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Cyclist and granddaughter, 8, stopped for helmet "safety" advice by police who "sounded their sirens" and pulled pair over "because it's dangerous"

When asked for comment the officers' police force doubled down on their actions, insisting "road safety is a priority for us and we will always look to educate road users on how they can keep safe"...

When one Birmingham cyclist's Saturday bike ride with his eight-year-old granddaughter was interrupted by the sound of police sirens they carefully continued on their way for a few seconds, after all it seemed implausible the noise could be for the pair "not doing anything wrong", using a short stretch of cycle lane before returning to their preferred off-road routes for the remainder of the 12.5-mile ride.

"Can you pull over so we can have a word?" the voice behind the sirens asked, the police car, blue lights flashing, pulling alongside before coming to a stop at the side of the road. 

What followed was, in one officer's words, just "a conversation" about road safety, namely the fact that neither Joe nor his eight-year-old granddaughter were wearing a helmet, an incident which has put her off cycling.

"On getting out of the vehicle the driver made a comment about us riding in the road without helmets," Joe recalled, referring to his camera footage which he did not wish to be shared but captured the full incident. "I asked, 'Is that illegal?'... 'No' was the answer, so I followed up by asking, 'Why are you pulling us over then?'

"In reply to this the officer said, 'I'm not here to have a go at you, or tell you you've broken the law, I'm not doing that... neither of you have done anything wrong, I'm just saying, just be sensible, that's it. No trouble, I'm not telling you you've broken the law, I'm just having a conversation with you'.

"I then followed this up by saying, 'There's no need. You've stopped us on a hill... I can't understand why you've stopped us, if we're doing nothing wrong.' The reply was, 'Because it's dangerous'."

Wearing a helmet while cycling is not a legal requirement in the United Kingdom, as it is in some other countries such as Australia, but is recommended by the Highway Code.

Last December, the Department for Transport insisted that the government has "no intention" of making wearing one a legal requirement, with "the safety benefits of mandating cycle helmets for cyclists likely to be outweighed by the fact that this would put some people off cycling, thereby reducing the wider health and environmental benefits."

> Government shuts down mandatory cycling helmets question from Conservative MP

Continuing his account of Saturday's incident, Joe told us one of the officers talked "about the possibility of us being involved in a collision further on where he would have to attend and deal with the consequences of my granddaughter being hit".

"Hearing this, I did become slightly irate, but not shouty, as I didn't think it was a reasonable thing to say in front of an eight-year-old, implying I hadn't considered her safety myself," Joe continued. 

West Midlands Police officers pull over cyclist and 8-year-old granddaughter for riding without helmets (@FrankleyMan/Twitter)

"To make things worse, the officer then went on to say how he was thinking about looking 'after her' pointing to my granddaughter. I then asked, as I had a few times, 'Do you not think, I'm looking after her?'.

The officer replied: "Of course you are, I could see you were riding further in the road than she was, which is brilliant" before shortly after suggesting that "if a car careers in to you, not wearing a helmet, you're going to know about it".

As Joe again pointed out that nothing they had done was against the law, the officer said: "Just take my advice, that she should wear a helmet."

> Why is Dan Walker's claim that a bike helmet saved his life so controversial?

"Throughout this whole exchange I was continually calling my granddaughter over so we could carry on our journey, but she seemed so scared, she didn't move from the spot she was on," Joe said. 

"Also, neither of these officers tried to ease her obvious discomfort by talking to her directly, until they were about to get back into their vehicle. The final comments from the driver were, 'Just because it's not against the law, doesn't mean we shouldn't point out something that might save somebody's life', nodding his head towards me, he then added, 'Think about it... if it was against the law I'd be arresting you and detaining you'.

"My final comment was to ask, 'Do you stop every cyclist you see without a helmet?'. To which he replied: 'I do, when I see a little five, six, or seven-year-old girl'."

When contacted for comment on the incident, West Midlands Police defended the officers' approach and stated that "road safety is a priority for us and we will always look to educate road users on how they can keep safe."

