The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act is Now Law

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act is now law as it has received Royal Assent. This Act includes the strengthening of police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament. For example demonstrations by such groups as Extinction Rebellion have closed roads, delayed emergency services and incurred millions of pounds in costs to the police. They have also been exceedingly noisy in some cases thus creating disruption and annoyance over a wide area.

The new Act does not stop peaceful demonstrations but it will hamper the activities of extremist organisations who wish to grab attention to their cause by creating disruption. It is surely therefore a positive move to clarify and reinforce the law in this area.

There are many aspects of criminal law tidied up in this Act but one negative aspect is Clause 67 of the Bill which provides a statutory footing for the charging of fees for courses offered as an alternative to prosecution for fixed penalty offences. It gives the police discretion to offer an educational course to a motorist who has committed a low-level driving offence. This is as an alternative to a fixed penalty or prosecution and avoids liability to a criminal conviction, penalty points and higher fine.

As we have pointed out this for the first time makes it legal for the police to solicit a payment to waive prosecution and can be used by the police to raise funds – for example to generate more offences by financing more speed cameras. See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/speed-awareness-courses.htm for more information.

The new Act also increases the maximum sentence for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs to a life sentence. There is also the creation of a new offence of causing serious injury by careless, or inconsiderate, driving. The offence is committed if a person causes serious injury by driving a car or other mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users. But the drafting is ambiguous. What is meant by “serious injury” and it could mean that a simple driving error can result in someone being sentenced to a custodial sentence.

These changes are unprincipled in nature and should not have been made.

Government explanation of the Act: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts-bill-2021-factsheets/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts-bill-2021-protest-powers-factsheet

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Pedicabs/Rickshaws to be Regulated

Grant Shapps, Transport Minister, has announced that he intends to introduce regulations for pedicabs, otherwise known as rickshaws. At present they are not regulated at all and local councils have no powers to impose regulations on them – for example in the interests of road safety, the safety of passengers or to avoid a public nuisance. 

They are a big problem in some parts of London, particularly in the evening.

Mr Shapps said in Parliament that “There isn’t any legislation which accurately enables any type of licensing or regulation. It’s time – it’s high time – I know Parliament has expressed interest through a series backbench bills that for one reason or another…have not proceeded through Parliament. We will do that on Government time in the Transport Bill”.

Comment: some system of licensing is surely required and it would be a good idea to extend that to all pedal cyclists. There was a time when most cyclists used to adhere to the Highway Code but now they tend to cycle through red lights and if they are involved in an accident they just walk away knowing they cannot be traced. All users of vehicles on our roads should be traceable and insured. I would even extend it to the users of e-scooters which are proving to be positively hazardous for pedestrians with numerous reports of personal injury accidents involving them. There is very obviously a great deal of infringement of the current regulations that should stop e-scooters being used on pavements or even on roads unless they are rented as part of a regulated trial. The law is being blatantly ignored.

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Yet More Clamour Over a Minor Accident in Chislehurst

It has been reported that a pedestrian was hit by a bus at or near the war memorial junction in Chislehurst on the 8th April at 10.35 pm. This would appear to be an incident that will be classified as a “minor injury”. It has prompted renewed calls for a pedestrian phase at these lights which has been used as part of a political attack on the Bromley Council Conservative administration who recently rejected a petition on this subject.

It would be wrong to jump to conclusions over the cause of this incident until the full facts are known, but it’s worth pointing out that accidents late at night to pedestrians are often the results of alcohol consumption.

But let’s look at this issue rationally rather than emotionally.

Firstly is this location a particularly accident black spot? One can review that by looking at the Crashmap web site ( https://www.crashmap.co.uk/Search ) where you can easily see all the accidents in the area in the last few years. There are hundreds, and the nearby Chislehurst High Street is clearly an even worse problem area despite the fact that it has several pedestrian crossings which unfortunately many pedestrians ignore and choose to cross elsewhere. The same issue also arises at the War Memorial junction if you review details of the incidents at or nearby.

