Reporting incidents to the police

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 72.

Illustrative image: security camera

The police are responsible for investigating crashes, cases of aggressive driving and obstructive and illegal parking or unloading in cycle lanes. However, a number of cyclists have reported that they have had difficulty getting such incidents officially recorded, let alone investigated. We thought it might be useful to suggest some guidelines.

Firstly, though, remember that the great majority of potential crashes can be avoided by a cyclist who has learned to ride skilfully and diligently, even when the only person in the wrong is the other party. I cycled in Cambridge for some 15 years before I even had a bruise that was not my fault. (I should never have tried to cycle on frozen slush one winter). Cycling keeps you fit, helps save the planet, and the more people who cycle, the safer we all are.

Crashes

If you are involved in an actual crash, where you fall off your bike, and you’re unsure whether or how much you are injured, say you’re not sure. Never say anything to imply that you’re not injured, even if you think that to be the case. The adrenalin rushing around your body will say ‘I’m fine’, and it is only when you sit down, or get into the bath, and you realise you are stiff and a large bruise is appearing somewhere on your anatomy, that you discover the full truth. If you say you aren’t injured it may enable the driver to ignore the crash and any responsibilities. Be careful about admitting any liability at the time, as you could regret this on reflection.

After any crash or nasty near-miss

  • Get safe. If the incident is serious and needs police or ambulance urgently, call 999
  • Get registration number(s)
  • Get at least one witness
  • Take photographs
  • Don’t admit liability
  • Write things down (borrow pen and paper if need be)
  • Report it (0845 456 456 4)
  • Write a statement as soon as possible

In a crash (they never were ‘accidents’), involving a motor vehicle where someone is injured, the driver has a duty in law to report it to the police as soon as reasonably possible, within 24 hours, and the police have a duty to record data from the incident on the STATS19 database used to produce local and national statistics.

This should occur even when neither party feels the blame is sufficient to warrant the police taking action against anyone. We’ve good evidence to suggest that many crashes involving cyclists who are injured never make it to the STATS19 database.

The police should also accept reports from cyclists even where a motor vehicle is not involved, for example, due to a pedestrian or dangerous surface.

If anyone suffers a crash, they should make notes immediately and then write a statement of exactly what happened as soon as possible after the event. They should describe the movements of each party, and what were their reactions both before and after the crash (both in what they said and how they acted more generally). If possible you should also take photos of the location, showing all relevant places. A statement recorded immediately after a crash will carry much more weight in subsequent proceedings than one made some days later. For that reason, this statement should be in addition to any statement you subsequently give to the police – indeed, it’s a good idea to give your statement to the police instead of accepting one drawn up by them.

Aggressive Driving

More problematic are incidents of aggressive driving. You need to remember that we all (even cyclists) make mistakes and being threatening or aggressive to a driver who has made a mistake, without serious consequences, and who clearly recognises it, just makes things worse. Although you may both be shaken, aggressive action may lead to the driver making further mistakes, turning their bad day into a disastrous one for someone else.

If a driver is clearly aggressive, thinks he has rights on the road without responsibilities, and that the law does not apply to him, the police should take action if it is reported. This is anti-social behaviour at its worst and the police, Department for Transport and the Home Office have produced a leaflet on this type of issue.

Although this leaflet seems clear, it unfortunately seems difficult to report such issues unless you allow yourself to be injured. Most of us are, most of the time, observant enough, quick witted enough, and sensible enough to get out of the way, although this may mean falling off, escaping to the footway, or even running away.

If the driver is abusive, foul mouthed, threatening, or claims you are scum and have no rights on the road, it should be considered assault. If they also attempt to use their vehicle as a threatening weapon it clearly is. These incidents need to be reported and the police made to take action. In the centre of Cambridge, many areas are covered by CCTV, and the operators should be able to recover images to support your version of events. If you’ve had one of these incidents, and are reading this, you clearly survived; someone else may encounter the same driver on a different day and not survive, so it needs reporting.

Unless there is CCTV support, you need at least one witness for the police to be likely to take any action, although some sympathetic police officers will sometimes be willing to have a ‘quiet word’ with a motorist against whom they cannot otherwise take action.

Obstructions in the road

Personal injury road accidents statistics were first collected in 1909. The modern system of collecting information on injury accidents – known as STATS19 – was introduced in 1949. The current system was established in 1979 following a wide ranging review. Subsequently the survey has been reviewed every five years to check that the data collected remain relevant.

Finally, although LAPE (Local Authority Parking Enforcement) can deal with breaches of waiting or loading/unloading regulations, in Cambridge, as elsewhere except London, offences in Mandatory Cycle Lanes (MCLs), stopping on Urban Clearways, and stopping on zig-zag lines are all still the responsibility of the police. Ring 0845 456 456 4 and don’t let them tell you to ring the LAPE number. We know of occasions where vehicles have been left for a number of hours in very busy MCLs yet, despite requests, police have taken no action. If enough people ring, they might take such issues seriously.

In all cases there are some simple rules to follow if possible for an incident:

  • Get safe. If the incident is serious and needs police or ambulance urgently, call 999
  • Get registration number(s)
  • Get at least one witness
  • Take photographs
  • Don’t admit liability
  • Write things down (borrow pen and paper if need be)
  • Report it (0845 456 456 4)
  • Write a statement as soon as possible
  • Assuming you get sufficient data, make sure the incident is at least recorded by the police.

When you report an incident to the 0845 number you should eventually be put through, be able to report it, and get an incident number. It seems that this is not always easy. I’ve been told I can’t report an incident unless I’m injured, or that to report such things I need to attend the police station in person. This is particularly a problem with reporting aggressive driving when there is no crash.

If you’ve had a case where you think the police have been ineffective or uncooperative, please let us know.

The Campaign may consider a new mailing list or form to record such instances. If the Campaign can collate a record of problems that cyclists have in reporting incidents, that could make it easier to get the system improved.

See also the:

Highway Code rules 260 and 261

Crown Prosecution Service guidelines

Local statistics

Aggressive driving leaflet (pdf)