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Force says its award-winning close pass initiative is about helping more people cycle without fear for themselves or their loved ones

Police behind a ground-breaking “close pass” initiative say if poor driving alters people’s lifestyle choices by making them too scared to cycle on the roads that is a police matter, as it would be in any other area of life.

West Midlands Police (WMP) received an award on Tuesday at the House of Lords from the Road Danger Reduction Forum – the first ever awarded in the organisation’s 22 year history – recognising their Give Space, Be Safe operation.

The operation involves a plain clothed officer on a bike radioing ahead to colleagues if a driver overtakes too close. The driver is pulled over and educated on things like safe passing distances, and in some cases will face prosecution. The operation, which was dubbed the “best cyclist road safety initiative ever” by Cycling UK, has now been introduced by police in Camden, with WMP inundated with enquiries from other forces.

Some drivers see cyclists as "road furniture" - or don't see them at all

Officers say drivers who once saw cyclists as little more than road furniture come away with altered attitudes and better skills for driving around cyclists, and the “magic” of the operation, launched in September, is people will spread the message to family and friends. They emphasised it is about tackling the cause of danger on the roads, and improving safety and behaviour, rather than picking on any one road user.

West Midlands Police to offer "training package" to other forces looking to run close pass operation

PC Mark Hodson, an officer behind the initiative, told a packed room of road safety campaigners on Tuesday: “We want to protect vulnerable road users because we need more vulnerable road users on the road. The benefits we all know about and it’s how to get them on the road.”

West Midlands Police say “99% of people” they speak to don’t cycle to work or school because they fear the traffic, particularly close passes.

“It’s altering their lifestyle choice,” said Hodson. “In any other aspect of life it would be a police matter, so this should be a police matter. If somebody wants to ride a bike to school, to work, and they want to do it in a manner they don’t have to worry about the behaviour of drivers endangering them on a daily basis that should be a case for us to support and there shouldn’t be an argument against that at any level.

You shouldn't have to worry about your loved ones cycling, say police

“Ideally we’re looking for a situation where if you’ve got a loved one who gets to work on a bike you can say goodbye to them and not have to worry about them when they get to work on that bike, or go to school on that bike, and that’s not the case at the moment.

“It’s an overriding factor as to why we’re doing this – people shouldn’t have to live their lives like that. The only way you’re going to change that is to change driver behaviour and take away that threat to people, and we wish to do that.”

Cycling UK lauds West Midlands Police’s new close-pass initiative

The initiative was launched following a spike in pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured (KSIs) on urban roads, prior to which West Midlands Police had focused on bike lights and “exchanging places” style operations.

“We knew in our heart of hearts what we’d been doing hadn’t been effective and we knew we needed a new approach,” he said.

Hodson said data analysed by the Central Motorway Police Group showed in the majority of cases the collision was caused by “injudicious action by the car driver” such as failure to look when turning at junctions, while most cyclists involved were experienced commuters.

Close-pass footage has now been used to prosecute 78 drivers, say West Midlands police

"Petrol head" police insist it's not about picking on drivers

Steve Hudson, the other officer behind the initiative, said: “We’re traffic cops, we’re petrol heads ourselves,” he said. “We love cars, so we don’t want people to think we’re just picking on car drivers, we’re not. The idea is to make it a safe place for both people to be on the road at the same time. There’s no reason why someone travelling at 15mph on a pushbike can’t safely get to work when you’re travelling in your car at no more than 20mph.”

A 20mph speed limit has recently been rolled out across Birmingham, and police told campaigners on Tuesday they are enforcing this speed limit.

Hudson, who often does the education part, which involves demonstrating safe distances to drivers on a road sized mat (pictured above), while Hodson cycles, says the initiative has a striking effect.

“A lot of car drivers have never ever thought about this before. They see cyclists as road furniture, and that’s the problem. They don’t think of them as people on a mode of transport, that could very easily be hurt, so we get them on the mat, make them think about it, they go away and we’re pretty satisfied that their attitude is then changed. The magic of this is they’ll go away and they’ll tell their family and friends as well.”

Would you drive like that on your test?

“We’ve had feedback from people who’ve gone away and read [a brochure they produced on safe cycling and driving] and said: ‘You know what? There’s some genuinely good advice there’. It’s balanced as well, there’s advice for cyclists as well.”

“The acid test is if you drove like that in your test would you pass? If it’s no - that’s a simplified version - but essentially that’s driving carelessly or inconsiderately, below what’s expected of a competent and careful driver; it’s nothing more complicated than that.”

Hudson said: “We ask people what’s stopping you getting on a bike at the moment and 99% of people say 'because cars pass me too close', so although the statistics will point out you’re more likely to be knocked off at a junction, or mid-junction, the reason that’s happening is people aren’t used to seeing cyclists on the roads. It’s the old look and not see.”

