An administrative affair

driving licence

I have a licence to drive. The state permits me to operate a vehicle on the public highway. To get this privilege, I had to demonstrate competence: to pass a driving test administered by the state. It’s the state’s job to ensure that when you use the public highway the motor vehicles you share it with are operated by people of established competence.

Everyone who has passed a driving test knows there are many ways to bring your competence into question. Top of the list is colliding — with a tree, a gatepost, a parked car or (whisper it) another road user. No one expects to pass a driving test in which they have collided with something or someone.

Driving examiners protect the public from drivers who are not demonstrably competent. Police officers investigating highway collisions should be empowered to do the same. In real life as much as in a driving test, a collision brings a driver’s competence into question. Investigating officers should as a matter of routine take and keep the licences of drivers involved in a collision until the investigation — or a subsequent court hearing — has removed the question over their competence. (This suspension should be for a minimum period — at  least 24 hours — to remove pressure on officers to resolve the matter on the spot.)

It would be a great inconvenience for drivers who collide, but there is no question here of reversal of the burden of proof or of punishment without trial. This is an administrative matter, protecting the public from drivers whose competence is currently in question. No right is being infringed. A licence to drive is a privilege requiring a demonstration of competence. It should be routinely suspended while that competence is being investigated. Who supports sharing our roads with drivers whose competence is in question? 

It is a sad thought, but the certainty of an immediate end to one’s journey and the added inconvenience of getting one’s vehicle impounded if no one else is available to drive it, would do more to improve driving standards than the currently remote prospect of conviction for a driving offence.

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Road niggers

westminster_coroners_court

The failure to prosecute Gale Purcell for the killing of Michael Mason should frighten anyone who rides a bicycle.

Mrs Purcell drove into the rear of Mr Mason’s bicycle as he was riding north on Regent Street in the West End of London on 25 February.

Mrs Purcell, who stopped at the scene, told the inquest she had not seen Mr Mason despite his bike having front and rear lights.

She was unable to explain to the inquest how she failed to see Mr Mason. The coroner, Dr William Dolman, recorded Mr Mason’s death as an accident.

A court trial might find reasons to acquit Mrs Purcell of manslaughter. But on the facts known so far she simply ran him down and killed him. She offers no reason why she should not be held responsible for his death.

The coroner sees no one responsible. It was an ‘accident’. It just happened. There is a case to answer that Mrs Purcell failed in her duty of care to other road users. But Dr Dolman excludes that.

The police consider they have insufficient evidence for a prosecution to succeed. They lament the absence of CCTV footage of the collision. It is hard to see why this would be relevant. No one disputes Mrs Purcell ran down Mr Mason and killed him. A film might show some unreported incident to explain what Mrs Purcell says she cannot explain. The defence might seize on that gratefully. But the absence of CCTV footage could hardly weaken a prosecution, and it is difficult to see what its presence might add to it.

View this as a test case. The facts are rarely this plain. The bald and frightening implication of the inquest is running down someone riding a bicycle is not an offence. We are ‘road niggers’. There is no justice for us.

This cannot stand. Urge and support the Cyclists Defence Fund and the CTC’s Road Justice campaign to get the coroner’s verdict overturned and Mrs Purcell prosecuted for killing Mr Mason.

RDRF Conference 2014

Attending the Road Danger Reduction Forum’s annual conference this weekend has moved me to resume writing here. If you weren’t at Southwark Town Hall on Saturday, here is what stood out to me.

Tony, Lord Berkeley, RDRF president, chairing the morning session, mentioned the Labour Party’s commitment to a new Transport Bill. He spoke also of the need for “a complete review of existing legislation” regarding conduct on the roads. A faint hope, perhaps, but worth nourishing.

Bob Davis, RDRF chair, was encouraged that the conference was booked out soon after it was announced. He compared the ‘road safety’ lobby’s focus on protecting “vulnerable road users” to Mae West’s observation:

maewest
Every man I meet wants to protect me.
I can’t figure out what from.

Most problems on the road stem from otherwise good people doing bad things. the culture of carelessness and its indulgence is what needs tackling. It begins with ourselves: recognising our own prejudices and working against them. We need to campaign to

stigmatise behaviour that endangers others

Close overtaking is the main source of KSIs.

Amy Aeron-Thomas of RoadPeace spoke eloquently to the statistics. In London in 2013, 2,000 people killed or injured in collisions. A person on foot 180 times more likely to be hurt than in a car. Police issued 7,275 Fixed-Penalty Notices for speeding, but only 5 boroughs averaged more than a single FPN a day for exceeding 30 mph. London sees only 2 FPNs/day for dangerous driving and 6 for careless driving. Ten times more charges brought for drunken driving than for dangers driving. Magistrates do not ban drivers for using phones while driving.

The definition of dangerous driving refers to disregard of other road users The definition of careless driving does not. RoadPeace asked the CPS if that implies disregard of other road users gets prosecuted as dangerous driving. The CPS says not.

National crime statistics: what gets included in the totals shows a bias to crimes against property. Dangerous and careless driving is included, but not drunken driving or hit-and-runs. Dangerous driving is excluded from statistics for violent crime. No count is kept of victims of road crimes.

Our culture of indulging carelessness behind the wheel is reflected in statistics that fail to capture the extent of road crimes and the damage inflicted.

Brenda Puech for Living Streets spoke of the 80 hit-and-run incidents a week in London, a shocking 20% of all collisions; of 400 KSIs a year from hit-and-runs.

The everyday normality of people getting killed on the roads.

She reviewed police analyses of the causes of collisions. Investigating officers more commonly blame pedestrians for failing to see cars than drivers for failing to see pedestrians.

Charlie Lloyd for the London Cycling Campaign spoke of 10% of cycling KSIs being caused by ‘dooring’ – careless opening of car doors. He examined Met. Police claims of a “crackdown” on road danger in its 2013  Operation Safeway and found of 14,269 FPNs issued only 93 were for careless driving.

Sgt Simon Clarke of the Met. Police spoke warmly of the new Road and Transport Command, with 2,300 officers, more than double the 1,000 officers of the former Safer Traffic Command. His enthusiasm for his work was encouraging.

My take-away from the conference: there is scope for an umbrella campaign against the culture of carelessness. It should be conducted on behalf of the general public, not ‘pedestrians’, ‘cyclists’ or anyone else who can be labeled as a special-interest group.

It might as well start by challenging  representations of Mr Toad as high-spirited and lovable:

The_adventures_of_mr_toad_3

No more Toad on the Road! 

Educating coppers

Police AcademyThere you are, cautiously, conservatively riding in prime position, safely away from the kerb, from lunging pedestrians and from suddenly opening car doors, and alert for every opportunity to let cars following you pass safely. And some enraged, inexperienced or testosterone-poisoned driver deliberately endangers you to express his disapproval.

You’re pleased to find a nearby police officer coming over to find out why you’re suddenly yelling at the driver’s window. Then not so pleased, as the officer instructs you to ride near the kerb, perhaps in one of London’s attractive, green-painted ‘suicide lanes’.

Seems this happens from time to time.

Naturally we must all follow the instructions of police officers directing traffic. (We’re traffic, remember?)

Let’s organise training classes on the law relating to cycling, and offer them — with ample local publicity — to police stations where officers’ grasp of it appears weak.

We have trouble enough with motorists who mistakenly believe they have first claim on the highway, without police officers compounding the error.