One of the key principles when deciding whether to spend money on road safety measures is to look at the cost/benefit ratio and where the most benefit can be obtained. There are limited funds available for road safety projects so the money needs to be spent where it can be most effectively deployed.

Looking at the past accident data is much better than relying on often ill-informed opinions on where the most danger lies. The number of minor accidents is a good pointer as large numbers indicate there is high risk of more serious injuries or fatalities (KSIs). KSIs have much higher values attached to them however you care to value them, but large numbers of minor accidents can point to where road safety budgets should be spent.

So people concerned with road safety should look at the statistical data on past accidents which they can easily do and you can obtain details of police reports on accidents (STATS19 reports) by using Freedom of Information Act requests. These provide a lot of information on the causes of accidents.

We don’t need to guess at the causes of accidents or where money should best be spent. You can estimate the benefit of introducing a pedestrian crossing for example, as against the cost; and compare it with the benefit of spending the money elsewhere. You can also calculate the possible disbenefit if traffic is delayed by a new crossing, or diverted onto minor roads.

That is what sensible councils like Bromley do. The unwise ones instead react to political clamour for simplistic solutions and as a result waste a lot of money on ineffectual solutions. You can see that in London boroughs such as Lewisham and Croydon where wide area 20 mph speed limits and speed humps everywhere have been installed at enormous cost and where the result has been a worse road safety improvement record than Bromley. Money has been wasted on ineffective solutions.

Bromley used to suffer from the busybody syndrome 20 years ago before I got involved in road safety issues. People who thought they knew best when they knew little about the science and failed to study the data.

We certainly do not want that scenario back again when money was wasted on ineffective schemes (such as the speed humps on Watts Lane/Manor Park Road).

Ignoring the advice of council officers is another failing of the busybodies. Good ones have both training and experience and should not be ignored unless there are very good reasons.

In summary, road safety decisions should not be made by amateurs, or uneducated grandstanding politicians, who have not looked at the statistical data or the causes of accidents and who are ignoring the wider implications of their decisions.

Roger Lawson

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Petition re Road Safety in Chislehurst

In the London Borough of Bromley a new political party called “Chislehurst Matters” has been formed to fight the council elections in May. A few local activists seem dissatisfied with the efforts of their current Conservative councillors. Specifically they have concerns about actions on road safety and particularly the lack of a pedestrian phase at the Chislehurst War Memorial junction.

Tonight (28/2/2022) the council is considering a petition signed by more than 4,000 people and submitted by a group called “Safe Crossings for Chislehurst”. Who are they? Unlike the leaders of Chislehurst Matters they seem to prefer to remain anonymous although Chris Wells was promoting a previous petition on the same subject.

You can read the latest petition here: https://cds.bromley.gov.uk/documents/s50096598/Petitions.pdf and the council’s response which I consider eminently reasonable.  Councillor Huntington-Thresher has previously said this on this issue: ““Road Safety remains an ever present high priority, with this particular junction being carefully considered for a controlled crossing point over the years. The reality is that the installation of a pedestrian phase without a redesign of the junction would undoubtedly increase congestion, not just at the junction itself but also in the surrounding local roads, actually and ironically, causing an even bigger road safety issue”.

My recent comments to Chislehurst Matters were:

To Alison Stammers, et al

I welcome the formation of Chislehurst Matters to fight the forthcoming council elections as it’s always good to have more choices in whom one can vote for. But I have some concerns about some of the content of the platform you are adopting.

For example you highlight road safety and particularly the controversial issue of the War Memorial junction crossing.

You don’t seem to be aware that Bromley has an exemplary record on improving road safety and in general has been following rational policies since the Conservatives took over control of the Council many years ago. I recall what it was like before then and it was certainly greatly improved partly by not wasting money on political dogma but actually looking at the available evidence. I have been involved in road safety issues in many London boroughs, particularly Croydon and Lewisham for example, where the result of their policies has been a worse road safety record than Bromley.

