There are few subjects more likely to get a response from drivers than cycling. It’s clear that a certain species of driver thinks that roads were designed for motor vehicles alone and everyone else should clear out of the way for them.
I was reminded of this fact last week when it was one of the subjects discussed on my regular Radio Devon phone-in. This is a great way to keep in contact with people and one of the ways, like the Meet Your PCC events my team and I hold around Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, that people can get in touch with me directly and share their views on crime and their police force.
One caller was of the opinion that cyclists should be banned from all A and B roads so they caused less of a hindrance to motorists. I was happy to challenge his view that cyclists were riding for leisure while drivers’ journeys were of a more vital nature.
The fact is that most of the roads here in the Westcountry were built long before the advent of the car, and driving on them can be a frustrating experience. Our roads are a shared space, people have every right to walk on them, cycle on them, ride horses or drive a tractor.
As the interest in cycling increases we all have to get used to seeing more bicycles on our roads.
Traffic counts suggest that the number of miles cycled in 2017 was 3.27bn, a 29% increase in 20 years, but still dramatically down on the levels seen in 1949, when incredible, according to the Department for Transport, around 14 billion miles were pedalled every year in Great Britain.
Our councils are planning more cycle tracks, which is great news for the environment, people’s health and road safety.
Cyclists, along with older and younger drivers, horse riders and motorcyclists, are classified as vulnerable road users because in a collision they are more likely to be killed or seriously injured than someone behind the wheel of a car, van or lorry.
The police, local authorities, charities and the public all need to work together to make our roads safer for all users. The latest figures suggest that 58 people were killed in the Devon and Cornwall Police force area in the 12 months to March 2019 and there were 837 serious casualties. This toll is simply unacceptable, and last week we were reminded of the human tragedy behind these statistics in what was a grim week for some families in our community.
Last Wednesday morning a woman aged 80 was killed when she was hit by a car in Truro, later that night a motorcyclist was killed in Torquay. Two days later a teenage pedestrian lost her life in North Devon in a collision involving a pick-up truck.
It’s too early to say what caused these accidents but we do know that “the fatal five” main causes of road traffic collisions – driving at inappropriate or excessive speed, not wearing a seatbelt, distraction driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and careless and inconsiderate driving, are the main causes of serious injuries or deaths.
Enforcement is part of the solution. The No Excuse team introduced last year continues to take dangerous vehicles and drivers off the road, in May they issued 126 traffic offences, made 18 arrests, took five positive drugs tests, seven positive breath tests and seized 44 vehicles which were uninsured or which were being driven by people with no licence.
The police will be helped enormously to bring bad drivers to book when Operation Snap - a secure online facility which allows the submission of video and photographic evidence relating to driving incidents - is launched this month. It will mean that road users with high quality dashcams and headcams will be able to be the eyes and ears of the police force and should help secure more convictions for those who threaten the safety of others. I hope it will also have the chilling effect of letting drivers know that bad behaviour is more likely to be caught on camera. Look out for more news of this innovative project in the next few days.
Thanks to the support of our taxpayers who said they would tolerate a rise in the precept if we recruited more police officers the force is on schedule to be 85 constables larger this time next year, but we have a vast force area and cannot rely on the police alone to keep us all safe. Ultimately all road users need to do their bit, question their own habits and report dangerous driving if we are to make progress.