Road Danger Reduction Forum

Subscribe to Road Danger Reduction Forum feed Road Danger Reduction Forum
Safer Roads For All
Updated: 58 min 5 sec ago

Should cyclists be able to hurt or kill with impunity?

10 January, 2018 - 16:48

Following the Alliston case (discussed here and here) we have discussed the demands for parity between cyclists and motorists with regard to the response from the criminal justice system, not least from the Kim Briggs Campaign . In particular, we have studied the meaning of The Times instruction to cyclists to “respect the rules of the road like everyone else” . We showed 
that this would in fact mean that “cyclists” (the term refers to everybody who may ever ride a bicycle) would actually have to break rules and laws a lot more, and have to endanger other road users far, far more. That’s the actual rule and law breaking: what about the responses of the criminal justice system once the rule and law breaking has been detected, and in particular once collisions have occurred?

A step by step guide to letting errant drivers off the hook

The first step in looking at any supposed “punishment” for offenders is the response to rule and law breaking by the police before collisions occur. Secondly, the police may investigate after collisions have happened – although there are no legal requirements to report to the police if nobody has been injured. Thirdly, there is a legal requirement for the police to investigate after a Road Traffic Collision (RTC) where somebody has been hurt. Fourthly, an investigation may lead to charges being brought against a driver: these vary in the potential severity of a sentence. Fifthly, a guilty verdict has to be reached if there is to be any sentence. Sixthly, if that guilty verdict is reached, there are different severities of “punishment” that can be given by the (Crown or Magistrate’s) Court. Seventhly, there are ways in which “punishments” may be reduced in their severity. Finally, even the less severe “punishments” may be removed.
What follows is not a study which analyses all cases in the UK – although there is reference to the survey by our friends in RoadPeace – but rather an illustration of typical cases, drawn from media reports of cases in the UK in 2017, mainly after the Alliston case. (Apologies if I have misreported any of these cases: do let us know if details are wrong.)

Let’s proceed through the seven steps, bearing in mind what parity with the relatively rare cases where cyclists are responsible for hurting (and even more rarely for killing) other road users would actually mean.


1. Before collisions occur.

2017 saw a report from the RAC Foundation which highlighted the number of motoring offences picked up by cameras. Ostensibly a protest against the loss of traffic police officers and the associated lack of enforcement of serious traffic offences , it was actually a complaint against the use of cameras for minor offences, “punished” by fines. (In fact, traffic offences have always had a very small chance of resulting in arrest). The report was greeted with front page outrage by the Daily Mail:

which complained about the “relatively minor offences such as speeding and red light offending…”(my emphasis). In fact, the number of speed camera based fines for speeding was about 1 million. As illustrated in the previous post on this subject, the proportion of drivers who regularly break the laws on speed mean that several million (the precise amount depends on what kind of vehicle driver, which speed limits etc.) drivers are regularly breaking the law in this area.

In other words, this report might note that the chances of being caught for speeding are actually very low – probably about one in 15 regular speeders may get a fine in a year. Instead, its spokesman, Steve Gooding (formerly a senior official in the government’s Department for Transport) stated: . “If thousands of drivers a day are getting tickets this is a clear indication of a system that is failing.” The answer might be – for an organisation concerned with responsible driving – that there should be more enforcement, with the realistic chance of being caught with a deterrent penalty likely to stop the offence in the first place. For example, in November we were told that half of all speed cameras in the UK are switched off .

Instead, it appears to take the opposite view. This approach is further illustrated by a look at the research interests of the report’s author  : “…a special focus on crimes of the law abiding …In particular I am interested in how ostensibly law abiding citizens react to being labelled a problem by the justice system..” (my emphasis). The oxymoron is of central importance to this matter: for the author of a report by a well-funded organisation with charitable status which “…advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist”, the people committing crimes when driving are still “law abiding”.

We come back to this issue at the end of this post. Plainly the fact that much – but not all – of the driving public doesn’t consider driver crime to be “real crime” is important. Although one might expect a charity claiming to speak for “the responsible motorist” to more apparently and vigorously oppose such an attitude.

Another issue is driving while uninsured. I argue that third party insurance is in fact insuring the driver against their responsibilities – but I won’t bother to continue that line of argument here. Suffice it to say that about 1 million cars are uninsured . According to this report

last year, only 15% will be caught.


2. When collisions have happened and no injury is reported

The vast majority of collisions do not involve injury, so there is no duty to report to the police, although the police can investigate what has happened. After all, despite the reporting of incidents in the media as if no driver was involved (“A car turned over/hit a house” etc.) in almost all cases somebody will have done something they should not have. I have discussed before at length how something as visibly law breaking as driving into a shop can be described by a police officer as “not thought to be suspicious”.

Porsche driven across footway into Caffe Nero: “not thought to be suspicious”


A – hopefully – more typical response arrives in my Twitter feed yesterday. In this case
a professional minibus driver who falls asleep and crashes into a car does get arrested and is “punished” by being given a Graduated Fixed Penalty Notice (a fine) although there is no indication if this has warranted the 3 penalty points that might be given under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

3. When collisions have happened and injury occurs

In these cases the police are required to investigate. However, this may not happen. Consider these examples (remember these are just some of the cases reported in the media in the last year):

This incident, (the first one in the story here ) where a cyclist was hit by a bus in Hackney where the driver was clearly in the wrong – overtaking on wrong side of the road straight into cyclist. There was no arrest at the time in July, nor mention of it in TfL’s Q3 Bus Safety Data for 2017.

Hackney bus/cycle collision

We read of how a cyclist who had been crushed under the wheels of a HGV but that the police did not investigate because she “only” suffered a broken leg.  Her lawyers stated “At the time, the police [at the scene] were incorrectly informed that the accident was not life threatening or life changing so failed to pass the case onto the collision investigation team and are therefore unable to prosecute the driver.

In the case of third party reporting, even where there is additional violence as in this case in Essex which attracted a lot of attention recently, there may be no charges.

Of course, it must be remembered that making an arrest immediately is not necessarily the best cause of action for the police – although in this recent case  of a car driven into a restaurant with two pedestrians injured it is difficult to see why an arrest was not made.


4. When charges are made after a collision

Very often, charges are made after a collision where somebody has been hurt or killed. However, there is concern that there may be too high a tendency for them to be made for the less serious offence of “careless driving” rather than “dangerous driving”. The justification often given for this is that juries are less likely to convict for the more serious offence. Indeed, that does in fact happen:

In this case a lorry driver blind in one eye, and going blind in the other, has seven seconds to see a couple crossing the road despite exceeding the speed limit by 7 mph, drives into them and kills them. As the judge said “you were not paying proper attention and you should have been”. However, the jury acquits him of causing death by dangerous driving, and he is sentenced for the lesser offence of causing death by careless driving.

In this case the Crown Prosecution Service believed that because the driver drove across a junction, where he collided with a cyclist and killed him, without reducing his speed despite seeing numerous ‘Give Way’ signs along the road, his driving was dangerous. (The driver initially told police he had slowed down from 25 mph to 15 mph. However, as a driver who had passed his test 3 months previously he had a speed monitoring device on board which recorded his speed as 37 mph). The jury did not agree and he was convicted of the lesser offence of causing death through careless driving.

