Police in Chiswick, West London, have said they have fined cyclists in the area for using mobile phones while driving, but admit they lack resources to target motorists using handheld devices illegally at the wheel.
While there is no specific offence of using a mobile phone while riding a bike, it may be dealt with under the heading of careless cycling.
Using a handheld device while at the wheel is a specific offence, although harsher punishments introduced almost a year ago, with a fine of £200 and six penalty points, are failing to deter a huge number of motorists from breaking the law, with the RAC last year estimating that 9 million drivers were doing so.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police revealed last week at a meeting of the Chiswick Area Forum that they had been targeting cyclists using mobile phones under Operation Safeway – the controversial road safety campaign introduced in late 2014 after six cyclists were killed in the capital in the space of a fortnight – and that fines had been issued.
Among those present at the meeting last Tuesday, hosted by Hounslow Borough Council and which brings together councillors, police and local residents every two months, was Ruth Mayorcas, a cycling campaigner and Labour candidate for the Turnham Green ward in the forthcoming local elections.
Aged 64, she has lived locally for more than 40 years, and told road.cc that news of the cyclists being fined was greeted by “a general murmur of approval from the audience.”
The area has seen some anti-cyclist sentiment recently due to a small but vociferous group of opponents to Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans for Cycle Superhighway 9, unveiled last year, which will run along Chiswick High Road on its way from Kensington Olympia to Brentford.
At the meeting, Mayorcas asked police whether they would be targeting drivers who were using their mobile phones while queueing in traffic on Wellesley Road, but was told no patrol car was available.
Asking whether an officer on a bike might be deployed instead, she was informed that funding had been withdrawn and there was therefore no such officer available.
She also received a non-committal response to her request for a close pass initiative to be introduced in the borough, which she pointed out had met with success in neighbouring Ealing as well as the West Midlands, where the initiative originated.
During the meeting, local restaurant owner David Lesniak – an opponent of the planned Cycle Superhighway 9 who has likened it to a “speedway” – asked police if they would target people riding bikes on the pavement
In response, Mayorcas pointed out to the meeting that the location that Lesniak was most concerned about was one where cyclists took to the pavement because it was dangerous to cycle on the road there.
While fixed penalty notices were introduced for that offence in 1999, official guidance laid down by Paul Boateng, a home office minister at the time, was that “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so.
“Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”
That guidance was reaffirmed in 2014 by former transport minister Robert Goodwill and by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.