Looking back through old posts on this blog, I came across one entitled “On how we can’t rely on Greater Manchester Police to keep us safe” written at the end of 2015. Following a Twitter Q&A with Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, I was livid with his response which suggested that the police didn’t take road crime and the dangers faced by vulnerable road users seriously. I was pretty scathing of their position at that time.
That was then, and that post should be left to stand as a record of that position. Gratifyingly, things have changed for the better since then. For a while now, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have provided a system for reporting bad driving online, or rather, submitting video evidence of alleged driving offences online. Having used the system a fair few times, I thought it might be useful to go through the procedures and explore a couple strategies for anyone who’s unsure how to go about it.
What types of incident are covered?
What GMP refer to as “driving/moving traffic offences only”. For those of us on bikes, that essentially means close passes and other non-contact incidents that put us at risk. That’s close passes, left (and occasionally right) hooks, tailgating etc. You cannot use this facility to report an actual bike/vehicle collision: that is a whole can of worms in itself that I’ll write up in a separate blog post.
How to report an incident
At present the systems for submitting footage to GMP – witness statement as a Word document and video file upload via DropBox – are somewhat rudimentary. This is a resourcing issue: to date GMP simply haven’t had the funds for sophisticated online systems (though this I understand is due to change in the foreseeable future). My view is that we in Greater Manchester can be grateful that they’ve figured out a cheap-and-cheerful way of submitting both a witness statement and video evidence online rather than relying on the usual “no funding” excuse to justify doing nothing. Most police forces don’t yet provide such a facility in any format.
How to proceed:
1) Locate the Operation Considerate reporting website (or just click here – I’ve done it for you).
2) On that page, either copy or click the link to the “email@example.com” e-mail address. Clicking it should open up your e-mail program, where you can start writing your initial report.
Note: you must report any incidents within 72 hours of them occurring or they become time-barred. Yup. You heard correct: a 72-hour limitation period. Such is the pressure within our society to reduce the risk of prosecutions for traffic violations.
Also: be sure not to post the footage on social media as that can jeopardise a prosecution under the laws of evidence.
Initial report stage
I find it helpful to copy the headings from the website into my e-mail to provide a structure for the initial report. Of these, the first (“In your own words, briefly describe what happened”) is the most important one as this is a) what the officer in charge will use to triage the case and b) what you can use as the basis for your witness statement if the matter is taken forward. I find the following broad categories helpful:
- Describe how you were cycling at the time, i.e. the decision-making behind e.g. your positioning or manoeuvering.
- Describe in as much detail as possible what the driver did to put you in danger. I always reinforce this by comparing and contrasting what a careful driver should have done (if possible with references to the Highway Code).
- Include any other relevant information, such as what the visibility was like (most of the incidents I’ve reported have taken place in broad daylight, for example).
- Describe how the incident made you feel. E.g., if you’re reporting shortly afterwards, you may still be shaking or agitated as a consequence.
Once you’re happy with the e-mail text, send it to the above address. You don’t submit any video at this stage.
Witness statement and evidence stage
Once you’ve sent the e-mail with the details of the incident, the police will assess whether it appears sufficiently severe to warrant taking it forward. If so, you will receive an e-mail with further instructions. A pro-forma Word file is attached as a witness statement along with instructions on how to complete the statement. The e-mail also contains a link to a DropBox folder where you can upload the video file.
I will usually copy the text of the initial report into the witness statement and if need be add a few extra details: remember that in the extreme case, this statement could be used as evidence against the driver in court, so make sure it contains everything you want to say about the incident. Again, once you’re happy with it, attach the Word file to the e-mail reply to the police, with the file name in the correct format (your initials, car reg., date, e.g. “BB AB12 CDE 01022018”), and click “Send”, and upload your video file(s) to DropBox, again with the correct format for the file name.
Acceptance and prosecution stage
This is the nail-biting part: once you’ve submitted your evidence and statement, will the police actually take it forward and sanction the driver in some way? Of course, it’s not a matter of revenge on the driver (unless they were deliberately antagonistic, in which case it totally is). Mostly, in my experience at least, you simply want the driver to be made aware of the flaws in their driving style. Many drivers are simply ignorant of how to properly drive around bikes, and this is an opportunity to provide them with some much-needed re-education. Thus, if the case is taken forward, you will receive an e-mail with the following content:
And that, for the most part, is the end of the matter for us – as witnesses. We’ve provided evidence of a given driver who isn’t up to scratch, so the police can do their thing. Somewhat frustratingly, unless the matter proceeds to court (which is very rare in these cases), you don’t get an automatic update of the outcome of the investigation (though they will let you know if you ask).
If all that seems a little long-winded, remember we’re lucky to have it at all. From start to finish the process should take no longer than 30 minutes to complete – and you have three whole days to do it in.
If you’ve had any direct experience of the system yourself – especially if you’re a driver who has received a surprise letter from the police following a report to the OpCon team by someone cycling – I’d be really interested to hear from you.