In this case the van driver caused permanent life changing injuries after driving through a red light – don’t forget the Daily Mail calling this a “relatively minor offence”, and was also convicted of the lesser offence of causing death through careless driving.

5. Reaching any type of Guilty verdict

The unwillingness of a jury to acquit drivers is a central feature of lenience towards bad driving. In this case even something as apparently wrong as driving into a pedestrian on a pedestrian crossing gets a Not Guilty verdict.

She told police she had “no idea” how the incident happened.

For this reason some campaigners will often argue for driving offences to be specified as being “Careless” (or “Causing Death through Careless”) Driving” so that they can be tried by a Magistrate who – again, hopefully – may be less prejudiced than a jury composed of people sympathetic to bad driving.


6. After a Guilty verdict: suspended sentences

In 4 we show how a Guilty verdict often only results under the less serious of the two main categories of offence (“Careless” and “Dangerous”). Let’s see what kind of “punishment” may result.

Here are five cases resulting in suspended sentences, that is to say there is no custodial sentence despite someone being killed by bad driving:
One being a hit and run ;  One with the driver taking his eyes off the road to adjust his car radio : a driver who “didn’t see” a cyclist despite his light being visible 200 metres away ; one just “careless”  or seriously injuring them.

I want to give a special mention to elderly drivers given suspended sentences after killing people. I have posted on how the “road safety” industry, or at least this part of it , seems to have taken a soft view on this issue. Here we have cases of people who are obviously unable to drive properly and who therefore should not have driving licences. When they get suspended sentences after killing people, one does wonder if this is not a particularly gruesome example of the social tolerance of bad driving. After all, if they should not have been driving in the first place, what is the point of saying they have been “punished” when all that happens is a loss of licence?

Three cases are here, here and here.


7. After a Guilty verdict: endorsements and bans

My view is that the principal response by the courts to driving which endangers others should not be prison: this should be reserved for the most serious cases only. A deterrent (providing it is not for people who are incapable of driving properly, as in the cases of the elderly killer drivers mentioned above) can exist with the loss of licence. Let’s have a quick look at what happens with the use of endorsing licences.

Here is a case of a driver with a bald tyre failing to stop after knocking down and killing somebody: there are 10 points given so she can carry on driving. In this case a driver using her telephone (it was on loud speaker, and as she was not actually holding it that is not considered so serious) gets 5 penalty points and a £90 fine after hitting and killing a child crossing the road.

But surely these endorsements add up and lead to bans? Well, not really. Drivers have to be caught and have their licences endorsed over a limited period of time, and as we have seen, the chances of getting caught for driving offences are small. (Also, even where cases are severe enough to result in a prison sentence, it is noteworthy that the driving ban may be for a short period of time )

Statistics published this year showed that 10,000 drivers are still on the road with 12 or more points on their licences, due to a loophole in the law. Magistrates are allowed to be lenient with motorists if a driving ban would cause them to lose a job.

So what are the chances of actually being banned? Our friends in RoadPeace have a good briefing sheet here for 2016. This shows that only 15% of “punishments” involving a driving licence were bans. Only 11% of driving offences resulted in a ban. Of these bans, over two thirds were the mandatory bans for drink or drug driving offences. (Less than 1% of drivers convicted of using their mobile phone were banned, despite the evidence showing the risk to be at least comparable to drink driving.)

That means just one third of the 64,409 drivers banned at court were banned for other offences. There are approximately 45 million driving licence holders with about 37 million registered vehicles in use. Being conservative and allowing for the licence holders who don’t drive frequently, we can use a number of about 38 million drivers. In 2016 that means 0.17% of regular drivers were banned, and about 0.06% of regular drivers banned for offences other than those involving drink or drugs.

If almost all drivers behaved impeccably, that would be fine. But as the post shows, rule and law breaking which endangers others is commonplace.


8. “Undue hardship”.

But it gets worse. Banned drivers have the right, after two thirds of a ban is served, to plead “undue hardship” because of the loss of licence. This is illustrated neatly by the case of the Alan Duffuss,  who has been convicted of bad driving in three separate incidents where people have been killed.

In 1980, he lost control of his Jaguar XJS at an estimated speed of 100 mph, with the car flying 70 feet and his passenger dying after it hit a wall. In 1983, less than three months after he got his licence back, while on a powerful 863cc motorbike he ploughed into the back of a car, killing one of the passengers. Duffus was driving a powerful BMW Z4 in January 2008 when he 
encountered Grant Whyte, 22, who was in a modified Vauxhall Corsa. Witnesses told how the two cars sped along the road bumper to bumper, with Whyte just behind Duffus. It was alleged that they raced each other for three miles, tailgating one another and swerving repeatedly on to the wrong side of the road, after which Whyte swerved off the road 
and hit and killed a pedestrian walking home from work. Duffus and Whyte were charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but Duffus denied racing or having anything to do with the fatal collision. The jury cleared him of racing and of blame for the death, and he got a 10-year ban for dangerous driving.

The reason for mentioning this individual is that in 2017 he successfully applied for the last three years of the latest ban to be removed on the grounds of “undue hardship”, namely that inconvenience had been caused to his family by the ban (he had to be driven to work by his wife).



I haven’t, to be fair covered the fact that in many of the above cases the court has ordered community service to be undertaken, or given fines. There are other possible responses as well: in the case of the driving captured in the video here an afternoon of driver awareness was specified as appropriate.

There are, of course, some cases where offenders get sent to prison (although not necessarily with long term driving bans), normally for the more serious offences and where the consequences have been severe. My suggestion is that these act as lightning conductors diverting attention from the majority of types of rule and law breaking behaviour which endanger others. Indeed the focus on driving impaired by alcohol or drugs can be seen as implying that driving unimpaired is essentially benign.

Given the lenience I have described, matters such as having a journey curtailed or being required to attend a court may themselves count as a form of “punishment”. Indeed, unlike other law breaking resulting in the death and/or injury of others, a key element of what constitutes punishment is the actual or alleged suffering of the offender. This is a persistent theme apparent from the proceedings of court cases, particularly where someone has died.

It is normal – do check through court reports for this – for not only the offender’s representatives but judges and magistrates to refer to this actual or alleged suffering. It is evidenced by the offender having to attend counselling, treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression or undergo other psychiatric care. Stock phrases include “Whatever the sentence, s/he will have the sentence of having to live with this for the rest of his/her life”. (This is for younger offenders: for older ones “as a (grand)parent s/he fully understands the loss of X”). Today I read of a doctor who crashed her car when drunk twice in three months : “..she has already punished herself enough.”


…or not?

The point of this post is to show that driver rule and law breaking is not only commonplace, but unlikely to result in any kind of real punishment, except when the worst types of bad driving result in serious injury or death – and it is quite usual for it not to happen even then. As explained previously (at some length), the purpose of describing this state of affairs is not to excuse the relatively lower level of danger that an errant bicyclist or pedestrian poses compared to that of an errant motorised road user. Or indeed even the far, far lower danger that errant cyclists or pedestrians pose to others compared to errant drivers.

