Traffic police must recognise ‘carelessness is a crime’ in order to successfully tackle cycling injuries and death

traffic police officer in London

The London Cycling Campaign welcomes the figures announced today showing a drop in the yearly rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured in collisions, but says traffic police need to recognise that carelessness is a crime, and this must be tackled more effectively to reduce death and serious injury on our streets.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police have been out in force today as part of a safety initiative from Mayor Boris Johnson, which is a continuation of Operation Safeway, which took place during November and December 2013.

Chief Executive Ashok Sinha said, “We can all be careless if we don’t make an effort not to be, but when we’re driving such carelessness can kill – that’s why it’s a crime, and the law should be enforced.”

“We welcome more traffic police on our streets, but they must use their powers to tackle carelessness, which is the biggest single factor in the deaths and injuries of thousands of cyclists in London every year.”

Today’s police initiative is a scaled-down version of last winter’s high-profile Operation Safeway, which saw hundreds of uniformed police standing at junctions, giving out penalty notices and safety advice to all road users.

The year's initiative will see an increased traffic police presence at junctions for two days each month. 

Operation Safeway was criticised because, despite thousands of extra police hours dedicated to making our streets safer, there was no effective targeting of the three ‘carelessness’ offences most likely to cause harm to cyclists in London (Table 12, pp17-18): 

  • Drivers turning across the path of cyclists without care
  • Drivers overtaking cyclists too close, and without care for their safety
  • Drivers or passengers carelessly opening a car door in the path of a cyclist.

During the last Operation Safeway, penalties handed out for careless road behaviour accounted for less than 0.01% (87 of 13,817) of all offences.

Operation Safeway did successfully tackle some motoring offences likely to increase risk to cyclists such as mobile phone use, encroaching illegally in ASLs, and other offences.

However, the nature of Operation Safeway, where uniformed police stand at junctions, makes it unlikely for the serious ‘carelessness’ offences to be seen or punished, calling into question the ability of the operation to prevent death and serious injury.

During the last Operation Safeway, many cyclists complained about being stopped when cycling carefully and lawfully, and were given questionable safety advice:

  • Cyclists were told off by police for ‘taking the lane’ in accordance with Government cycle training advice
  • Cyclists were told off for moving to the right of a lane when making a right turn
  • Cyclists were told off for not wearing helmets or high-viz clothing, despite the effectiveness of this being strongly disputed.

Thousands of cyclists were fined for going through red lights, although many complained about heavy-handed policing, and being given tickets for encroaching over a few metres over the stop line (as opposed to riding through a red light in a dangerous way).

Claims about Operation Safeway's effect of cycling injury figures are “fanciful”

LCC’s road danger expert Charlie Lloyd said, “It's excellent news there's been a fall in cyclist death and serious injury rates – although one year’s data doesn’t necessarily indicate a trend. However it’s rather fanciful to suggest Operation Safeway, which ran for just six weeks at the end of 2013, can have caused a major reduction in cycling casualties for the whole of the year.

“The months of cold weather earlier in 2013, severely reducing the number of cycling journeys, are likely to be a significant factor in the year-on-year reduction. It’s just too early to say if we are seeing a sustained reduction, let alone attribute it to any one police operation.”