Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Police Lottery

This is a story of a lottery. No, not that national lottery, but a post code lottery. Specifically, a post code lottery in which where you live determines whether or not, as a cyclist, you can expect to receive any justice from police.

If you live in Devon or Cornwall you're bang out of luck, as Devon and Cornwall Police don't take driving offences, that other forces prosecute drivers for, seriously at all when reported by cyclists.

On the 2nd of November 2016 I was subjected to a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake, which you can see here.

As you can see, I was cycling in primary position (specifically to try and discourage overtakes where clearly it would be unsafe) when the absolutely idiotic driver insisted on overtaking me, despite oncoming traffic. Twenty seconds into the clip you can briefly see both the oncoming car and the overtaking car in the video clip, proving that they were both alongside me at the same time.

The oncoming car looks to me like a Seat hatchback, while the overtaking car was a Vauxhall Corsa, which is 1.944 metres wide. Assuming for the moment that oncoming car was indeed a Seat Ibiza, that would mean it was 1.81 metres wide, which is a fair average width for a large number of hatchbacks in the UK. Placed side-by-side, with the wing mirrors touching, the two cars would be 3.754 metres wide.

The road itself is 6.8 metres wide - yes, I went and measured it with a tape measure. In the video you will see a manhole cover in the road. This extends over a metre into the road and is over a metre wide. As I was riding to the right of that we can see that I was riding at least two metres away from the kerb.

If we deduct the combined width of both cars (3.754 m) from the road width (6.8 m) we end up with 3.046 metres road space. My bike is 40 centimetres wide, reducing that further to 2.646 metres. From that we should deduct the minimum of 2 metres I was away from the kerb, bringing us down to 0.646 metres in total. What we haven't factored in yet is the distance the oncoming car was away from the kerb. Given that cars cannot drive properly with their tyres scraping the kerb, it would be fair to look at a distance of at least 0.3 m from the kerb. That reduces the total available space between both cars and me on my bike to 0.346 metres. Divided by two (assuming there was an equal gap between the two cars and between the overtaking car and me, we're looking at an overtake distance of 17 centimetres.

Next time you see a cyclist ride through a puddle, look at the wet tyre tracks they leave behind: they're not in a straight line. This is part of what the Department for Transport refers to a bicycle's "dynamic envelope". In the DfT's LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design it suggests the dynamic envelope of someone cycling will be 0.2 metres (20 centimetres) wider than their static width, and significantly wider than that at low speeds.

Without factoring the dynamic envelope in, we're still looking at 17 cm, which is stupidly close already.

I think we can all agree that this certainly amounts to a dangerous, close overtake.

Now let's look at Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines for driving offenses, specifically for the charge of driving without due care and attention. The guidelines are available by clicking here.

Specifically, read the following:

"There are decided cases that provide some guidance as to the driving that courts will regard as careless or inconsiderate and the following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as careless driving:

  • overtaking on the inside;
  • driving inappropriately close to another vehicle;
  • inadvertently driving through a red light;
  • emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle;
  • tuning a car radio; when the driver was avoidably distracted by this action;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use (note that this is an offence itself under Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003).  If this is the only relevant aspect of the case it is more appropriate to use the specific offence;
  • selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use."

Given the distance of the overtake I experienced, I'm confident you will agree that we have indeed met (or rather far exceeded!) the CPS threshold for charging a driver with driving without due care and consideration.

Except Devon and Cornwall Police disagree, and repeatedly said the evidence supplied falls short of what courts would require. Despite repeated requests, they have yet to clarify WHY they say that.