It is simply to show the scale of road danger and where it comes from – and that this society treats it with impunity. This happens to such an extent that the author of the RAC Foundation report described above appears to imply that law breaking by motorists is not actual or real law breaking. It means that discussion of cyclist rule and law breaking, as a key topic for the forthcoming Cycle Safety Review, cannot occur in a meaningful way unless the massively greater problem of motor danger is put on the agenda alongside it in an equitable way.

One way of looking at it is an analysis of 9 years of mortality statistics:

Indeed, this period could allow for a positive opportunity to have a civilised discussion about danger on the road. We don’t think that road danger should only be addressed by enforcement and sentencing (although stigmatising endangering behaviour is important and a key part of our work supporting traffic policing based on the principles of Harm Reduction.)

Various kinds of engineering and other measures should be used to reduce danger on the road. But we won’t even be able to set the agenda for this unless we understand what the problem is.
A century of the activities of the “road safety” industry and the massive power of the mainstream driver and motor industry lobby has left us with normalised rule and law breaking – but not all drivers are necessarily content with this state of affairs. We need to take this opportunity to express what a civilised approach to road danger would actually look like.

Categories: Views

2017: A pivotal year for Road Danger Reduction

26 December, 2017 - 17:50

2017 has seen two important steps forward for Road Danger Reduction (RDR) in the UK. But the transport status quo is still stacked against sustainable/healthy travel policy and the gains can easily be rolled back. So let’s have a look at what has happened to get RDR on the agenda – and what needs to be done to keep it there and push it further.

Policing close passing of cyclists and related policing

Firstly, our friends in West Midlands Police have had more publicity for their work on policing close passing of cyclists and related policing, such as of 20 mph limits. We helped them with me giving a key note talk at their January training day.

Yours truly at January training day hosted by West Midlands Police

I am pleased to be in constant touch with the two PCs whom we awarded the special award to in November 2016. We – Ken Spence, Colin McKenzie and I – then jointly organised a very well attended training day for police officers in September.

Most significantly, they have been organised into the West Midlands Road Traffic Harm Reduction Team (“Harm Reduction” is the Police equivalent of “Danger Reduction”). RDRF are acting as the Secretariat for WMP on close passing policing by collecting and disseminating information to police forces in the UK interested in this kind of policing. We also supported the launch of the Metropolitan Police’s close passing of cyclists policing.

This was the year when Third Party reporting of bad driving – a crucial part of Harm Reduction policing – got itself firmly on the agenda. I attended the launch of Operation Snap in Wales: will the public take to submitting footage of law breaking motoring? And will UK Police Services act on these submissions in ways which help to deter bad driving?

Talking about “Road Danger Reduction”

Secondly, the Mayor of London’s draft Transport Strategy (MTS) contained numerous references to “Road Danger Reduction”. Transport for London is setting up a Road Danger Reduction Team and we hope to assist them.

Regrettably, talking about RDR has sometimes been just that – talking. RDR has been slotted in to documents replacing some usage of the phrase “road safety” while the approach stays the same.

So while the above are both big steps forward for the RDR agenda, there are signs that some police forces and local authorities just want to go through the motions on RDR. We will need to be vigilant and work with them to make sure that a genuine RDR approach is taken.
RDRF activity

Getting the message across

I have been active with the  blog and our Twitter account #CHAIRRDRF. I have spoken on harm reduction policing at conferences in Westminster, Hackney, and Bradford; and on road danger reduction in London at Waltham Forest.

I was interviewed twice on radio after the Alliston/Briggs case: we had over 11,000 views for the first of our posts on the case. Regrettably this case was exploited by all too many with an utterly hypocritical pseudo-concern for pedestrian safety. We saw it as necessary to show up the double standards as part of our aim of getting proper safety and traffic justice for pedestrians. We are continuing to show the failings in current official approaches to law breaking  and sentencing.

Safer lorries

I have also attended the Action on Lorry Danger working group and Brenda Puech represented RDRF at an important conference in Gothenburg on safer Lorries (paid for by the hosts Volvo Trucks). If Volvo thought they could get a compliant audience they were mistaken and got a lot of pressure from Brenda and the NGOs representing cyclists and pedestrians who pushed – we hope with success – for them to be swifter in bringing in safer lorry designs with Direct Vision.

Volvo Safer Lorries conference in Gothenburg


The future

Most importantly, we are reconstituting the RDRF with a new constitution and committee to enable us to be more pro-active in the New Year. As well as continuing our work on close passing policing we intend to extend the work we do with a conference (probably with our friends in RoadPeace) and offering to train transport professionals and the police and audit their work on RDR. Our work will be supported by a fundraising initiative and our committee members have determined to give more time to the cause.

So watch out for those fundraising requests in the New Year!


What we’re up against

Just to remind you: This year’s Budget saw the Chancellor proudly proclaiming yet more money given to drivers. We are one of the few organisations that question the continued subsidy to motoring. We question the equation of fewer deaths with “more safety”. We push for traffic justice.

To give just one (minor) example of our work , take this crash in east London: I am trying to find out what happened after this incident (the first one in the story here ) where a cyclist was hit by a bus where the driver was clearly in the wrong – overtaking on wrong side of the road straight into cyclist.

Crash in Hackney in  July 2017. Note impact site on windscreen and bicycle under bus (Photo: Good News Hackney)

There was no arrest at the time in July and no mention of the incident was made in the TfL quarterly bus accident reports. Working out what happened as a way of reducing the danger that leads to such incidents is just a small part of what we are about.

We hope you will be with us as we continue our work in 2018.


Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum


Categories: Views

Launch of Operation Snap

21 December, 2017 - 20:27

I was pleased to attend the launch of Operation Snap in Cardiff on December 19th. It has significant implications for traffic law enforcement and the involvement of the public in reporting bad driving to the police.

Insp Steve Davies, Duncan Dollimore (Cycling UK),Asst Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan, Chair RDRF, Theresa Healy (GoSafe)

Here is an abridged version the Press Release which gives a good indication of what is involved:

Nowhere for careless and dangerous drivers to hide as Operation Snap launches Wales-wide

Motorists can now contribute to help Wales’ police forces keep roads safe by putting digital footage from dash cams and other devices to good use. (Cyclists can also submit helmet-cam or light/camera footage).

As part of Operation Snap, members of the public throughout Wales can submit footage and images showing traffic offences being committed – from driving dangerously or carelessly to contravening solid white lines, using a mobile phone while driving or ignoring traffic lights.

The joint initiative between the four Welsh police forces, GoSafe and the Crown Prosecution Service, has attracted support from Cycling UK and The British Horse Society as well as a number of families who have lost loved ones as the result of a road traffic offence.

South Wales Police Assistant Chief Constable, Jeremy Vaughan, said: “Operation Snap enables people to submit footage of motoring offences to all Welsh police forces, allowing us take action, change attitudes and deal with those who compromise all our safety on our roads.

“Footage can now be submitted…in a very simple and streamlined process. This provides us with the ability target those who drive dangerously and reduce the number of fatal or serious road related accidents that occur on our roads.
Operation Snap is for all roads users – from pedestrians to cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders and drivers of all vehicles. If you have recorded anyone driving dangerously, then you can help us by submitting your footage online. By supporting this operation you are reminding those that drive dangerously on Wales’ roads that there is nowhere to hide.”

