Road danger reduction: roads, policing and traffic enforcement

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 117.

I first went to a Road Danger Reduction Forum (RDRF) event near Downing Street (the London one) on a very cold winter’s day over 20 years ago. The cafĂ© beneath the Methodists’ Central Hall is a good place to warm up.

Illegal and obstructive unloading.
Image as described adjacent

For those unfamiliar with RDRF: ‘The thrust behind setting out the Road Danger Reduction agenda was – and continues to be – dissatisfaction with various elements of the official “road safety” establishment, arguing that this is often very much part of the problem of danger on the road.’ See also: I’m pleased to say that, although long overdue, I do think this is changing and that in official circles there is recognition of past failures.

This year there was a meeting organised by RDRF and RoadPeace in London on 1 November entitled: ‘Road danger reduction and enforcement: How policing can support walking and cycling in London’.

The presentations by officials from both Transport for London (TfL) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) showed progress is being made, and of course such events can be good for networking, showing progress made elsewhere from which others can learn.

Particularly relevant was a talk from the Met officer who created the Cycle Safety Team in 2010. This was the first, and is still the only, dedicated cycle-based team in the British police. There was an admission that some of the recent crackdown in London was far from perfect. It used officers from far and wide, and adequate training was not given before the start, leading to inappropriate stops for some on bicycles. Clearly having a set of well-trained officers would reduce such problems.

Of more interest is a major reorganisation of MPS at the start of December. A new ‘Roads Policing and Transport Command’ of over 2,000 officers will start work. This means there will be dedicated ‘Traffic Officers’ with appropriate training. These changes were also discussed by an official from TfL, who will be part-funding this work. There have been huge increases in ‘personal safety’ on public transport as a result of targeted action in recent years. The intention is to spread such actions to other vulnerable road users. TfL is one of those organisations which opposed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles’ attempt to prevent the use of cameras to enforce road traffic laws. TfL has also taken over from local boroughs the enforcement of numbers of offences on the TfL ‘strategic network’. This should mean that those so-called ‘victimless’ offences, such as illegal unloading, or obstructing yellow box junctions or even those in Mandatory Cycle Lanes, can be more effectively enforced.

So how is this relevant to Cambridgeshire?

Clearly, in Cambridgeshire we should be learning from such work. I’ve long said that illegal behaviour on the road is intimidating and a danger to those on foot or cycles, and hence deters many vulnerable road users from making even short trips on our roads. Illegally waiting or unloading vehicles make crossing the road on foot more difficult and dangerous, as do motor vehicles illegally obstructing junctions, hence making manoeuvres similarly difficult and dangerous for those on cycles.

On the stretch of Hills Road, Regent Street, and St Andrews Street, around 500 Fixed Penalty Notices were issued for illegal loading and unloading in a single year. Those of us used to cycling such routes every day know how such illegal actions make cycling more difficult and stressful. Despite what ministers may say, such behaviour is not a ‘victimless crime’.

Also, all people are victims of such behaviour as they cause delays to all traffic. Preparations are being made to spend hundreds of millions creating new capacity for motor vehicles in Cambridgeshire, justified by reduction in delays. Just a minute fraction of that money spent on enforcement in and around Cambridge would not only reduce delays and costs for us all, but also make the roads safer without spending a penny on ‘engineering’. If fines from such infringements were collected effectively such actions could even be cost-neutral.

Of course, if measures in the Traffic Management Act 2004 were enabled, giving those outside London the same powers as exist in London, such actions would be easier, leading to higher levels of compliance with such ‘minor’ offences.

If Transport for London can help pay for a dedicated team of officers, so as to reduce traffic delay and make their roads safer, why cannot Cambridgeshire not have a similar arrangement with our local constabulary? This was, I thought, a good use of a day.

Jim Chisholm