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West Midlands: helmet cam cyclist shops 325 drivers in a year

West Mids police expect 3,000 submissions this year thanks to third party camera evidence - with one cyclist excelling at catching drivers on phones

Helmet camera evidence from cyclists and motorcyclists has helped prosecute 600 drivers for road offences in just three months on the West Midlands Police force beat – and they're expecting to clock up 3,000 camera evidence submissions by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, one cyclist has reported 325 mobile phone offences in a year on his daily commute, including catching two drivers twice, resulting in disqualifications in both cases. The man, who police say wants to remain anonymous, has been shortlisted for an active citizen award for helping to bring bad driving to police attention.

West Midlands Police’s third-party reporting website was launched last year for members of the public to submit video evidence of driver offences online. Officers say it has helped improve driver behaviour by creating a "constant threat of prosecution" – at a low cost.

West Midlands Police officers, Mark Hodson and Steve Hudson, came up with operation close pass in 2016, using a plain clothed officer on a bike to catch close passing drivers. Third party camera reporting came later - and has become popular among vulnerable road users. Hodson said: “We had 600 prosecutions January to March, and we’re expecting 3,000 [submissions] in 2019. We get more in the summer because you get more cyclists and more motorcyclists, and they have more cameras than drivers.”

“It’s absolutely brilliant for us. Considering none of those [prosecutions] involved a police officer and they are all community driven. From our point of view, it’s cost-effective.”

Hodson says one cyclist, who wants to remain anonymous, reported 325 drivers for mobile phone offences in a year – and the majority have resulted in prosecution, thanks to the quality of the evidence he submits. The man has been shortlisted for an active citizen award.

“He has caught two drivers on the same journey twice in the same fashion, they got six points each time - they have both been disqualified.”

“He has been to more crown court appeals than most police officers,” said Hodson. “He’s a family man, who rides the same way each day, there and back. He wants to make it safer for the community on the roads."

If the video evidence is good enough, and submitted in time, a driver caught using a mobile phone at the wheel faces a minimum of six points and a £200 fine. If the registered vehicle owner doesn’t respond to police letters the six points and fine apply for failure to disclose driver details. If they deny the charges, and end up in court, it could cost them more than £1000, plus the points.

It’s effective, says Hodson. “Drivers give [cyclists and motorcyclists] a massive amount of room now, not because they have more respect, it’s because there is a credible threat of prosecution, and that’s what changes behaviour.”

He says citizen evidence has greater impact than police evidence, for a number of reasons.

“In terms of convincing the offending public on changing their behaviour, no-one wants to be labelled as part of an offending group. When members of the community start reporting you, the 'hard-pressed motorist' narrative goes straight out the window.”

Then there’s the optics in court. “Magistrates see a cyclist as a victim because they are standing there saying ‘all I’m trying to do is get home to my family’.

“We get higher sentencing," he says. "Magistrates respond better if it is a normal person doing a normal journey on a normal day, than a police officer presenting evidence. Most are utility cyclists, normal cyclists, they are standing in a box saying ‘I do this journey every day and I feel threatened by this’.”

“Third party reporting is now an integral part of our road safety strategy,” said Hodson.

Although many police forces now process third party camera evidence, a recent report by the University of Leicester found a high degree of variation researchers described as a ‘postcode lottery of justice’.

The report, titled Promoting Safety for Vulnerable Road Users: Assessing the Investigation and Enforcement of Endangerment Offences, looked at enforcement of dangerous and careless driving offences and using a mobile phone while driving. 

They found of 1010 reports from camera evidence submitted to West Midlands Police, almost a third of which related to mobile phone offences, 25 per cent were cancelled (no further action taken, or NFA) because of insufficient footage quality, or footage that was received too late. By contrast, of 1583 complaints filed to Surrey police’s web portal, 1283 were NFA. Of 434 submissions to Dyfed Powys in Wales, 192 were NFA, while in Gwent, 122 of 194 submissions were NFA.

This article was updated on 13 June 2019 to clarify West Midlands Police expect 3000 submissions in 2019. It previously said 3000 prosecutions

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