The Road Danger Reduction Forum organised an evening to present an award to the West Midlands Police for well-deserved recognition of their work. I was fortunate enough to be invited to listen to their presentation at the House of Lords recently. It got me thinking about the enormity of the task that the two coppers had set themselves.
The weight of current evidence to shows that cycling as a mode of transport brings many benefits to society.
● People who ride are fitter and healthier, the cost of obesity and physical inactivity to the UK is an enormous £8.2 billion annually
● Motor vehicles contribute massively to air pollution, which kills 40-50,000 people a year
● Each road traffic fatality costs the UK £1.69million .This can only have increased since the linked article was written in 2012
● Transport is the 5th biggest global contributor to greenhouse gasses
The current unsustainable increase in traffic needs to be reversed, reducing car use is imperative to so many facets of our lives. Not only is the government failing to prioritise this reduction, they appear to be doing the opposite by encouraging increased car sales as part of their drive for continued economic growth.
Thankfully, there are people like PC Hudson and PC Hodson from the West Midlands Police (WMP) who have both taken action to counter the government’s stance. Their Give Space Be Safe campaign aims to educate and / or prosecute drivers who don’t give bike riders enough space when overtaking them. If a plainclothes officer is passed too closely when cycling, he radios ahead to a team who pull the driver into an area set up to educate them about their dangerous behaviour.
PCs Hudson and Hodson touched upon everything I listed in the opening paragraph as reasons why they started their campaign. They understand that the best way to encourage people to cycle is to enable them to ride their bikes safely. The biggest reason that stops the two thirds of people that want to ride their bikes but don’t, is their own safety. People experience at least one close, life threatening pass a week. The best way to make people safe and increase cycling as a modal share is to build a separate network of segregated cycling lanes: this will take time. The Dutch have been doing this capably for the last 45 years and their reward is a current modal share of around 30% – some 90% of children ride to secondary school – and hugely reduced healthcare costs. Compare this to the UK which has around 2% modal share and the most overweight population in Western Europe. Admirably, the WMP want our kids to be safe when they ride on the road.
At the current rate of investment in the network of cycling lanes in the UK, it would take hundreds of years to match the proliferation of dedicated infrastructure in the Netherlands. We need different and multiple approaches.
The WMP’s approach is to change the behaviour of drivers, to stop them from viewing cyclists as road furniture, as an inconvenience, which needs to be overtaken hastily and at the first opportunity. We can make this change. There have been similar changes in recent history; drink driving, smoking in public, compulsory seat belt laws, using mobile phones while driving. The important difference is that these two Police Officers are trying to effect change without the creation of new laws to back them up. They will need other Police forces to follow their lead. Sgt Nick Clarke from the Metropolitan Police in Camden has already modified their idea to work in London without any additional resources.
The press need to lend their support to the Be Safe Give Space campaign by changing the way they report road traffic offences, and other Police forces need to prioritise road safety in their crime plans. Recently at a Safer in the City event I heard the City Police announce that they are changing the way they police the square mile. They are looking at the road crime evidence and acting on what will bring the local population the biggest safety benefits for the least amount of effort or, as WMP say, they want to create a new ethos of concentrating on the greatest threat at the most vulnerable locations.
As part of their plan they have also started to educate and prosecute drivers based on third party footage. A test forum of six or seven riders send their footage to the WMP for further analysis. This resulted in 130 drivers being reported. Encouragingly, this action is being widened to include other crimes, not only close passes but driving whilst on the phone and other distractions. Imagine a room full of police officers that did nothing but assess drivers’ crimes based on third party footage; that would really help PC’s Hudson and Hodson effect the culture change that is so desperately needed on the UK’s roads.
HGV photo’s courtesy of Evo Lucas