Teresa Healy, Partnership Manager at GoSafe, added: “Operation Snap is the culmination of partners working together to respond to community needs; to deliver a solution which allows road users and the wider community to actively contribute to road safety. This operation also allows us to protect vulnerable road users, who would not otherwise have a means to submit their footage easily to the police. Supported by the Crown Prosecution Service, this operation acts as a deterrent to those who choose to drive dangerously. By enabling the public to submit footage we will reduce the number of serious or fatal collisions that occur on our roads.”

Inspector Steve Davies who delivered Operation Snap on behalf of South Wales Police stated, “Police officers cannot be everywhere, as much as they try, but with Operation Snap the police could be anywhere. The aim of this initiative is to change driver behaviour and their mind-set behind the wheel. We want drivers to ask themselves two questions: firstly, am I being recorded? and secondly, do I really want to take that chance?

Footage can be submitted for any incidents in Wales at or

My understanding is that between 12 to15 Police Services in the UK have shown an interest in the Wales system, with 9 likely to be introducing it soon. Some do or are likely to shortly introduce other systems of submitting 3rd party footage of illegal driving, such as Avon and Somerset, Sussex, in London there is  and Essex have

In order to find out what is happening in your area, contact the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Also see the good summary of what has been happening in Local Transport Today 27th October.

My thoughts on this initiative is that it shows a major commitment on the part of Wales Police Services to respond to public concern about illegal driving which endangers other road users, with the focus on deterring people who may otherwise drive badly. The key issue is how it develops in terms of public acceptance, willingness to submit footage and appropriate responses from the Police Services which will be taking this or similar systems up.

This latter point has regrettably been prominent in the last week with the case of an incident in Essex. In this case which has been extensively discussed on social media, Essex Police seem to have taken a lenient attitude towards a driver who collided with a cyclist and then punched him in the head. However, this contrasts with Essex Police’s action following another incident in Colchester in May, following which a driver was charged with dangerous driving and assault. (For an account of these cases see this )

So, as with all matters of road danger reduction, the issue is the changing of a culture which tolerates excessive rule and law breaking which endangers others. Knowing that bad driving may be reported and lead to unpleasant consequences could be part of that change. Watch this space.

Categories: Views

Policing of close passing of cyclists in the UK: update on progress by November 2017

13 November, 2017 - 15:04

Some of the 42 delegates

On September 19th the Road Danger Reduction Forum, in partnership with West Midlands Police, held a training day on “Policing close passing of cyclists and related behaviours” courtesy of West Midlands Fire Service in Birmingham. Below is a brief report back on the current situation, a year after RDRF gave a special award to the ground breaking work done by West Midlands Police 

Since that time RDRF has been acting as Secretariat for WMP’s work in this area, collecting and disseminating information to and from Police Services throughout the UK, with an information pack sent out to interested forces. There has been a flurry of initiatives during that time, with a variety of operations carried out. A particular new area is the development of 3rd party reporting, which we highlight as it is likely to involve a significant change in traffic policing.
Below is a summary of reports back from Police Services which attended the training day

The Training Day

The following police services asked to come: Avon & Somerset, Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, South Wales, Thames Valley, Warwickshire, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Police Scotland. PS Northern Ireland. Also attending were Leicester University Law Department (who are carrying out research on harm reduction traffic policing); Madison (importers of Cycliq camera lights) and Cycling UK who have distributed mats with passing distances for educational sessions.

A representative of the College of Policing attended. There will now be a specific mention in the curriculum in the roads policing module of close passing, although for close passing policing to be carried out on a national basis there will have to be commitment from the National Police Council after representations from Chief Constables.

Below is what we hope is a reasonable accurate summary of where Police Services (PSs) are as of mid-November 2017. I have added some comments that have appeared in the press. Please note that since PSs are not obliged to inform us of the current situation the reports below may be inaccurate or out of date: this is a rapidly changing scenario. Do contact me about inaccuracies!

Avon & Somerset

They have a Cycling UK mat and had done full close pass operations 3 times in Bristol, and also in Bath, Swindon & Cheltenham by mid-September. Lots of publicity success, with 10% engagement on social media – 2.5% is more normal. Local BBC news covered an operation as a main story. They were due to run more operations.

3rd Party: They started automated online reporting of traffic incidents in September, and can use info from this to promote the close passing scheme. Use of 3rd party footage for prosecution is now allowed. Avon and Somerset give cameras to officers who commute by bike.

Illustration on bus courtesy of Avon and Somerset Police and Bath and North East Somerset Council Cambridgeshire

The casualty reduction officer was widely quoted in October as saying: “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.” But he has contacted me to say:
“…despite the content of some media articles, I am currently still liaising with West Midlands and other police colleagues regarding this cycling safety initiative and how it could be adopted within Cambridgeshire. It is unfortunate that the recent report may have left you feeling that we had completely discounted it. I can assure you that this is not the case,… I hope you feel some reassurance that we are still reviewing the matter….” We understand that there is fresh interest in a programme being started.


Close passing work in infancy. Using mat for education only, promoted on social media. Some 3rd party reporting is done; they will try to add close passing to this.


Initial interest has been shown.

Dorset, Devon, Cornwall

Using the mat

They have mats, and had done one close passing operation in each county by mid-September. They have been doing education at events, especially for cyclists, and for refuse truck drivers. They have used social media, generating lots of conversation.  They hope to involve the fire service, and consider 3rd party online report submission. They have written a cycling code of conduct, and run a road respect campaign for all users.


3rd party: They will now be insisting that any footage place on a public or shared YouTube feed will receive no further police action beyond a warning letter. They will have a dedicated website running soon and until then, a dedicated email address exists with a few ‘file transfer’ options to assist the current process.


Working with other local forces. The Cheltenham operation involved 10 officers (5 of them specials), plus a press officer and the press. The high number of officers was just for the first operation, partly to train them. There were two police cyclists and a motorcyclist. The operation was similar to the West Midlands one. No-one was reported for prosecution. There was a range of reactions to education with the mat. They found a visual aid important, the figure of 1.5m less so. One driver was interviewed by the press, and there was also social media reporting.
They use a leaflet prepared by Gloucestershire CC which is included in our information pack.

Leaflet cover

They didn’t have 3rd party incident reporting in mid-September.

Greater Manchester

A number of pilots had been undertaken earlier this year. GMP use a special police officer number to identify 3rd party reports.

Hampshire and Thames Valley

They ran pilot schemes in the Autumn. Their close passing operation was preceded the day before by talking to cyclists about safe cycling, including contrasting colour, hi-vis, and free lights.

By mid-September there had been 6 close passing operations in Hampshire, one of which was filmed (and is well worth watching)  by BBC Inside Out,  and one in Thames Valley. There has also been a back of bus campaign, and leaflets.  They use 3-4 officers plus a council RSO and someone from the fire service for each operation.They had no 3rd party reporting mechanism except for dangerous driving in mid-September, but want to set one up.

