Red Light Jumping
We then moved on to another case where a driver had been caught on camera whilst driving through a red light and using a phone. This had been reported to the police and a statement taken with a view to issuing a summons but nothing further had been heard. Insp Field suggested we chase this up but said sometimes it could take months to process a summons. Generally the decision to prosecute is based on quality of evidence and the public interest. Obviously we felt it was in the public interest to prosecute those who can and do kill through inattention. Martin noted that the public perspective was changing and that driving standards were declining such that it was now almost the norm to behave badly and what was needed was a few publicised prosecutions.
Insp Field did encourage cyclists to report incidents where the evidence was good. These might lead to giving 'words of advice' to drivers which might impact on those with a conscience. If many complaints were logged about the same driver this might lead to further action.
Will then asked for clarity of an incident last autumn when he was assaulted by a car passenger after a close pass. The passenger shouted abuse then got out and punched Will in the head several times. There were witnesses and the car's details were obtained. The immediate police response was good with an officer on the scene in minutes and a paramedic to confirm there was no concussion. Subsequently it came to light that although the police soon traced the car owner they could not pressurise him to name the assailant. This seemed odd and appeared to make it easy to be a 'getaway driver'. Insp Field confirmed this was the case, frustrating as it might be. Unless the driver had known about the crime before it was committed (e.g. like knowingly driving bank robbers to the scene) they could not charge them with being an accessory or perverting the cause of justice.
No registered keeper
Martin raised a similar issue whereby he had had a bottle thrown at him from a passing car. He shouted back but the car simply turned around and another bottle was thrown. Although he reported the registration to the police they couldn't trace it as it was between registered keepers. Sgt Butler advised this was a common tactic and cars were commonly circulated amongst a group of people to make tracing the driver almost impossible. Sgt Butler also reiterated a point he'd made at our previous meeting: it is just not worth getting involved in exchanges with drivers, the cyclist almost always comes off worst. Hard though it might be, the best approach was to ignore and report later.
We asked the police if they had a specific policy on pavement cycling. A couple of campaign members had reported being questioned by PCSOs in Leeds for cycling on the pavement, in order to get around unpleasant junctions. Insp Field confirmed that pavement cycling was illegal and that cyclists could be fined, however it would be very unlikely this law would be enforced unless there was a complaint, collision or injury. The message here seems clear - cycle sensibly and with deference to pedestrians and you should be OK. This echoes advice given by a government minister, whereby "The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users.
We also asked about how the police responded to complaints about drivers of company vehicles. Incidents involving buses or commercial lorries are fairly common. Sometimes the company attempt to brush off the issue by saying they will 'deal with it internally'. Insp Field said that many large companies took such incidents very seriously but that smaller enterprises perhaps less so. She advised that when reporting such incidents to ask the police to talk to the driver, rather than the company, and that they would investigate.
We talked a bit about reporting incidents and Insp Field said she believed the 101 call centre team were nearly ready with their new system. The aim was to allow online reporting with video upload (or link). The police would then vet the submissions and issue warning letters. Will had offered to pilot the new system and was expecting to hear something soon.
Safer Cycling Campaign
Ewhen noted that a safe cycling campaign was due to start in the near future. Posters would be displayed on bus shelters etc and a video was being made for release on the new Made in Leeds TV channel. This would hopefully raise awareness of issues like drivers stopping in ASLs and the risks of cyclists undertaken vehicles at junctions. We asked if the campaign could see the plans as it was felt it was key to get the message right and avoid victim-blaming. We have agreed to work together on this.
We wrapped up by asking who was responsible for parking enforcement in Leeds. Insp Field confirmed this was mainly the council, and that politically Leeds had a fairly tolerant policy with respect to enforcement. This is something we need to challenge.