Allow me to regale you with the deep joys that are to be found in trying to report bad driving to Devon and Cornwall Police when you're a cyclist. I first reported the incident to the force's 101 email address, on the 2nd of November (the date of the incident):

"Dear Roads Policing Unit,
This afternoon, 2nd of November 2016, at around 15h35 I was cycling along Millbay Road, Plymouth in a westerly direction, when I suffered a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake by the driver of a Vauxhall Corsa, reg WL12 FSO.
You can see video of the overtake here: https://youtu.be/FvNlWCxuTTc
It was clear and sunny, with excellent visibility and I was doing 18 mph, pacing the speed of traffic ahead of me. As that segment of road is a downhill, I can go significantly faster, but didn't as I'd simply need to brake for traffic ahead of me anyway.
As I was approaching a roundabout, I was riding in what Cycle Craft (available from the Government Press, and upon which Bikeability cycling training is based) refers to as primary position: this means riding in the middle of the lane specifically to try and discourage overtakes.
There was oncoming traffic, yet the driver of the Corsa still decided she was going to overtake me, no matter what.
I've spoken with the operators of D&C Police's Twitter account, who asked me to email a report to yourselves.
Many thanks in advance.
Kind regards,"

The first human response to that email was to say they couldn't view the attachment. This is hardly surprising, given that I didn't attach anything to the report, but instead sent and email containing a link to YouTube.

Various emails were exchanged, many of which were NOT inspiring confidence in the technical abilities of D & C Police. I was asked to send the video via email. This I did, attaching the 16 MB video, only to receive an immediate bounce-back saying the attachment (of 16 MB, remember) exceeds the force's attachment limit of 20 MB. Last time I checked, 16 was certainly smaller than 20, but apparently D & C Police feel differently.

I tried using WeTransfer.com - you upload the file and the recipient receives an email containing a hyperlink to the file. They couldn't access that either. Next, I shared it via Dropbox, but they couldn't access that either. I'm still unsure whether this was due to system limits or people struggling with hyperlinks. Suffice it to say I don't rate D & C Police's collective IT skills very high at all at this point.

I emailed the head of Armed Response and Traffic directly, and also contacted him via Twitter. He informed me that he assigned the case to a named officer. Some time later, on the 10th of November 2016, the named officer emailed me to explain that he's looking into my report, but that he's terribly busy.

Police are, quite unsurprisingly, governed by many laws. This includes the requirement to issue what is known as an NIP (Notice of Intent to Prosecute) on an offending driver within 14 days from when the offense was comitted. If the NIP period expires without an NIP having been issued, police will simply turn around and say that there is nothing more they can do and close the case without taking action.

Mindful of this, I kept emailing, asking for an update. Finally, on the 28th of November 2016 I received an email from an Inspector, saying the following:

"Regarding the cycle camera footage that this email chain refers to. This footage was viewed by various officers including myself. In this type of incident, we as police officers decide on the evidence available, whether there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. I fully appreciate that you feel this was an incident that caused you concern, due to the actions of the driver. Unfortunately the video evidence was not sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. This was because of continuity issues around date, time and the ID of the cyclist, at the time of the incident. This is not in any way placing your integrity into question but would be points raised by a defence that would put in place reasonable doubt and therefore prevent a conviction.

With that in mind I don’t believe that a NIP was served on the other driver, but I do believe that the driver has been spoken to by MPC [name redacted]. I believe it was for these reasons and others that MPC [name redacted] requested a telephone number from you, so that he could fully relay the information to you in person.

As there is no planned prosecution there is no case number."

And there is was: the NIP notice period had run out, and D & C Police's finest couldn't give two hoots about an overtake calculated above to have been 17 centimetres, in the face of oncoming traffic, despite this clearly exceeding the threshold for successful prosecution set by CPS.

What a lovely work-reduction strategy that is: simply sit on something and do nothing, until the NIP notice expires, then fob the cyclist making the complaint off with an entirely spurious reason.

Let's examine those reasons given, shall we? The YouTube video (the only video police have seen) doesn't contain any date or time stamps, so there absolutely are no "continuity issues around the date and time". Bizarrely, the good Inspector also claimed there are continuity issues around the ID of the cyclist! What does that mean, given that *I* am the cyclist? Have I suddenly become Schrodinger's Cyclist, being me and not me at the same time? Do I fade in and out of existence? Does my identity change like some super spy?

I have objected to the reasons given, and asked for clarification regarding what exactly is meant by them, but it seems I'll be growing very old while waiting for an answer.