UK police approach to cyclist safety wins praise

How's this for a statement on a police website?

"Cyclists don't cause us, as an organisation, problems, that's because they aren't causing our communities problems, they aren't killing nearly 100 people on our region's roads as mechanically propelled vehicles currently do," the post by a UK police force read.

Drivers weren't being considerate towards vulnerable road users, and this needed to change, it said.

"We could make use of social media, press releases, etc, to tell motorists to 'look out' for cyclists, but this has been ongoing with both cyclists and motorcyclists and although has some positive effect it doesn't reach the target audience we need to engage, those unwilling to take on the message or dismissive of vulnerable road users altogether ...

"Our time and effort ... is better spent enforcing the law and prosecuting, thus creating a scenario whereby should someone not give a cyclist the time and space necessary or fail to see them completely they should expect to be prosecuted."

The post signalled a radical new enforcement program by the West Midlands Police, over an area centering on Birmingham, north-west of London.

In a crackdown on dangerous close passes, a police officer will ride a bicycle on busy roads, and alert a colleague up ahead if a car gets too close. The driver will then be given a choice – a 15-minute safety lecture, or a fine. In a four-day trial of the project, 80 people were pulled over for close passes.

Australian technology search

This project in the UK comes as a new initiative to enforce "metre matters" passing laws in Australia was announced at the weekend.

The Queensland government has opened tenders for a trial and evaluation of "passing distance measurement technology".


Road Safety Minister Mark Bailey told the ABC that there had been "a huge difference in the last two years", but "we're still seeing too many close calls for cyclists as well, so we've got to be able to enforce this road rule, and this is a trial and evaluation looking at how we do that".

Asked if this might mean plainclothes officers with measuring devices on bicycles, Bailey said "that's a possibility".

Such devices have already been deployed in other jurisdictions.

New technology

In June, I reported on an instrument called the C3FT, which is being used for passing distance enforcement in the US (you can see a video of it in action, above).

At the time, the NSW Police told me they felt the technology was "unsuitable as an enforcement tool", while a Queensland Transport and Main Roads spokesman told me they were "currently working with the Queensland Police to investigate and trial technologies that might assist in accuracy and practical application in enforcement".

The announcement of the tender process appears to be a continuation of that project.

Queensland, of course, was the first Australian jurisdiction to trial minimum distance passing laws now also in place in NSW, South Australia and the ACT. This month, a cross-party parliamentary inquiry recommended that similar laws be adopted in Victoria.

The law has been found to increase awareness of safe passing practices among motorists, but few fines have been issued.

So it's encouraging to hear that new technology might be used in future to address enforcement issues in Australia.

'Nuisance variety'

West Midlands police said close passes made cyclists most nervous but the greatest danger for bike riders was in the vicinity of intersections. (There have been similar findings in Australia)

But they had clear views on the source of the problem.

The post acknowledges that there are complaints of the "nuisance variety" - such as cycling on footpaths and red light running - but goes on to say this is not police priority.

"Bad cycling is an 'irritant' to the wider community rather than a danger, and maybe an improvement in infrastructure and policing may [alleviate] many of the reasons that cause a very small minority of cyclists to be an 'irritant'."

'Could be police'

Addressing those who might be "screaming 'what about the cyclists?'", the post continues: "Statistical analysis shows they aren't to blame, innocent in the majority of KSI [killed and seriously injured] collisions. The figures speak for themselves ... drivers, don't let your prejudices get in the way of the truth ..."

The West Midlands initiative – which does not rely on a specific cyclist passing law – has been hailed by Cycling UK as "the best cyclist road safety initiative ever".

It will be interesting to see what results are achieved - and if it spreads.

BikeBiz reports that the trial is being monitored by Essex officials, while police in London's Camden borough say they will also use plainclothes officers to enforce safe passing.

"If you drive in Camden, give Camden cyclists room," one officer tweeted, with the hashtag: #couldbepolice.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011.

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