They are using VR (virtual reality) goggles for training.

(A report emphasises disproportionate numbers of different road users stopped).


A team was created 12 months ago. Operation “Safe pass” started on 2 July, with 6 operations up to mid-September. Emphasis has been on education and engagement.

They have done around 120 stops in their operations, with 3-5 police plus Road Safety Officers (RSOs) involved. Responses have generally been positive, with no prosecutions. Motorcycles have occasionally been used. They take camera footage with tablets, for instant feedback to drivers.

Not much has been done on social media. They are trying to extend the operation into winter by following existing cyclists to watch for close passes. A poorly trained cyclist seems to get a lot of close passes compared to better trained ones.

The local authority is looking at the “Kaleidoscope” online reporting app, which is being developed. The police will promote it; if successful, it should be usable for prosecutions.
According to @MerseyFire Oct 13 : Merseyside’s Safe Pass initiative stopped 1 driver every 3 mins yesterday highlighting dangers of driving too close to cyclists.#RoadSafety

At launch: Cycling Uk, RDRF with Sgt. Osborne of the Cycle Safety Team

Space for Cyclists’ the Metropolitan Police Close Pass initiative was launched on the 21st July 2017. They posted throughout the event, and for the following week ’Space for Cyclists’ dominated our Twitter account, coining and repeatedly using the hashtags #WeCantBeEverywhereButCouldBeAnywhere and #SpaceForCyclists. At the end of that week they had seen a 5% increase in followers rising to 3363.

Immediately after the launch In 4 days they visited 5 sites across London and stopped a total of 18 cars overall; all of these drivers were spoken to and given the presentation and all of them took the advice well and admitted that they had not been aware that they had passed too close nor of the potential dangers involved. They also engaged with cyclists at the sites. Although the primary importance behind this was not to issue drivers with tickets, two tickets issued for construction and use offences.

The ‘Space for Cyclists’ success was capitalised upon at Ride London: interaction with the public and handed out hundreds of ‘I Give Space for Cyclists’ car stickers which were created to help remove perceived pressure on the driver from cars that might be following them. Despite being a small unit, by using the tactic of having a plain clothed cyclist ideally with motorcycle support means they have been able to access outer London areas where the higher speeds have previously made cycle deployment ineffective which “gives us the appearance of being a larger and more far reaching unit than we really are”.

This scheme was never intended to be short-term operation, but rather it is a tool in their toolbox .

When running an initiative, along with the plain clothed officer on a bicycle, they try to use a:
1. stopping officer (on a motorbike ideally, otherwise plainclothes cyclist moves towards supporting officers)
2. officer to deliver the presentation to the motorist,
3. officer to conduct checks and do the eyesight test
4. officer trained to carry out vehicle examinations.
They have used Community Support Officers on some operations to carry out checks and deliver the presentation and have run it with only 4 people, which they consider to be the minimum. They are also proposing to run some sessions with other partners, Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service.

They do not use a mat to demonstrate a distance of 1.5m as it becomes far too subjective on some London roads where the sometimes narrower roads and slower speeds make it necessary to pass closer than that. They try to reinforce the following message, “There is a lot of traffic in the capital and we all need to share the roads and be mindful of other road users. In its simplest form, it’s about being courteous to one another.”

The initiative is carried out on any road suitable for cycle patrols (i.e. not fast roads) and it is ideal for use in outer London boroughs where regular patrols are less successful due to faster traffic speeds and the inability to follow on a bicycle. Currently, they tend to choose sites in response to suggestions on Twitter and emails. The deployments tend to last for 3 hours during which they may switch to a secondary target site nearby if little work needs to be done. A site where little needs to be done may involve 3 – 4 drivers being stopped, one with more of a problem some 15 – 20. In the first week of November CST were at road works on Waterloo Bridge advising cyclists to “take the lane” (primary position) to deter drivers from overtaking where unsafe to do so.

Once they have been to a site, they take a photograph of the area and post it on Twitter along with where they have been and any particularly good results. This allows followers on Twitter to see that they have been to some of the areas that they have raised as a concern and to highlight that although they may not have seen them, they were there.

They are trying to communicate to the motoring community that they could be tailgating a plain clothed Police cyclist in the hope that it will be enough to make them consider the manner of their driving and whether or not it is safe. They currently do this by Tweeting where they have been and what their results were along with the actual interaction with motorists. The main consideration of concern with this method is that their Twitter account is predominantly followed by cyclists who are already aware of Unsafe following (tailgating), Unsafe overtaking (close passes) and Unsafe turning (left or right turns across the cyclists’ path). This needs to be addressed as the target audience is motorists and Cycle Safety Team are aware that they need to find a way to reach more of them. This is something they are looking to develop, maybe using social media in some form.

MPS have an acceptable reporting system  on their website, but not all reports are acted on, though all add to intelligence.

It is important to stress that this work occurs in tandem with other operations: “Operation Safeway” a high visibility presence at junctions (2 operations in 2nd week November); “Operation Cubo” for no 3rd party insurance (2 operations per month) and “Exchanging places” once a week.
Current example:
@MetCycleCops Nov 13th: Another successful #ClosePass operation on Shepherds Bush Road W6 North Bound. 27 vehicles stopped 9 Close Passes ~ 8 tickets issued for various offences. Time for coffee to warm up @MPSHammFul @LBHF


Operation launched in October . Norfolk and Suffolk had only piloted a single day in each force area, using 3 cyclists (PCSOs), 3 Motorcyclists and members of the local fire station and an RSO from the council. They had only recorded 4 close pass offences in Norfolk and 3 in Suffolk, but in debrief found that would be attributable to running the operation early in the morning and during rush hour, in places where the cyclists were the ones managing to overtake static cars!

They were planning on running 2 more operations in Norfolk in October, on a smaller scale, but in the afternoons in the areas where statistics suggest an increased number of cyclists collisions. They were pleased that the education format taken from colleagues in West Mids worked well and will be the default format. Partner agencies are committed to work with them and continue to deliver the inputs.

3rd party reporting for cyclist videos is not yet established, and both Norfolk and Suffolk have only established their car dash-cam processes in the last 6 months, so waiting to see how that works out before looking to expand to cyclist footage. Should the debrief of the close pass pilots come back as positive from local force management, they may look to build this in to the plan for next year’s operation.

North Yorkshire

Attended the September training day and have used the mat alone mainly in Harrogate.

South Wales (and the rest of Wales)

Wales has 4 mats. There had been no active operations by mid-September due to lack of resources but are likely to try again now. They used mats at the Royal Welsh Show and Police open days, with good results on social media. They have links to the fire service.

Operation Snap: now has a fully functioning web form. Members of the public will be able to complete a questionnaire which will then auto populate a Sec 9 statement and upload their digital footage within about 5-10 minutes. This will then be reviewed and appropriate action taken (NFA, Warning Letter, Conditional Fixed Penalty Offer, Education Course or Court). The offence is processed by the Central ticket office in the same way as a speeding offence is dealt with. They estimate that where an incident of a member of the public attempting to submit footage for investigation would take them in the region of 15 hours to complete, this will be reduced to between 20 and 30 minutes. The web form, statement and footage is stored securely in the cloud and is accessed by the relevant police forces via secure log on. Operation Snap and other 3rd party reporting techniques and behaviours are reported in Local Transport Today 27th October 

South Yorkshire

Attended September training day


There had been a close passing operation by mid-September. They have a mat, but hadn’t used it by mid-September but they were due to. 3rd party reporting infrastructure isn’t ready yet. They want to copy the MPS system.