The force has previously come under criticism for its response to camera footage of alleged dangerous driving, West Midlands Police this year admitting that it needed to review how reports were managed after reporting by this website, supported by an FOI request by Chris Smith, found that of 286 reports of careless, inconsiderate, or dangerous driving around cyclists considered by West Midlands Police in 2022, only one resulted in a prosecution.

> Police force criticised for one close pass prosecution from 286 submissions admits need to review how reports are managed

Saturday's incident also comes at the end of a summer when the force said it had undertaken a "relentless enforcement of the rules of the road" after multiple cyclists and pedestrians were killed in a series of hit-and-runs and collisions in Birmingham.

A father of a two-year-old boy was killed in a hit-and-run while cycling on 16 May, weeks before a 12-year-old riding a bike was also killed, and a driver arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and being unfit to drive through drugs. On 29 May, a cyclist was killed in a further hit-and-run before a four-year-old boy was killed after being hit by a driver in Erdington a day later.

The deaths prompted the West Midlands' Walking and Cycling Commissioner Adam Tranter to call for urgent action to "turn the tide on aggressive driving in Birmingham".

Just yesterday we reported a step West Midlands Police had taken in the force's attempt to address aforementioned issues with the camera footage submitting process, officers celebrating "action taken against hundreds of careless and dangerous drivers" and calling for more public submissions.

The force increased resources in its Traffic Investigations Unit responsible for processing third-party footage and thanked the public for the "great response to the bolstering of the team" and said "road users who send us footage say they're pleased with the results and the feedback given".

> Conservative MP cites "safety" and attempts to reignite cyclist helmet debate

"We've got a vital role to play in keeping the roads safe, but we can't be everywhere all the time," Tanya Johnson said. "That's why it’s great that we're getting so many clips in. In more than 140 cases last month, we didn't need to issue points, fines or court action, but offered education and advice to drivers.

"That will make those motorists think twice about the standard of their driving, and that could well save lives."

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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89 comments

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Adam Sutton | 6 months ago
3 likes

Just grabbing some popcorn for the comments.

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jaymack | 6 months ago
13 likes

By and large there are two types of people who join the Police service; those that wish to make society a safer place and those that enjoy the power and authority of the uniform. This article isn't about helmets, it's about the use or abuse of power. Were it not for the use of the Police siren one could, perhaps, just about, at a pinch understand the Officer wishing to suggest the use of helmets albeit not their place and they should concentrate of drivers not cyclists etc. etc. etc. However the use of a siren must have scared the bejesus out of the girl which, I regret to say, marks this incident out as a flagrant abuse of power. WMP should give the proverbial 'words of advice' to the Officers and should reach out to Joe and his Granddaughter and apologise. If not they should be on the receiving end of a complaint for their Officers' behaviour.

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grOg replied to jaymack | 6 months ago
1 like

Using a siren to pull a vehicle over is standard practice, not an abuse of power.

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jaymack replied to grOg | 6 months ago
6 likes

Had the eight year old been driving a car, using a siren to pull her over in such circumstances would be understandable. However if you think that using a siren to pull over an eight year old girl cycling perfectly lawfully with her grandfather is acceptable then you may be the type of person who falls into the power kick/uniform category. It takes all sorts I suppose and I wish you well in your journey towards self discovery and fulfilment.

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old bod | 6 months ago
1 like

As a grandparent the chap should have thought of his granddaughters safety and had her in a helmet anyway , shouldnt be any need for the police to have to have a normal conversation with him about helmets , the grandfather is the problem here not the police .

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Hirsute replied to old bod | 6 months ago
20 likes

Another troll joins for half term.

 

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grOg replied to Hirsute | 6 months ago
0 likes

You are the troll here..

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Hirsute replied to grOg | 6 months ago
3 likes

I'm not surprised you are unable to recognise trolls.

Perhaps you could explain how the comment made related in anyway to all the previous posts ?

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chrisonabike replied to old bod | 6 months ago
12 likes

Surely "The cars are the problem here"?