I recently wrote this blog article on this subject which gives more information: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/12/13/bromley-road-safety-record-beats-most-others/  

As regards the War Memorial junction, my views on this issue were spelled out in another blog post in 2019 here: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2019/10/08/is-a-pelican-crossing-justified-at-the-war-memorial-junction-in-chislehurst/ . My views have not changed since, and there is no simple solution.

This is a complex issue but I don’t think Chislehurst councillors or Council staff have been thwarting safety improvements. If anyone is to blame it is the attitude of the Common Trustees who have blocked any changes to improve that junction and the Chislehurst Society has not been helpful either. And there is also the issue of where the required funding for any scheme would come from which is subject to the whims of TfL.

That also applies to the accidents that regularly take place at the white spot roundabout in the centre of Chislehurst Commons (on Centre Common Road) where a restructuring of the roads over the Common is the sole way of fixing the problem. But regrettably there is an attitude of opposition to any changes in the minds of many Chislehurst residents.

It might help to have more active councillors on other topics but when it comes to road safety issues I fear more anger and less science is not the solution.

Please pass my comments on to your colleagues.

Roger Lawson

Summary: It is most disappointing that this small group of activists are persisting with stirring up public concerns about this issue and putting forward simplistic solutions that might make overall road safety worse. They appear to know little about road safety and how best to examine and tackle the issues. In effect they are a bunch of amateurs with a bee in their bonnet about a single issue without looking at the wider environment.

I recommend that they be ignored as I find the Council’s response both rational and reasonable.

Roger Lawson

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Driver Education Courses Increasing and the USA is Different

The number of speed cameras in the UK has been steadily rising and these are being financed by collecting money from drivers who do education courses such as “Speed Awareness” courses. In 2021 the number of drivers who took such courses to avoid fines and penalty points was 1.5 million. Apart from a drop in 2020 probably due to less driving in the pandemic this is similar to previous years so it appears that the scheme has had no impact on the level of offences. Likewise the impact on road casualties which was a justification for introducing speed cameras and associated education courses is not at all clear with road fatalities plateauing in the ten years prior to 2020. See chart below from DfT statistics.  

The Government (DfT) commissioned a study into the effectiveness of speed awareness courses which reported in May 2018. This is the key statement in the Executive Summary: “this study did not find that participation in NSAC [National Speed Awareness Courses] had a statistically significant effect on the number or severity of injury collisions”.

In reality speed cameras and the operation of education courses have just turned into a financial industry for the benefit of course operators and the police while drivers incur massive costs.

But the Bill that will clearly legalise them is still going through Parliament (the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill).

It is interesting that in the USA there is still strong opposition to the use of speed cameras although the new Biden administration is supporting them. In fact cameras are illegal in many US states at present and the National Motoring Association (NMA) is strongly opposed to them. See link to MSN article below. To quote from it: “New Jersey, State Senator Declan O’Scanlon told DailyMail.com that these are upsetting developments. Automated enforcement has proven to make no one any safer… but everyone (except the corrupt companies operating the systems) poorer,” O’Scanlon, a Republican, said Sunday. “It amounts to government sanctioned theft. Thank God New Jersey had the good sense to ban the use of automated enforcement early on…and then win a David vs Goliath battle to terminate our failed red light camera experiment. Any elected official that supports these systems is supporting screwing every one of his/her constituents that drives a car”. That’s the view of many people in the UK also.

The USA would be very unwise to follow the path chosen in the UK where the promotion of speed cameras as a way to improve road safety has been shown to be a mistake.

