The Police Response to Incidents Involving Cyclists on Bristol’s Gloucester Road

Rob Harding (BCyC member)

Mid-morning traffic on Gloucester Road, Bristol

Early this year I was surprised to see in a local freesheet that a Bishopston Councillor had called for the police to make cracking down on cycling on the pavement one of their top priorities. Whilst an occasional nuisance, I didn’t think the problem was so pervasive or dangerous as to warrant a re-prioritising of police resources. I decided to take a closer look at the cause of road traffic incidents on the Gloucester Road near where I live. The road had already been identified as one of the six worst in Bristol in terms of incidents involving injury to cyclists (see Sam Saunders’ blog).

Bristol City Council’s Transport Services helpfully provided me with police reports on all traffic incidents for the period between September 2009 and September 2012. These showed a total of 60 incidents involving injury to cyclists caused by motorised traffic with the large majority (80%) resulting from the familiar causes – vehicles cutting across, pulling out in front or running into the back of cyclists, motorists opening doors without looking etc., i.e. drivers not exercising due care and attention. The recorded incidents all resulted in the cyclist needing hospital treatment although, fortunately, only in one case as an in-patient. There were 11 incidents of injury to pedestrians, none caused by cyclists.

I was interested in the police response to what was a clearly identifiable problem with motorists’ behaviour and so picked out 25 of these incidents. These were all ones which appeared, according to the police reports, to be due to the lack of care and attention of the driver and where a site visit showed no possible mitigating factors for the motorist’s behaviour.

I made a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for details of the numbers of incidents where action was taken by the police. I successfully  appealed against their initial refusal to provide this information, the police answers revealed that in only 2 of the 25 incidents were drivers charged with dangerous driving and in a further 1 case a fixed penalty notice was issued. Put another way, in 88% of cases where there appeared to be evidence of the driver being responsible for the incident and injury to a cyclist no action was taken.

Various “reasons” were put forward for this inaction. Firstly, that there were no independent witnesses. Given the incidents all took place on one of Bristol’s busiest shopping streets it is difficult to believe that much effort went into finding witnesses. Secondly, that in many incidents “no offence had been committed”. This finding would seem to directly contradict the narrative on the police incident reports. A more convincing reason, given unofficially, was that since the cutting of the police accident unit, individual officers have responsibility for prosecutions and cases tend to languish at the bottom of busy in-trays.

The apparent failure of the police to take cycling incidents seriously is not just a Bristol problem. It has been highlighted nationally by the CTC. Nor is it just in relation to cycling injuries that the police are failing. For the last recorded year, 1,648 bicycles were stolen in Bristol of which just 74 were recovered by the police (source : FOI 701/13). It seems that cycling-related crime is a low priority for the Avon and Somerset Police.

The Police and Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, has pledged her support for the CTC’s Road Justice Campaign aimed at ensuring the proper investigation and prosecution of road traffic collisions (and our own local campaign Justice for Ross and Clare featured on our news page). The Chair of the Bristol Cycling Campaign has now written to the Chief Constable, Nick Gargan, calling on him to investigate these incidents and inform us as to his findings and the action he will take to tackle this issue. We invited him to discuss matters further and he responded immediately with an offer to meet.  Letter attached Ltr to Chief Constable 5Nov13 Gloucester Road Cycling Incidents Nov13 from.

Cycling On Gloucester Road in Bristol

Returning to the starting point of my enquiries, cycling on the pavement, a total of 2 incidents resulting in pedestrian injury were reported in the last three years in Bristol. Even so, last year alone 35 prosecutions were brought or penalties issued for cycling on the pavement (source: FOI 05/07/13). More enforcement action is planned (source: Bishopston Voice).

 

Cycling to Gloucester Road Shops