Kids can fall over and bang their heads (and do) while doing all sorts of activities.  They're probably at a slightly higher risk of doing so when cycling (and due to having their lower limbs around the bike they may be slightly less able to adjust their position etc.).  So helmets seem reasonable.  However I'm not aware the risk is significantly more than many other activities which don't commonly see this stresss on helmets e.g. ice skating - or likely just running around where there are hard surfaces (even playgrounds have play equipment in them.)

OTOH we all quickly recognise the dangers of motor vehicles - especially around children...

But behing hit by a vehicle is precisely what a helmet will offer marginal or no protection against*.

* May mitigate head injuries in some collisions,  essentially where the cyclist is just falling off (what the legal specification is - I know that some manufacturers say "but we exceed that!").  At most likely relative collision speeds it will offer almost no protection.  And of course it only protects (part of) your head...

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Patrick9-32 | 6 months ago
8 likes

Maybe these officers should be taught about the hierarchy of controls to improve safety and where their roles lie within it? Its not their job to police the use of PPE (the least effective control) its their job to eliminate the hazard by removing bad drivers from the road (the most effective control). Wasting time on chasing non mandatory PPE violations is taking time away from stopping dangerous road users. 

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Car Delenda Est | 6 months ago
0 likes

Meanwhile in Brighton I saw a family of four split between two Yamaha Nikkens (or something with the same wheel setup) with the parents and two toddlers wearing bicycle helmets..

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Car Delenda Est | 6 months ago
7 likes

Pretty equivalent to a driver being stopped and given advice on how more reflective paint would be safer.

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hawkinspeter replied to Car Delenda Est | 6 months ago
9 likes
Car Delenda Est wrote:

Pretty equivalent to a driver being stopped and given advice on how more reflective paint would be safer.

Except for the fact that a driver poses far more danger to other road users than an 8-year old and her grand-dad does, cycling along

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leedorney | 6 months ago
8 likes

How many wear helmets in Holland? - ask Chris Boardman about helmet usage...

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Bungle_52 | 6 months ago
5 likes

At the risk of being called a troll again I'm going to stick up for the police on this one. I think we can all agree that it is a good idea for young children to wear a helmet on a bike as they are more likely to fall off when learning to cycle and that is exactly the scenario a helmet is desgned for. These policemen are young and possibly inexperienced and I am sure had good intentions, they could not know that this youngster is obviously a very capable cyclist and it is likely they were trying to be helpful.

If this had been me I would not have been confrontational. We need the police on our side. I was young once and didn't get everything right, I needed help to become a better human being, probably more help than most if I'm honest.

The police don't always get things right but confronting people generally leads to entrenched positions as most people find it hard to back down. Engaging them in conversation is a much more productive exercise. Maybe Joe could have thanked them for their concern but have pointed out out that the child was a capable cyclist and that helmets are of little use in a collision with a car. He could also have explained that the lights and siren could be frightening to an 8 year old.

Finally, chapeau to the granddaughter, I hope that she does continue with her cycling and well done to Joe for encouraging her.

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hawkinspeter replied to Bungle_52 | 6 months ago
18 likes
Bungle_52 wrote:

At the risk of being called a troll again I'm going to stick up for the police on this one. I think we can all agree that it is a good idea for young children to wear a helmet on a bike as they are more likely to fall off when learning to cycle and that is exactly the scenario a helmet is desgned for. These policemen are young and possibly inexperienced and I am sure had good intentions, they could not know that this youngster is obviously a very capable cyclist and it is likely they were trying to be helpful.

If this had been me I would not have been confrontational. We need the police on our side. I was young once and didn't get everything right, I needed help to become a better human being, probably more help than most if I'm honest.

The police don't always get things right but confronting people generally leads to entrenched positions as most people find it hard to back down. Engaging them in conversation is a much more productive exercise. Maybe Joe could have thanked them for their concern but have pointed out out that the child was a capable cyclist and that helmets are of little use in a collision with a car. He could also have explained that the lights and siren could be frightening to an 8 year old.

Finally, chapeau to the granddaughter, I hope that she does continue with her cycling and well done to Joe for encouraging her.

This incident demonstrates how focussing on cycling helmets is detrimental, though. The child was enjoying cycling and gaining the health benefits as well as spending quality time with her grand-father and due to the misguided actions of the police, the child is now scared to cycle and presumably she'll now consider cycling to be a dangerous activity.