UKROED Statistics: https://www.ukroed.org.uk/scheme/trends-statistics/

Speed Awareness Courses: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/speed-awareness-courses.htm

MSN Article on Speed Cameras in the USA: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/the-speed-camera-nightmare-thats-coming-to-america/ar-AAThBF4

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Year End News Wrap Up

This article covers the news items that have appeared in the last couple of weeks that will be of interest to drivers:

Cycle Licensing. The Government has rejected a petition to introduce identification for cycle and e-scooter riders – in effect a licensing system. This was signed by over 10,000 people amid growing concerns about the behaviour or cyclists, particularly in major cities such as London, and the illegal use of e-scooters. The Government thinks it would be too expensive and licensing would deter cycling. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585474?reveal_response=yes#response-threshold

Comment: This is an example of where more signatures might have been obtained, and a more positive response from the Government, if the petition had been more carefully worded. Other countries have introduced registration systems for cyclists in the past but often abandoned them subsequently because of the high costs of administration. But an on-line registration system might be very low cost. There should be no qualification or ability test system, but the ability to identify cyclists after involvement in an accident is important.

Bus Lanes in London.  Transport for London (TfL) have announced that the conversion of bus lanes to operate 24 hours per day has been made permanent. They say that this change that was introduced on some routes recently has improved bus journey times. For the announcement, see: https://tfl-newsroom.prgloo.com/news/tfl-press-release-24-hour-bus-lanes-trial-set-to-become-permanent-as-bus-journey-times-improve

Comment: Of course the recent reduction in bus journey times might have been down to overall traffic reduction as more people worked from home and avoided shopping during the epidemic. Bus lanes are discriminatory in that they favour one transport mode over another for no good reason and do not necessarily maximise the use of road space or the number of people carried. The photograph from the TfL Press Release above shows how underutilised are many bus lanes.

Driver Distraction. There is growing concern about the number of accidents caused by driver distraction. This is not just people using their mobile phones to call or send/receive text messages but using other in-car devices such as satnav systems. An extreme example is the ability of passengers to use touch-screen displays in Tesla vehicles for “gameplay” which is now being investigated by US safety body NHTSA – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-59760366

Comment: As in-car electronic devices have proliferated and more control options have been provided, it’s become more complex over recent years and inexperienced drivers are the most easily distracted. This certainly requires some investigation because “failed to notice” is a big cause of accidents according to police reports. It may be worth considering whether satnav and infotainment systems should be controllable only when a vehicle is stationary.

ABD Ejected. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been thrown out of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) apparently due to the issue of an injudicious tweet. The ABD claims this is down to pressure from “anonymous extreme cycling lobby trolls” but that is a typical unwise comment from ABD Directors and was one reason why I tried to get some changes made in the ABD and am no longer connected with them. PACTS may be an ineffective organisation in promoting transport safety with poor leadership but association with the extremists at the ABD is becoming something no responsible organisation wishes to be linked to.

Car Insurance Costs. One positive change in the New Year for car drivers is that insurers will no longer be able to charge a different rate for new customers to old ones. So renewals should not automatically rise as they have done in the past.

Comment: This should ensure that we do not have to waste time looking at alternative quotes to avoid being stiffed by insurers reliance on our apathy. However despite Willis Towers Watson claiming that insurance rates are at a six year low, my quote to renew insurance was increased by 7% this week. That’s despite my 22 years of no claims bonus and nothing of significance otherwise in recent years. I will be shopping around for an alternative quote. I expected my insurance to fall as I have been driving less in the last two years due to the pandemic and that is generally true of the wider population so accidents have fallen.

Postscript: I got an alternative insurance quotation and managed to cut the cost by £99 from the proposed renewal cost so switched to Saga who I have used in the past. A most efficient on-line quotation system. The moral is that it still pays to shop around.

Croydon Streetspace Schemes and Governance. The London Borough of Croydon is pushing ahead with its Streetspace schemes despite very strong local opposition – see https://news.croydon.gov.uk/next-phase-of-walking-and-cycling-schemes-approved/ . But Croydon residents have also voted to move to a directly elected Mayor which shows the dissatisfaction with the way the borough has been run recently.

Comment: I am not sure this will make a big difference. In Lewisham who have a directly elected Mayor we still see extreme and unwise policies being promoted by the Mayor.

