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West Midlands Police to use cycling officer to target close-passing motorists

Force studies the data and changes its attitude to cyclists

West Midlands Police has announced a new scheme which will see a traffic officer riding the most vulnerable locations for cyclists looking to instantly act upon close passes, distracted driving and the like. The move comes following analysis of road traffic collisions (RTCs) which has resulted in the force concluding that prosecution is the only way to encourage drivers to be more aware of vulnerable road users.

When passed too close, the cycling traffic officer will let a colleague up the road know and they will stop the motorist. The offender will then be given a choice: prosecution or 15 minutes spent being educated as to the correct way to pass a cyclist.

If offences persist, the force is planning enforcement-only days where education isn’t an option.

A recent blog by the West Midlands Police Road Traffic Unit says: “We anticipate a change in driver behaviour as awareness of the tactic spreads, after all, every cyclist on the road ahead may well be a traffic officer on the operation, as our cyclists will not be liveried in any way, drivers will have no way of knowing.”

Road traffic collision analysis

Analysis carried out by the force revealed that although the “close pass scenario” remains the greatest concern for the majority of cyclists or for those considering cycling, the actual greatest threat cyclists faced on the roads was a driver pulling out in front of, or across them mid junction.

75 per cent of the West Midlands’ killed and seriously injured (KSI) RTC’s involving cyclists from 2010 to 2014 occurred within 20 metres of a junction and involved another vehicle. The majority occurred when a car pulled out having failed to spot the cyclist.

Further analysis of all KSI RTCs involving cyclists showed that in the majority of cases there were no environmental factors contributing to the collision. In most instances weather conditions were fine with no wind and nor were there any identified carriageway hazards or issues with the road surface.

The blog also says that over half the cyclists involved in a KSI collision on the region’s roads were commuting to or from work, “so in the main we are dealing with experienced cyclists.”

Prosecuting motorists

The upshot of all of this is that West Midlands Police is keen to prosecute drivers for offences that might endanger cyclists – hence the scheme involving a cycling traffic officer.

“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, which given the rise in KSI collisions involving vulnerable road users seems like the majority of motorists.”

“Our time and effort, we have quickly realised, 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. In other words the carrot goes out the window and in comes the stick.”

The blog says that as drivers become aware that an infringement involving a cyclist is something they can expect to be prosecuted for, they suddenly become more aware of them on the road and in turn start giving them the time and space they should lawfully have. “The only way to change driver behaviour and concentrate minds on looking out for vulnerable road users and change driving habits is through enforcement, and the resulting fear of being prosecuted.”

The blog also states that in the majority of KSI collisions, cyclists aren’t to blame, concluding “… it would be a waste of our time, and thus public time and money to concentrate on cyclist behaviour. The figures speak for themselves... drivers don’t let your prejudices get in the way of the truth…”

Tips for cyclists

While emphasising that “you should all have no doubt as to where we think the responsibility lies for the majority of KSI collisions involving cyclists,” the blog does also feature a few safety tips for cyclists.

The advice includes a recommendation not to look a driver in the eye, but to instead watch their wheels, on the grounds that “half the time they will be looking not at you but right through you.” It says, “you will see the wheels move far before you realise the vehicle is moving, thus giving you that split second extra that to react and hopefully avoid a collision.”

The second point is that red lights only instruct vehicles to stop, they don’t actually stop them. “Always check the opposing traffic is slowing and intends to stop at a red light.”

The third point relates to hi-vis clothing. “Don’t think hi viz clothing will keep you seen, although hi viz has a place in some circumstances such as low light conditions, it is contrast that catches the attention of the driver who might pull out on you, that, and movements the human eye and brain are wired to detect.”

While citing white as a ‘particularly visible’ colour, the blog also advocates moving out an extra six to 12 inches when approaching a junction, on the grounds that some sideways movement “can go a long way to making you the centre of the waiting or approaching driver’s attention.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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