How the justice system fails cyclists

Last week a spotlight was shone on the failings of the justice system when cyclists are killed and seriously injured on the road.

The BBC’s Inside Out West highlighted the tiny fraction of drivers being held accountable for killing or injuring cyclists –  and the decline in police numbers which has contributed to this.  The focus was on the South West, but this story could have been told across Britain.

Our hearts went out to the family of Pete Brown. On top of Pete being killed—in a crash so easily preventable, his family had to suffer for over a year whilst the driver refused to accept responsibility. They then had to endure the serial offender be given a light sentence. In the tragic case of John Flay, seriously injured in a hit and run crash in Bristol, the driver was never identified.

Kate Uzzell, RoadPeace’s South West Local Group co-ordinator, spoke about the lack of resources and priority given to investigation and prosecution. Both these problems were highlighted in our recent report Road death investigation: overlooked and underfunded.  Our report highlighted the lack of consistency, standards and quality assurance in road death investigation – and we only focused on fatal crashes. As acknowledged in the report, the quality of investigation for injury collision investigations is even worse.

The programme raised several points worth stressing here:

Lack of transparency re judicial outcomes

The programme highlighted the difficulty in getting information on this, with only one police service (Wiltshire) responding to their Freedom of Information request (FOI). And their response blurred court prosecutions with attendance on NDORS courses (which is not supposed to be offered to drivers in serious injury crashes).

The Bristol Road Justice Group, which includes RoadPeace members, has been commendable in its dogged pursuit of information on judicial outcomes of cyclist crashes. It should not have to be so hard.

Data linkage between collision reports and court records has been a long standing call and was a key priority for DfT’s Justice for Vulnerable Road Users Working Group. It was also the first call in the response from RoadPeace, Cycling UK (then CTC) and London Cycling Campaign to TfL’s report on

the experience of Killed and seriously injured cyclists in the criminal justice system. That was over six years ago.

This linkage is needed to be able to report which collisions result in a prosecution, highlight trends and allow comparisons over time, police services and between road user modes.

Many police services should be already able to report judicial outcomes for road crashes. This includes those,  such as Avon and Somerset,  that use Niche for their criminal justice management records management system. Niche is able to report judicial outcomes as this is standard information with crime investigation.

But this is not possible with CRASH (Collision Reporting and Sharing) system , which DfT is encouraging police services to use. CRASH does not link with court outcomes.

We also understand that there is no linkage with collision and judicial outcomes in the MPS’ new reporting system. Sian Berry’s highlighted this information gap in her 2016 report on Hit and Runs in London which showed that the MPS were not able to report even the judicial outcomes with hit and run crashes.

Under-reporting

DfT has done much research on under-reporting and produces estimates of the real number of road traffic casualties, including by road user type. Whilst STATS19 reports 17k cyclists injured each year, based on 2012-2016, DfT estimates the true number is between 70k and 140k, with 100k its best estimate. See Table RAS54004 for more information.  And don’t think it is only cyclist casualties that are under-reported. The majority of those non reporting to the police are car occupant casualties.

DfT has also adjusted its estimate of the total cost to the country to include those crashes and casualties which were not reported to the police. This raises the cost of crashes to Britain from  £11.5 billion (reported casualty crashes) to £36 billion, including £4.5 billion from damage only crashes. (See DfT’s Table RAS60003).

But at the local level, too often the focus is restricted to reported casualties only.

Lack of accountability in criminal charge

As noted previously, the police were not able to identify the driver involved in John Flay’s crash.  But even if they had, unless causation could have been proved, the driver would have only been convicted of Failing to Stop, a summary offence which applies if you hit a column or a child. In 2016, there were 41 pedestrians and 13 cyclists killed in hit and run collisions. Despite victims and victims charities, including RoadPeace, lobbying the government by victims for a new charge of Leaving the Scene of a Fatal/Serious Injury collision, the MoJ did not include it in its proposed reforms, Nor has DfT made it a priority, unlike Causing death/serious injury by cycling.

Tokenism Close-passing

It was shocking to hear how police services had managed to launch a close pass operation but not any follow-up operations. This shows poor commitment to tackling intimidating behaviour by drivers.

As noted at the start of this blog, this programme covered problems found across the country.

Just as the lack of justice is not restricted to the South West, nor is it restricted to cyclists. Wiltshire Police—the only one to provide outcome data—was in the news this summer when a coroner wrote to them about not the need to ensure specialist collision investigators were sent to serious (even fatal) crashes between pedestrians and cyclists. Lack of priority given to traffic law enforcement and collision investigation affects all road users, but especially those more vulnerable to being killed or seriously injured in a collision.

What is needed?

So what is needed now? Greater transparency, including with the scale of the problem. Just as DfT acknowledges the much larger number of actual crash victims, so should local authorities and police services.

Open justice with reporting of the judicial outcomes. It should not require an FOI (especially not when this is ignored by police). We need transparency on investigation procedures and resources. How do police investigate serious injury hit and run collisions? Are drivers not being identified due to lack of investigation resources?