They would like to use the county’s sustainable transport funding to tackle close passing.
There are complaints from cyclists on social media about alleged inaction. They have made videos, which are popular, and are authorised to use social media. They see social media as essential to get the message @SurreyRoadCops E Rota have been out & about enforcing drivers passing cyclists too close. Ensure you overtake with sufficient safe distance. Oct 26th .

They appear to be very active in correcting driver misconceptions of where cyclists should/should not be on the road, e.g.:
At what point would you have overtaken if they were single file? The zig zags (illegal!) At the junction? Or with the on coming vehicle? 4:57 PM – 6 Nov 2017


They work with Surrey. They have a mat. No close-passing operations by mid-September, though they are likely to do some. The mat has been offered for use at “exchanging places” events.

They have an online reporting mechanism for close passes, with 214 reported since May. Capturing video is a problem, so drivers have been warned, not prosecuted.

30,000 letters sent out overall from this “operation crackdown” . The chief constable is keen on close pass operations due to a recent increase in fatalities. They are talking to the fire authorities.
They have 200,000 Facebook followers, and attend 6 road safety groups. They hoped the September training day meeting will catalyse start of close passing operations in both counties.

West Midlands Another award for PCs Hodson and Hudson, this time from Cycling UK

West Midlands started their ground breaking operation(s) a year ago and are still “market leaders”.
Over the last year:
1. On CLOSE PASSING: about 250 vehicles have been stopped in some 16 deployments – about one every three weeks. In the last 6 months they have been partnered by West Midlands Fire Service, who now do the educational work. This allows the police to carry out operations with four officers (one cyclist, one safety officer generally on a motorcycle, with two stopping officers at the stop site).
2. With 3rd PARTY REPORTING, they have had some 350 – 400 reports. Almost all of these have drivers contacted with educational material, although 3 cases have gone to court and resulted in guilty verdicts under Section 3 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act. Other cases where there has been a refusal to nominate a driver are pursued.
3. They have continued their policing of road danger in their newly named “Road Harm Reduction Team” into:
(a) 20 MPH POLICING. This occurs some 2 -3 times per week and in excess of 500 drivers have been stopped since July 2017.
(b) POLICING CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE. They are about to start policing careless driving with regard to Rule 178 of the Highway Code, namely breaking of rules with regard to Advanced Stop Lines, to reduce “left hooking” incidents.
4. SOCIAL MEDIA: As well as their award winning Twitter account, they have an important blog 
5. West Midlands Fire Service are also training commercial drivers
West Midlands accept most 3rd party reports, and the TP officer decides if prosecution is appropriate.
Here is a typical tweet from November 13th :
@Trafficwmp  Seen some great driving this morning some well considered, well planned excellent overtakes, unfortunately also had 12 dreadful overtakes by drivers who now go away with the necessary change in behaviour to overtake safely in future thanks to @Woodgatefire

West Yorkshire

They went live in May with 6 deployments. Only 6 drivers were stopped, probably because they picked a quiet time when drivers weren’t in a hurry. Accordingly they want to do more analysis before each deployment. They want to try 2-3 hours at peak time. They borrowed the West Midlands leaflet, bought a mat and were given another. They use the second mat at events. They work in partnership with local authorities and the fire service, who have funding to share.
Their leaflet specifically says to leave more space when passing cyclists at higher speeds.
Since the Tour de France visited the county, pelotons of cyclists on narrow roads in pretty areas have been an issue.

They have done neighbourhood policing operations. One team has cyclists. They’ve made a check list for officers to follow. They give Section 59 warnings, which are recorded, so that repeat offenders can be detected. Education is done by local authority staff, but they will talk to the fire service. They want to roll this out throughout the county, and neighbourhood police are willing. They have to brief cyclists in these operations on how close is too close.

They have VR, and have asked students to make videos. There is a Powerpoint briefing for police which includes the Chris Boardman video.


PC Dominic Doyle was Highly Commended by Cycling Scotland for his work on “Operation Close Pass” and supported by Head of Road Policing, Chief Superintendent Stewart Carle, saying he had shown “great determination and innovation”. Seven pilot close-passing operations were run in Edinburgh between March and Summer 2017. 111 people were stopped. Social media reports of this got lots of views, and were picked up by broadcasters. They don’t use a mat with marked widths. 6-7 people run each operation: a cyclist, a motorcyclist, a stopper and educators. They “borrow” local officers, and do other enforcement while educators are occupied.

They have run plenty of events. They have 3 mats, and will roll out operations throughout Scotland. They have more road deaths and serious injuries on Tues and Wed, so will target those days.

They have no 3rd party incident reporting yet, though people can call 101.

Edinburgh Police Northern Ireland

They have a ‘see a cyclist’ project, due to “SMIDSY” incidents. They have done pilot close passing operations, and more since. They got plenty of hits on social media for this. They provide camera graphics for cyclists to put on their jackets, and encourage cycling clubs etc. to get involved in social media campaigns.

Their first close pass operation produced 15 stops. Subsequent operations had fewer due to social media publicity, but one driver was stopped 3 times. They have not prosecuted anyone. They find drivers behave better within sight of the police motorcyclist. They like the Cycling Uk mat.



Here are some thoughts on where we are at the moment after the September training day:-
• Policing of close passing and related behaviours needs to be consistent and continuous. Doing very occasional operations to “tick the box” won’t work as the message won’t get out. It is very obvious that the forces making headway in this area have officers who are passionate about this kind of work.
• 3rd party reporting is not only of critical importance but looks like being “the next big thing”. There are big changes involved and there will be a lot of pressure on officers to keep up with the technology.
• A key element is road danger reduction (or “harm reduction”) which , although showing the link between close passing and KSIs, ir based on behaviours that don’t have to result ina collision occurring.
• Close passing policing is a general harm reduction strategy and fits into other harm reduction forms of policing. As such policing of cycling infrastructure and enforcing 20 mph can be associated with it. (Of course close passing policing also picks up a significant number of drivers who have been committing variety of other offences, such as no VED 3rd party insurance etc.)
• There is a need for continuing collection and dissemination of information. RDRF will be continuing this secretariat function and there was general agreement that we should have another training day/update on progress in early 2018.
• While there is a question of resource commitment, some forces – such as Surrey and West Midlands – do a lot of work on Twitter. This not only involves informing people of what has been done, but can act as a source of information of suitable sites to be investigated. I also note that a lot of anti-cycling prejudice gets voiced in response, and am impressed with the calm but forthright putting down of such prejudice (“road tax” etc.) by the forces concerned.

Finally, if as a member of the public you want your local Police Service to initiate this kind of work, do contact your Police and Crime Commissioner.

Dr Robert Davis, Chair RDRF November 13th 2017

Categories: Views

“The Times” instructs cyclists to break the rules: what’s going on?