Focusing on the cause of harm

“We know, like Chris Boardman says, that cyclists are as liable to be poor road users as anybody, we all know the cyclist with no lights, but you have to start as he said with the greatest risk of harm, which is as he said the car driver or the large goods vehicle driver.”

Intimidation of cyclists in UK 'unacceptable' says MP

Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum (RDRF), Dr Robert Davis, congratulated West Midlands Police on Tuesday and presented them with a silver dish celebrating the initiative.

“We’ve been in existence since 1994 and this is the first award we’ve given. Instead of being negative all the time, here’s something we can be positive about.”

He echoed sentiments made by MP Ruth Cadbury last month, saying: “We need to change the intimidatory aspect of cycling, not just by highway engineering but by having right policing enforcement that stigmatises behaviour we don’t like, and supports benign and sustainable modes.”

 

Baroness Jones congratulates West Midlands Police (image courtesy of Road Danger Reduction Forum)

Baroness Jones congratulates West Midlands Police (image courtesy of Road Danger Reduction Forum)

17 comments

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beigemaster [15 posts] 7 months ago
26 likes

In the 'post truth' society of Trump and Brexit, what an incredibly refreshing, insightful and reflective stance WMP have taken. This is the kind of forward thinking that might actually help society regain its faith in its institutions. 

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rliu [91 posts] 7 months ago
13 likes

Fantastic to see the officers pushing this ground breaking initiative be rewarded. I would go as far as to call for them to be on the new year honours list, for the number of lives they will potentially save and improve by encouraging safe healthy transport.

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Beatnik69 [380 posts] 7 months ago
7 likes

Congratulations to WMP. Well deserved.

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Sherpamagoo [13 posts] 7 months ago
8 likes

What an amazingly refreshing attitude.

We can only hope that people see this for the positive it is and adopt it wider

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handlebarcam [935 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

Counting down to the inevitable Daily Heil article blasting these officers' comments as elitist nanny state social engineering in 3, 2, 1...

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FluffyKittenofT... [1579 posts] 7 months ago
5 likes
handlebarcam wrote:

Counting down to the inevitable Daily Heil article blasting these officers' comments as elitist nanny state social engineering in 3, 2, 1...

Sadly, I'm sure that's what will happen.

Even though I think its fantastic that the cops are doing this, I still think that if its not accompanied by physical infrastructure changes it won't have a big enough effect to normalise cycling, which will thus remain a small minority thing.

And so such enlightened measures will then just feed in to a backlash against the police for being on the side of the 'middle-class PC elite...blah...blah...blah'.

(That the inevitable irrational ranty articles will be written by people on fatter salaries than even most existing cyclists, won't stop them)

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hughsain [7 posts] 7 months ago
10 likes

"It’s altering their lifestyle choice,” said Hodson. “In any other aspect of life it would be a police matter, so this should be a police matter. If somebody wants to ride a bike to school, to work, and they want to do it in a manner they don’t have to worry about the behaviour of drivers endangering them on a daily basis that should be a case for us to support and there shouldn’t be an argument against that at any level."

Forward thinking and positive, capturing how this policy can have innumerable benefits for the future if rolled out nationwide. It's not just about protecting those of us who currently cycle and put up with the danger (in my experience cycling in the city is still more frequently enjoyed by young men) but also about liberating the streets for everyone. It could be a paradigm shift in how we look at road users and personal transport. Well done WMP.

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Velomark [24 posts] 7 months ago
6 likes

Its funny that the most successful scheme might be the simplest when we are all too aware of how (over)complicated cycling infrastructure often is and the commuter bike industry seemingly obsessed with inventing our way to safety. This initiative is merely making it law to do what common sense would suggest anyway.

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ktache [519 posts] 7 months ago
14 likes

“The acid test is if you drove like that in your test would you pass? If it’s no - that’s a simplified version - but essentially that’s driving carelessly or inconsiderately, below what’s expected of a competent and careful driver; it’s nothing more complicated than that.”

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this was the definition for driving offences in court?

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Ush [900 posts] 7 months ago
9 likes

All the plaudits the WMP are receiving for this initiative are justified.  This is the sort of thing which is both immensely practical and useful for all road users and also gives me the warm fuzzies for the police.... something which is hard to do, believe me.  

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ianrobo [1211 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

As someone who lives in the WMP area this is just brilliant. Have I seen an impact in these months, yes I think so because drivers are getting the message, the law is to be enforced. They make it clear that this applies equally to cyclists so thats fair isn't it ?

There is nothing scarier than a close pass for any cyclist and these that do this also do it when over taking cars so it is equally applicable regardless of transport mode.

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FatBoyW [209 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

I'm with cyclingdmlondon on this one, it'll only increase the hate drivers have of other users getting in the way of their roads. 

