Road Justice meeting with police: 450 near miss reports, victim blaming, speeding complaints down

The Bristol Road Justice Group (BRJG) has again met with the police and representatives of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The Group was set up in 2013 to promote the agenda set by CTC’s report Road Justice: The Role of the Police. Formed by local members of CTC, Bristol Cycling Campaign and Road Peace, it was joined at this meeting by Amy Aeron-Thomas from Road Peace’s national office, Kate Cooke from BCC’s Public Health Team and Ben Barker representing the recently formed Bristol Walking Alliance.

The purpose of the meeting was to review progress in implementing Avon and Somerset “Policing the Roads Strategy”. The Strategy’s aims and objectives include, amongst other things, reducing road traffic casualties, especially among vulnerable road users, and reducing concerns about road safety.

Chief Inspector Stuart Bell, the Force’s Lead for Roads, started by highlighting the reduction during 2015 in road casualties, including among vulnerable users. He didn’t have separate figures for Bristol and so couldn’t say whether the 30% increase in cycle casualties in the city in 2014 had continued. The Strategy is currently being reviewed with a view to including more ambitious targets for reducing the amount of death and injury on our roads.

Under-reporting of incidents is acknowledged to be a problem and one which the Force, prompted by earlier representations by the BRJG, hoped to address through improvements in training, procedures and supervision. Computerisation of incident reporting was to have played a big part in improving standards and adherence to procedures; unfortunately digital recording of incidents has been delayed for another year.

Interestingly, the police have experienced a substantial drop in complaints about drivers speeding through neighbourhoods since the introduction of 20 mph.
We again pressed the police to make better use of information supplied through the near-miss reporting system. They stated that it was never intended to be used to initiate prosecutions. Instead they see it as a useful indicator of particular issues and their locations. To date they have had 452 reports, overwhelmingly from cyclists, with the largest number relating to dangerous overtaking by motorists. We suggested that more could be done with the information particularly in relation to educating the drivers of commercial vehicle fleets and also in identifying and educating younger drivers.

The Group questioned the police on their record on enforcement, citing a recent study by the Group of car doorings (10 prosecutions resulting from 128 incidents in the last five years). We also cited another study, this time of serious injuries to cyclists in 2014 where the police identified the driver as being at fault (7 prosecutions from 19 sample incidents). Chief Inspector Bell was surprised by these figures and as a follow-up action we have supplied him with case details for him to investigate.

There was also an interesting discussion and, it has to be said, disagreement on victim blaming. Kate introduced the subject by pointing to a number of examples, not all cycling related, where the victim was blamed in public information posters for their predicament. She also showed other examples which placed the blame firmly where it deserved to be. Whilst the PCC members and police officers accepted Kate’s points it didn’t stop the police emphatically stating their belief that all cyclists should wear helmets.

Finally, we raised the problem that community police officers are poorly briefed as to the number and causes of road traffic incidents on their patches. As a result discussions at Neighbourhood Forums and Partnerships can be held without the necessary evidence needed to make informed decisions as to road safety improvements. The police didn’t think that they would be able to change this so we offered to write post-meeting setting out proposals for area-focused key facts to be prepared annually by the Council and police.