21 October, 2017 - 15:47

This post may seem a little late, based as it is on an Editorial in The Times from August 25th. Nevertheless, as with other comments arising from the Alliston case (here and here)  its subject tells us some very revealing things about the way road user behaviour is either accepted or stigmatised by the society we live in. Any serious attempts to reduce danger on the road involve a proper conversation about what we should or shouldn’t tolerate in the road environment. So let’s take a look at The Times instruction.

That Editorial

The Editorial is described by the astute commentator Mark Treasure on Twitter as “ludicrous, inflammatory…. Tabloid rubbish of the worst kind.” It had evidence-free assertions “that ‘enthusiastic advocates’ are ‘blind’ to people breaking laws”. We won’t analyse the text itself, except insofar as it clarifies the instruction in the heading:

“Rogue cyclists must learn to respect the rules of the road like everyone else”.

While the instruction is aimed specifically at those who are specified as “rogue” cyclists, a “militant minority” and “certain cyclists” – all of these groups being ill-defined – the implication is that the “rules of the road” apply to all cyclists. Indeed, they not only apply, but must be “respect(ed)”. However, at the same time, this obedience and respect must be like that of and by “everyone else”.

As will be shown below, this is a monumental self-contradiction. The point is to examine what people think “the rules of the road” are, and whether they should or should not, be respected and/or obeyed.

What are “the rules of the road”?

Generally speaking, people refer to the laws as specified in various Acts and Regulations, mainly Road Traffic and Highway Acts. They also refer to the Highway Code  which:

“…applies to England, Scotland and Wales and is essential reading for every road user. Applies to pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders as well as drivers. Many of the rules of the Code are legal requirements and you may be fined, given points on your licence or disqualified if you don’t obey them. In serious cases you could also be sent to prison.”

Although discussion of the law can also refer to civil law, and laws relating to standards of highway and vehicle engineering, the above paragraph is basically what might be meant by “rules of the road”.

There is, of course, the matter that while some rules in the Highway Code have MUST or MUST NOT prescribed due to a specific law, many do not. Let’s take the example of the endangering behaviour of close passing of cyclists, where we have been involved in supporting and promoting the work pioneered by West Midlands Police. Until this pioneering work it was often stated by police that, while there was a clear instruction (Rule 163) in the Highway Code on how to overtake cyclists properly, there was no clear specification in law. Drivers have now been charged successfully under Section 3 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act for obvious infringements of this rule.

So (while it is currently very unlikely that any driver will actually be stopped for overtaking a cyclist too closely) in principle many of the rules could be backed up by law enforcement. I suggest that – at present – is also extremely unlikely.


Who obeys the “rules of the road”?

A feature of work as a transport or road safety practitioner is a glance at regular surveys in the media on rule breaking, normally produced by motor insurance companies or the motoring organisations. We’ll use a sample of some recent ones – I suggest you collect your own from time to time. Let’s start off with the more unambiguous rule infractions, where laws are broken.

1. Speeding.

Breaking this law involves having less time to make correct manoeuvres, and being responsible for more severe crashes when they occur, as kinetic energy dispersed on impact increases as the square of velocity (excuse the language of physics).
The RAC Report on Motoring 2016 reports that:
• The percentage of motorists who admit to speeding on country roads – which are where the majority of fatal accidents occur – has risen from 38% to 48% over the last five years.
• The proportion who say they have broken the speed limit on 20mph roads has risen from 38% in 2011 to 46%.
70% frequently or occasionally break the speed limits on motorways, with 44% claiming to do so on 30mph urban roads.
In other surveys:
63% of the drivers surveyed admitted to speeding. (OCV Ltd. October 2017)                                   .63% of drivers admit to driving at over 35mph in 30mph limits (including 76% of “at-work” drivers). (Direct Line Insurance survey September 2013 & January 2013)                                                  .83% of drivers admit to being regular speeders. (RAC Report on Motoring in 2012)

(I mention this last finding because in the same survey 92% say they are law-abiding.)

Don’t forget that these survey responses are based on what drivers say about themselves – if anything they will tend to minimise the extent of rule and law breaking. National figures are collected by the Department for Transport by automatic counters . You can also often see speed figures gathered and used by your local Highway Authority. On compliance, we see that in 2016:
46% of cars exceeded the speed limit on motorways
8% of cars exceeded the speed limit on national single carriageways
53% of cars exceeded the speed limit on 30mph roads
81% of cars exceeded the speed limit on 20mph roads
Naturally there are degrees of speeding, and it varies by location and road type and vehicle type. But clearly a large minority, or a majority, of motorists break the law on speed as a matter of course.


2. Mobile phone use.

Mobile phone use while driving, often including hands-free and texting, has been a target for the road safety industry for a while. It is supposed to significantly increase the chances of being in a crash. (There are other forms of electronic device incorporated into new cars which don’t seem to have attracted such attention.) Again using the RAC’s report for 2017, we find that:
• the number of motorists who say they make or receive calls illegally at the wheel is 9.2 million (based on extrapolating from 23% in the survey)
In their 2012 report the RAC found that:
23% of drivers admitted to texting at the wheel (this proportion may have declined since then. Hopefully)
11% drivers admitted to accessing e-mail or social media while driving.
So the majority don’t (claim to) use mobile phones, but a substantial minority does.


3. Miscellaneous unsafe behaviours.

These are ones which most drivers will admit are behaviours which break “the rules of the road”. For example, OSV Ltd.  this year found:
45% said that they ran red traffic lights at roadworks
37% parked on double yellow lines
28% confessed to forgetting to indicate
22% admitted to performing illegal U-Turns
17% reversed onto a main road
10% had driven the wrong way down a one-way street
7% said that they had illegally over- or undertaken someone
One in three (34%) drivers admitted to doing something illegal on the road in the last 14 days, while two out of three (64%) confessed to committing as many as five illegal acts in their vehicle a month.

Direct Line surveys in July 2013, April 2013, March 2012, August 2011, April 2015 (with Brake) found:
35% of drivers admit to continuing to drive when feeling sleepy.
• A group of drivers “failed to see22% of cyclists and 15% of motorcyclists who were “in clear view
53% of drivers admit to driving within two seconds of the vehicle in front on motorways
14% of drivers jump a red light at least twice a month
49% of drivers admit to flouting road laws, of whom “half did so deliberately because they thought they could get away with it, or did not agree with the laws”.

4. Crashing

This is the most obvious indicator of “rules of the road” not having been obeyed. The best way of assessing the number of these is through insurance claims. In 2013  the claims rate was 13.6% – just under 1 in 7 drivers made a claim for damage suffered in a crash which someone – almost always a driver – caused . In 2016  £28.6 million was paid by the insurance industry to motorists for repairing or replacing vehicles and in personal injury claims every day.

The process of claiming depends on the other driver being insured. While I don’t see having 3rd party insurance as an unqualified good (drivers are to some extent insuring themselves against their own errors) it is a legal obligation. A survey last year by Churchill estimated 216,000 cars out of 3.9 million in London were uninsured, with a national estimate of 1 million uninsured. Since claims can’t easily be made against the uninsured (although efforts can be made through the Motor Insurers Bureau ) and some crash damage may be too minor for the effort to be thought worthwhile, the number of crashes is likely to be higher.