Conclusion. What does the new year hold for private motorists? Probably more prejudice as extreme cyclists continue to dominate policy and the Government’s net zero policies prejudice all private transport. Irrationality continues to be rampant with no proper cost/benefit analysis of new policies or projects.

There is unfortunately a decline in moderation in all politics so we see rushed decisions being taken about responses to the pandemic including using it as an excuse to close roads. We all need to return to sanity and not let the extremists dominate debate.

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation is trying to promote rational and moderate policies so please support us in doing so.

Roger Lawson

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Bromley Road Safety Record Beats Most Others

The London Borough of Bromley publishes a newsletter for residents. The latest edition contains a very interesting article comparing the road safety record of Bromley with other south-east London boroughs. The table below was included in the article.

It is particularly noticeable how much better Bromley has been at improving road safety than adjacent boroughs such as Lewisham or Croydon. The borough of Croydon spent millions of pounds on wide-area 20 mph speed limits, clearly with minimal impact when they could have spent it on more targeted measures. Likewise Lewisham imposed 20 limits across the whole borough but have lagged behind in reducing casualties.

In 2020 Bromley reduced KSIs from 107 to 77 which may only be partly explained by the reduction in traffic from epidemic lock-downs.

Keep up the good work Bromley!

But boroughs such as Lewisham and Croydon are driven by dogma which undermines a lot of sensible road safety improvements. Will they ever learn? Perhaps only when more intelligent councillors are elected and more reliance is placed on expert officer opinions with adequate budgets.

Roger Lawson

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Vision Zero Failing But The Mayor Thinks Otherwise

Transport for London (TfL) have issued a press release on the progress in achieving “Vision Zero” – the plan to achieve zero deaths on London’s roads. See link below for the details. But the progress report makes it clear that since the launch of this initiative in 2018, progress has been negligible. The object of zero road deaths is never going to be achieved based on the reported data.

The chart above shows the trends in Killed and Seriously Injured (KSIs) in the last few years taken from the Vision Zero report. From 2013 to 2019 there was some minor improvement and in 2020 a big improvement for most transport modes probably due to reduced traffic from Covid lockdowns including more working from home. But there was also a rise in cyclist KSIs as the number cycling increased.

It is not at all clear that the policies promoted in Vision Zero are of any benefit at all, particularly the focus on lower speed limits. The latter includes more 20 mph limits and more enforcement by the police.

What is the reaction to the progress report? TfL proposes more 20 limits, more buses to be fitted with ISA to ensure they comply, and more resources for the Metropolitan Police to enable them to enforce up to one million offences by 2024/2025. Unfortunately this is all misconceived and won’t achieve the desired outcome because excess speed above the speed limit is a relatively minor contributory factor based on police reports.

See the most recent figures in the table below published by the DfT which shows exceeding the speed limit is only present as a factor in 7% of accidents and a lot of those accidents might be attributable to criminal behaviour of other kinds.

Spending large resources on speed limit setting and enforcement is arguably misconceived when if that same money was spent on road engineering or driver education there would be more impact on accident reduction.

It is interesting to see the individual London borough figures given on page 13 of the Progress Report. Those boroughs that have shown the biggest improvement in road safety since the 2005-2009 baseline are Kensington, Westminster, Bexley and Bromley while those with 20 limits and speed humps everywhere such as Lewisham are behind. That just shows that the boroughs with a more enlightened approach and less dogma such as Bromley have actually done better.

The Progress Report does contain some interesting comments on the problems of the increases in cycling, motorcycling (mainly for delivering goods), and illegal e-scooters which are contributing to rising casualty rates. It is also suggested that the increase in large SUVs is not helping.

But they don’t seem to be proposing any measures to halt the danger from e-scooters to the riders themselves and to pedestrians on pavements where they ride with abandon.

In summary the press release and the progress report are yet more missed opportunities to improve road safety in a substantial way in London.