Since these passes seem to be anything but careless ( driver waving after, deliberate swerve etc). they need to be more heavy handed on the punishment. 

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davel [1240 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes
FatBoyW wrote:

I'm with cyclingdmlondon on this one, it'll only increase the hate drivers have of other users getting in the way of their roads. 

Since these passes seem to be anything but careless ( driver waving after, deliberate swerve etc). they need to be more heavy handed on the punishment. 

Right, but the key part that is missing in that (yours/dmlondon's) argument is the conclusion. Where will this lead?

At the moment, it appears that helmetcam evidence is being taken seriously, drivers are being penalised, and it's spreading to other police forces.

Are you saying this is a bad thing, say compared to 6 months ago, or that this will have unintended consequences, say an increase in punishment passes?

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Grahamd [453 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
davel wrote:
FatBoyW wrote:

I'm with cyclingdmlondon on this one, it'll only increase the hate drivers have of other users getting in the way of their roads. 

Since these passes seem to be anything but careless ( driver waving after, deliberate swerve etc). they need to be more heavy handed on the punishment. 

Right, but the key part that is missing in that (yours/dmlondon's) argument is the conclusion. Where will this lead? At the moment, it appears that helmetcam evidence is being taken seriously, drivers are being penalised, and it's spreading to other police forces. Are you saying this is a bad thing, say compared to 6 months ago, or that this will have unintended consequences, say an increase in punishment passes?

There will be an inevitable backlash that could lead to more demands for bikes to be registered. If a cyclist with helmet cam footage can lead to the prosecution of a driver, then why can't dashcam footage from a driver be used to prosecute a cyclist? I fully appreciate that cyclist is not threatening a car however we have undoubtedly all seen idiots put pedestrians at crossings being put in danger by cyclists going through red lights.

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unconstituted [2355 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

Graham's right that there will be a backlash, but what we're seeing at the moment isn't anything to worry about yet. When cycling really does get its big push as it inevitably will have to, then you'll see just how rabid things get. 

 

Cyclists will have to simply bare the brunt of it. A timely analogy would be neoliberalism which is getting a kicking right now. (Although it's actually liberals who're getting the kicking, thanks to neoliberalism, but that's another story).

The culture wars for transport have to happen, and cyclists will have to win it. There isn't a cycling organisation powerful enough, organised enough, or smart enough to capitalise on any opportunity though - that's the main concern. Just as there wasn't any left wing political group ready to capitalise on the financial meltdown. A wasted opportunity that will be a long time coming again.

 

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davel [1240 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes
Grahamd wrote:
davel wrote:
FatBoyW wrote:

I'm with cyclingdmlondon on this one, it'll only increase the hate drivers have of other users getting in the way of their roads. 

Since these passes seem to be anything but careless ( driver waving after, deliberate swerve etc). they need to be more heavy handed on the punishment. 

Right, but the key part that is missing in that (yours/dmlondon's) argument is the conclusion. Where will this lead? At the moment, it appears that helmetcam evidence is being taken seriously, drivers are being penalised, and it's spreading to other police forces. Are you saying this is a bad thing, say compared to 6 months ago, or that this will have unintended consequences, say an increase in punishment passes?

There will be an inevitable backlash that could lead to more demands for bikes to be registered. If a cyclist with helmet cam footage can lead to the prosecution of a driver, then why can't dashcam footage from a driver be used to prosecute a cyclist? I fully appreciate that cyclist is not threatening a car however we have undoubtedly all seen idiots put pedestrians at crossings being put in danger by cyclists going through red lights.

It's absolutely fair that it cuts both ways, yes.

My point is, that when the police get involved and make unemotional, objective remarks about prosecuting drivers who are driving dangerously based on merely taking evidence provided by cyclists' cameras seriously, they're just doing what they should be doing anyway. That plenty of cyclists'experience says that drivers are able to cut them up, punishment pass, hit them even, with relative impunity, shows just how pro-vehicle (and possibly anti-cyclist) as a country we are.

This, to me, is the strength of the whole argument, and why, to me, it represents a real opportunity to start to tilt the attitiude towards cycling. The police are just doing what they should be doing. No bias. And even if there is bias, so what? How can anyone argue against the police ultimately just upholding the law? This isn't Chris Boardman speaking sense and fairness which will be dismissed - this is the police. I seriously hope it spreads beyond a couple of forces and we should do everything to encourage that.

So, bring the backlash on. Let militant drivers become the outgroup, railing pathetically against the police just doing their jobs and cyclists not wanting to be hit by vehicles.

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ChairRDRF [354 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

 

 

Nice article Laura - here is an account of the evening's proceedings from me (Robert Davis, Chair RDRF) https://rdrf.org.uk/2016/11/22/a-new-dawn-in-policing-to-prevent-danger-...