01:13, May 02 436 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-02 01:13:02
Police and courts fail cyclists over road safety, says cross-party inquiry

Policing and the justice system are too often failing cyclists, making the roads too dangerous for people to ride on them, and then not properly prosecuting or banning motorists who commit offences, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has warned.

Dangerous drivers are increasingly likely to be permitted by courts to stay behind the wheel, the report found, with the number of driving bans falling 62% over the last 10 years, and ever-more people claiming exceptional hardship to avoid a disqualification.

The inquiry, by the all-party parliamentary cycling group, calls for police forces to give higher priority to roads policing, for police to be more receptive to video evidence from cyclists’ on-bike video cameras, and for serious offences to be prosecuted as dangerous rather than careless driving.

“The justice system is failing to protect cyclists, both by allowing dangerous and inconsiderate driving to go unchecked, and by letting down the victims of road crashes,” said the report, co-chaired by the Labour MP Ruth Cadbury and the Tory MP Alex Chalk.

The study, which heard written and oral evidence from more than 200 organisations and individuals, gives 14 recommendations, split equally between making the roads safer for vulnerable users, and ensuring the justice system proportionately punishes those who create danger.

road safety

It highlights two issues in particular, one being the fall in the number of driving bans, which over the past decade have dropped twice as fast as the fall in recorded offences on the road.

“The licence to drive is a privilege, not a right,” says the report, saying also the number of drivers who are able to continue driving even after amassing more than 12 penalty points, the standard level for a statutory ban.

Some drivers are able to claim severe personal or professional hardship to persuade magistrates to waive a ban. One such case highlighted in the report is that of Christopher Gard, who killed cyclist Lee Martin in Hampshire in 2015, sending a text as he drove his van. It emerged in court that Gard had six previous convictions for using a phone at the wheel, but had successfully argued he needed to keep his licence.

Witnesses told the inquiry that the number of penalties for mobile phone use had halved in the last five years, and of the 15,000 taken to court for the offence, just 33 were banned from driving.

The inquiry’s authors also argue the need to tackle lower level bad driving that prevents many people from cycling, citing studies showing many people would happily ride short distances if they felt safe on the roads.

cyclists and safety

The report recommends a nationwide rollout of a scheme pioneered by West Midlands roads police which targets driver behaviour such as overtaking cyclists too closely, and for a more general focus on antisocial road behaviour.

“We believe that hundreds of thousands of crimes – committed by a small minority of road users – are going unrecorded by the police each year, resulting in a feeling of lawlessness and aggression that is deterring many people from cycling,” the report notes.

Other recommendations include changes to the highway code to promote better driver interactions with cyclists, a revised driving text with a focus on protecting vulnerable road users, and a targeting of dangerous driving by lorries.

The report notes that the number of specialist road police has reduced by 39% in recent years, saying the issues should be made a higher priority by police forces.

While some witnesses said this could be linked to a parallel fall in prosecution for road offences, there was also evidence pointing to issues with the number of cases taken to court, and a tendency to charge people with careless driving even for serious infractions.

Cadbury said she had been concerned by hearing some of the testimony: “One of the areas that particularly struck me was the fall in the number of driving bans, and those still allowed to drive on more than 12 points. This does mean that more and more drivers who have been proved to be dangerous remain on the roads, which is a big worry.”