Policing Bristol’s roads – two strategies and a damning critique

Three significant publications in the past few weeks will do much to decide how safe Bristol’s roads are for cycling in the coming years. Avon and Somerset police put out their Policing the Roads Strategy. Bristol Council issues their long awaited road danger reduction strategy A Safe Systems Approach to Road Safety in Bristol. Finally the prosecution service was heavily criticised in the Joint Inspection of the Investigation and Prosecution of Fatal Road Traffic Incidents. We discuss each of these and what they mean for Bristol.

 Policing the Roads Strategy

Through our work with the police on Road Justice we were invited to comment on the ASP Policing the Roads Strategy. Much of the strategy concerns high level national/regional policy issues such as disrupting criminality on the roads and terrorist activity. It is part of the response to the policing priorities set out by PCC Sue Mountstevens for 2015-17.  These are the points of interest to local campaigners:

  • The strategy has as one of its aims and objectives “to reduce road casualties with specific prioritisation to those that are killed and seriously injured and at most risk – i.e. pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists.” and the plan identifies useful actions (in particular numbers 9 to 17);
  • It will seek to address road user behavioural issues through enforcement, education and engagement;
  • It identifies the need to work with local partners, such as the Council, to implement 20 mph zones and infrastructure improvements. Also, it will engage with the community to carry out speedwatch and speed enforcement and run educational programmes for drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists;
  • We are disappointed that the approach remains the old style one of ‘Road Safety’, and therefore inevitable focus on keeping at risk road users away from danger, rather than ‘Road Danger Reduction’ tackling danger at source (see below however for an announcement from Bristol Council that may help change this).

So far so good, but as yet little has changed on the ground:

  • The police have not adopted an intelligence-led approach to enforcement to address motorists’ behaviour such as cutting up cyclists, opening car doors without checking and parking across pavements;
  • While, with local support including BCyC members, various Community Speedwatch programmes have been set up, mobile speed cameras have not been redirected to persistently problematic areas and the police have sent out very mixed messages about enforcement in 20 mph zones;
  • Whilst accepting the need for 101 and on-line reporting of dangerous driving and near-misses, no systems have as yet been put in place;
  • The strategy’s action plan commits the police to working with Neighbourhood Partnerships but the officers who attend seem to have no evidence based knowledge of the causes of road traffic incidents in their area.

These are all issues on which the Road Justice group is continuing to press the police for action.

Prosecution of road traffic incidents is failing

BCyC has long supported the CTC’s long and hard campaign about the justice system’s inadequate response to the appalling number of cyclists killed and injured as a result of dangerous driving. Now a report, ponderously called the “Joint Inspection of the Investigation and Prosecution of Fatal Road Traffic Incidents”, has delivered a withering assessment of the Crown Prosecution Services’ (CPS) work in this area. The main findings of the report are:

  • little progress in developing a specialist service staffed by prosecutors with the necessary knowledge and experience;
  • poor support and guidance for the police in preparing cases;
  • lack of continuity of prosecutors in nearly half of cases;
  • no systematic procedure for monitoring and analysing performance, so it was not possible to measure any improvement in service;
  • in only 27% of cases was the CPS duty to notify families of court hearings and outcomes satisfactory.

The report concludes that “the perception that these cases no longer enjoy the priority that they had in earlier years was hard to resist”. Other views of the report include road.cc, Brake, and The Cycling Silk.

The report concentrates on policies and procedures more than outcomes and fails to address the issue raised by the CTC’s Road Justice campaign of the systematic “undercharging” of drivers with lesser offences in order to secure convictions. However it does go someway towards explaining the poor results obtained by the local CPS in a number of cases around Bristol.

The report also considered the role of the police and the service provided to bereaved families and is far less critical of their performance. Partly this can be accounted for by the fact that police forces tend to have specialist units to deal with fatal incidents and takes them much more seriously than the run-of-the-mill incidents involving lesser injury and harassment which cyclist face on a daily basis. However as the Road Justice campaign report “The Role of the Police” has highlighted and the Michael Mason case has demonstrated, there still exist significant concerns as to the service police forces deliver, including Avon and Somerset.

Putting lives first on Bristol’s roads

We warmly welcome publication of “A Safe Systems Approach to Road Safety in Bristol” by Bristol Council. This is the Road Danger Reduction Strategy we’ve been calling for as part of our Road Justice campaign. Read more here Putting lives first on Bristol’s roads – A Safe Systems Approach

Overall, an encouraging set of developments. Now we need to make sure practice follows by policy through a Road Danger Reduction Forum involving councils, police, professional road users and others (we’ll be there of course!)

Profound thanks to the dedicated team of 2 who have pushed our Road Justice campaign forward. They’ve now been joined by the local representative of RoadPeace.