Green Party London Assembly member Caroline Russell recently quizzed Chief Commissioner Cressida Dick on what the Metropolitan Police Service is doing to bring down the number of cyclists and pedestrians injured or killed on London's roads. In this blog post for road.cc, she sets out her thoughts on their exchange.
Are the Met Police taking road crime seriously enough? I questioned the Mayor and the Met’s Commissioner, Cressida Dick, about the worrying numbers of people killed and seriously injured on our roads and what they’re doing to make our streets safer.
In London last year 83 people who were making their everyday journeys on foot or by bike lost their lives. These people were walking or biking to work, popping out to shops, visiting family or going out with friends, and they should have made it home safely. They didn’t because our roads are too dangerous.
And in the same period just over 11,000 people were injured while travelling by foot or bike – they made up more than a third of all recorded injuries. We cannot accept this as the status quo.
One of the most basic improvements that could be made is to reduce speed limits – cutting speeds reduces the number, and severity, of collisions.
I’m a councillor in Islington where main roads are 20mph but there is no enforcement. While 20mph signs are broadly helpful in that they make people think, the main streets they’re using need more than a brief thought that may or may not check their behaviour. Our main roads are residential, people live, work and shop along them, but without enforcement people are still driving inappropriately fast.
I’ve done community speed watch in the past and people who get picked up for speeding often also have no insurance or bald tyres – speed checks are obviously a good use of police time but generate a lot of paperwork. If the Mayor’s Vision Zero is going to mean something we have to get on top of these lawless roads. Speeding is not a victimless crime.
The Mayor is working towards ‘Vision Zero’ and aims to have no one die on our roads by 2040 – his Vision Zero action plan lists 37 London town centres and high streets that will have new 20mph speed limits by 2024.
I asked the Commissioner if she would be committing more police officers to the Mayor’s new 20mph areas to enforce these limits. Or would this be left to cameras and automatic enforcement.
Her response “I just don’t know, actually.”
She did promise to find out, and while I wouldn’t expect the commissioner to be familiar with every dotted i and crossed t, I was concerned she wasn’t sure about how the police would support a major new initiative from the Mayor to eliminate these unnecessary and avoidable deaths.
I know from my work at a local, and London-wide, level that people feel the police don’t really care about road traffic crime. In Islington I know that road danger isn’t even on the menu of options for local, ward level policing. It can feel like banging your head against a brick wall to challenge the assumption that collisions will happen and they’re just a fact of life.
The Commissioner herself, when I raised this, admitted that while borough police do take road crime seriously, ‘it is of course not always those officers highest priority’.
I’ve heard stories from constituents where their concerns have been dismissed with unhelpful advice. One in particularly struck me where someone who was witnessing repeated speeding on their road was told to report every single instance to the police. A ludicrously laborious process which would, I imagine, only serve to further frustrate people living alongside the road when they don’t see any action.
From local frustrations of flouted rules to strategic priorities, road danger needs to be taken seriously at every level. The Government are putting Police Commissioners in a terrible position where they have to choose where to put their very limited resources, so road crime is continuing unchecked.
The Met have moreover taken 143 officers from the roads policing unit to deal with violent crime – but we shouldn’t have to choose between preventing knife crime or preventing road deaths. We shouldn’t be sending out the message that one group of victims is less important than another.