The crucial point to remember is that a crash is highly unlikely to result from each infraction of the “rules of the road”. There are likely to be numerous rule infractions before the occurrence of a crash which is due partly or wholly to breaking the rules.


5. Not knowing the rules

OSV Ltd.  this year found:
67% of those questioned admitting that they don’t know all of the Highway Code.
Accident Advice Helpline came in slightly higher with:
Three quarters of drivers do not know the meanings of all the road signs in the Highway Code
Only 25% of drivers look at The Highway Code after passing the test
• This year Leicester University researchers found that more than 17,000 cases (12%) of injury-involving collisions in 2015 involved a hit and run (failing to stop/report) driver. Many defendants found and charged did not know they were legally required to stop. “Interestingly, there seems to be a public perception that motoring offences are not ‘real crimes’, and therefore there is a tendency for drivers to justify their behaviour,” said the lead researcher.
Slater and Gordon in 2015 found that
44% admitted that they were unlikely to pass a theory test if asked to take one now.
55% said that they wouldn’t know how to tell if they were driving on a road with a 30mph limit.

So a lot of drivers don’t actually know the “rules of the road” (which they are supposedly respecting) in the first place.
There is a lot I have not included here. I have left out the more egregious examples, such as driving when visually impaired  or drunk/drugged, although these behaviours are widespread, even if carried out on a minority of driving journeys. I have also not addressed the specific problems of commercial vehicle use. I leave pedestrians disobeying the “rules of the road” until later.

In particular, I have not discussed what happens after collisions involving casualties, and the absence or lenience of punishment for those found responsible. That is a subject which requires a post of its own. Suffice it to say that even when the “rules of the road” are broken to the extent that others are hurt or killed, the breaking of those rules is rarely seen as worthy of punishment of any real severity.

The point I have been making is that drivers do NOT obey the “rules of the road”. Law breaking is carried out as a matter of course by significant minorities, if not a majority, of drivers. If a wider definition of “rules of the road” is used which is based on the Highway Code, that proportion increases. It’s worthwhile reading the Highway Code to see how widespread rule breaking actually is.

To take one simple metric, the average cost of 3rd party private driver insurance in the UK is £440,  which, even allowing for profit and tax, implies that a driver will be expected to be responsible for about 30 times more damage than a typical cyclist (About £15 per annum is the cost of 3rd party insurance to members of organisations like Cycling UK or British Cycling).
So, if we take the instruction literally, if cyclists (rogue or otherwise) are to respect the “rules of the road” like everyone else, they will have to behave far more dangerously to others than they do currently. They will then certainly NOT be respecting or obeying the “rules of the road”.

The Times instruction is therefore an instruction to disrespect the rules of the road.

An Aside: Should pedestrians respect the “rules of the road”?

“Everyone else” may well include pedestrians. Indeed the Highway Code has specific rules  for pedestrians, although walking is not subject to the criminal law as cycling and driving are. If we are going to be focussed on the damage that cyclists can cause through rule infraction, it may be necessary to include the misbehaviour of pedestrians. Anybody who uses two wheels in urban areas can testify to the danger posed to them, even when they are scrupulously adhering to the Highway Code, by careless and inconsiderate walkers.

This message is indeed stressed continually in “road safety” industry publicity. Our view is to oppose the victim-blaming and lack of evidence base for such initiatives.

We are certainly against attempts to bring in “jay-walking” types of law as developed in the USA as part of its surrender to motor domination in the early decades of the 20th century. Such a move would set the two most benign forms of transport against each other at a time when both are threatened by the push for “Autonomous Vehicles”. Nevertheless, as Japan and Germany show, there can be intense social disapproval of rule-breaking walking in otherwise relatively pro-pedestrian societies.

The point is, again, that pedestrians often do NOT “respect the rules of the road”. You can simply read the rules in the Highway Code and check pedestrian traffic. Or, if you’re honest, your own behaviour.

So what’s going on?

I’m not trying to be clever about what The Times instruction says. I am trying to get to grips with what is thought to be the appropriate way to behave in the highway environment. What we see is that rule and law breaking by people with the potential to hurt and kill their fellow citizens is not only endemic, but that it has become so normalised that it is not seen as being “real” rule and law breaking at all. Furthermore, this denial of the reality of rule and law breaking is so uncontested that the heading of a leader in The Times of London, no less, can be formed in a way which is so manifestly self-contradictory.

I don’t think this is just sloppiness, although the casual lack of serious analysis is a key part of the problem. It is revealing of a dominant culture in which typical rule and law breaking is seen as acceptable by most (although not all) of the motoring public because it is normal for them. They may well know that they break the rules, but they don’t feel that they do. Some forms of rule and law breaking will be seen as unacceptable, but only because most drivers don’t engage in them, or at least not most of the time.

Nor is this unwillingness to admit to everyday rule breaking by typical motorists confined to the conservative media: a columnist for The Guardian joined in the chorus of attacks on cyclists saying: “Drivers are rigorously tested and policed, precisely because it’s clear how dangerous cars are.”

We need desperately to explain to such – no doubt otherwise intelligent – people just how false such a statement is. Indeed, how much of an inversion of reality it is. More importantly, we need to ask ourselves how such a person could get things so dramatically wrong.


So how do we engage with the public on this?

Firstly, we can have the kind of discussion of which this article is a part. There needs to be a persistent reminder to drivers that their ordinary behaviour (as assessed, for example, by insurance premium-setting actuaries) poses more – rule-breaking – danger than they think. One way of doing this is by simply pointing out how much they are getting away with it. Take this comment, again from the OSV Ltd. Survey

“Despite all these misdemeanours going on around us, apparently only 7% of drivers have been caught breaking the law. Perhaps this is why so many of them continue to flout the rules (my emphasis) – not knowing the rules is really no excuse.”

Secondly, we can remind them of the activities of the “road safety” industry with regard to their endemic rule and law breaking. While there is a regular stream of finger wagging at the usual suspects of drink-driving, phone use etc., most of the “road safety” industry’s expenditure goes into highway and motor vehicle engineering.

As practitioners and other readers of know only too well, the road environment has been engineered for decades to accommodate rule and law breaking by errant drivers: crash barriers, anti-skid “treatments”, felling of roadside trees, longer sightlines etc. have been installed at the cost of billions. So too has the vehicle environment: anti-burst door locks, seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, Side Impact Protection Systems, collapsible steering wheels etc., etc. We have spent considerable time showing how these measures have not merely colluded with rule and law breaking, but that this accommodation has actually exacerbated bad driving.

But that is not the point here: the point is to explain that drivers see themselves as so dangerous that they need all this “safety” engineering. If they need it, then their rule and law breaking really must be endemic.

These are the themes to be brought out in any discussion of “the rules of the road”. We think they are essential if we are to have a proper discussion about what is acceptable in the highway environment and what needs to be stigmatised, with priority being given to tackling behaviours that endanger others. Pointing out that instructions such as that of The Times are self-contradictory will be a part of that.

Categories: Views