Roger Lawson

Vision Zero press release: https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/safety-and-security/road-safety/vision-zero-for-london

Vision Zero action plan progress report: https://content.tfl.gov.uk/vision-zero-action-plan-progress-report-2021.pdf

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Transport Committee Reports on Smart Motorways

Parliament’s Transport Committee have published a report following their inquiry into Smart Motorways (those where the hard shoulder is turned into a running lane).

There is grave concern among the motoring public about the safety of such roads which were introduced a few years ago without any real evidence on their safety. There were 15 deaths on motorways without a hard shoulder in 2019 and several coroner’s reports criticised the safety of these roads.

The Transport Committee recommends more emergency refuge areas, an inquiry by the Office of Rail and Road into the effectiveness of stopped vehicle technology and revisions to the Highway Code. But it is unclear whether these changes will have any significant impact on the safety of such roads.

The National Highways organisation (formerly Highways England) are even running an expensive advertising campaign telling drivers to “Go Left” if they breakdown. This makes sense if there is a hard shoulder, a nearby exit or a nearby refuge area, but otherwise if there is not it simply puts the vehicle into the left-hand lane typically occupied by HGVs. This is the most dangerous position to be in as such heavy vehicles will demolish small cars and likely kill the occupants.

This is surely a misconceived piece of advice in response to concerns about accidents on motorways.

Comment: Smart motorways have been introduced as a way to maximise traffic capacity without spending more money on widening motorways. In other words, road safety has been compromised on the alter of economics. There was never a proper cost/benefit analysis of smart motorways which are expensive to introduce and manage.

All lane running also creates problems for the police and other emergency services when accessing accidents because typically all lanes are blocked when an incident occurs and there is no hard shoulder.

As with LTNs, the Department for Transport seems to be poorly led, produces policies which are irrational, and in this case dangerous.

We suggest that the expansion in the number of Smart Motorways should be halted and more money spent on improving road capacity by other means.

Transport Committee Report:  https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/7703/documents/80447/default/  

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Latest Road Casualty Data

The Government has published the latest annual road casualty data for Great Britain. This does include of course periods (April to June and November in 2020) when the country was in lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic and when travel of all kinds was reduced. So the figures may not be typical – they do include a separate analysis of the impact of lockdown.

There were 1,460 reported road deaths and 23,529 KSI (Killed and Seriously Injured) which are substantial reductions on prior years – see chart above of fatal trends. Fatalities reduced by 17% over the prior year and KSIs by 22% when road traffic reduced by 21%, i.e. there was no significant difference assuming accidents directly relate to traffic volumes although anecdotally increases in traffic speed were reported during lockdowns.

Total casualties, including slight ones, were down by 25% although that might be due to less reporting and changes to the way data was collected by the police using Stats19 forms. Although adjustments were made to allow for the latter, people may have been less willing to visit police stations to report slight injuries during the pandemic.

Cycling casualties rise

One anomaly in the data is that there was a substantial increase in the number of cyclist deaths – up by 41% to 141 from 2019. Presumably this might be because of encouragement to cycle during the pandemic or more inexperienced cyclists on the roads. Other data suggests there was some increase in cycling in 2020 particularly during the summer months although whether that continued into 2021 is not clear.

Politicians and civil servants should be aware that encouraging cycling does lead to more deaths and injuries to cyclists, i.e. it’s not a risk free move. Cycling is still very much a minority interest for most journeys but as more people worked from home and had more leisure time for cycling this may account for the change in numbers.

Bus casualties fall

Another significant change during 2020 was the reduction in bus casualties by 51%. Many such accidents are caused by the elderly or disabled falling over in buses and as they were probably being wary of using public transport during the pandemic that may account for this change. For similar reasons there were greater reductions in casualties in those aged up to 16 and over 60 as they travelled less.

In summary, there was a welcome reduction in overall casualties last year but that was almost certainly down simply to reductions in travel on our roads.

See https://tinyurl.com/j3wr9ccr for more details.

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