I don't quite understand why you think that Joe was being confrontational, but not the police. They are the ones who performed a quite aggressive act of using sirens and lights which obviously frightened the girl and it was totally unnecessary. Joe was absolutely right to not put up with their bullshit. The police need to focus on road danger - that's dangerous drivers, not an 8-year old girl on her bike.

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Simon E replied to hawkinspeter | 6 months ago
11 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

I don't quite understand why you think that Joe was being confrontational, but not the police. They are the ones who performed a quite aggressive act of using sirens and lights which obviously frightened the girl and it was totally unnecessary. Joe was absolutely right to not put up with their bullshit. The police need to focus on road danger - that's dangerous drivers, not an 8-year old girl on her bike.

Absolutely spot on Peter! And a big thumbs-up to Joe for sticking up for himself.

I'm glad this aggressive stunt by the 2 officers was caught on camera. The subsequent refusal by WMP to accept they were wrong is quite concerning.

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grOg replied to hawkinspeter | 6 months ago
0 likes

I live in Australia and on weekends, see numerous children riding on bike paths with their families, all wearing bike helmets; strangely, they seem to be enjoying themselves regardless of the horrific imposition placed upon them by the government to wear helmets.

 

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hawkinspeter replied to grOg | 6 months ago
6 likes
grOg wrote:

I live in Australia and on weekends, see numerous children riding on bike paths with their families, all wearing bike helmets; strangely, they seem to be enjoying themselves regardless of the horrific imposition placed upon them by the government to wear helmets.

I suppose you don't see the poorer families that don't bother cycling as they know they'll be targetted by the police for not wearing a helmet. Probably notable that they don't cycle on the roads due to the police enforcing cycle helmets rather than stopping the dangerous drivers too.

I imagine that if the same incident happened in Australia and the kid was aboriginal or from a poor neighbourhood, they'd have been strip-searched and thrown into jail unless they could pay several hundred dollars in a fine. It's laughable that you think that Australia demonstrates that mandatory cycle helmets is a good idea.

https://www.uow.edu.au/media/2019/over-the-top-policing-of-bike-helmet-laws-targets-vulnerable-riders.php

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-51496206

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/jan/19/the-wa-cops-rounding-up-indigenous-kids-a-toxic-and-racist-environment

I suppose the weekends are when the well-to-do white families can have a nice pootle along a cycle path and don't have to deal with the toxic road environments that Australians have created and won't have to worry about the police using cycle helmets as a pretext for child abuse.

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Hirsute replied to Bungle_52 | 6 months ago
14 likes

It was the police that were being confrontational and the whole concept is just back to front. If the police think she is in danger, then they should be removing the danger by pulling over speeding drivers, not wasting time on cyclists doing nothing wrong.

Again why are people obsessed with PPE ?

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eburtthebike replied to Hirsute | 6 months ago
1 like
Hirsute wrote:

Again why are people obsessed with PPE ?

Quite a few years ago, the HSE declared that cycle helmets are not PPE, and I don't think they've revised that opinion since.

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hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 6 months ago
2 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

Quite a few years ago, the HSE declared that cycle helmets are not PPE, and I don't think they've revised that opinion since.

So what are they classified as? Decoration?

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Rendel Harris replied to Bungle_52 | 6 months ago
11 likes
Bungle_52 wrote:

The police don't always get things right but confronting people generally leads to entrenched positions as most people find it hard to back down.

In my view it's the officers who are being confrontational here by using blues and twos to pull over a grandparent and grandchild who are completely within the law and going about their lawful occasions. If the police want to promote a pro-helmet message and feel that is a good use of their time, standing outside supermarkets handing out leaflets and giving advice is one thing, actually pulling people over when they haven't committed any offence is confrontational. You're correct in that confrontation here led to entrenched positions with people not wanting to back down, but it's the police who have continued to be confrontational and refused to back down, making unwarranted comments implying that the grandfather doesn't care about his grandchild and so forth. As soon it was clear that the adult was not interested in receiving their advice the police should have left it, they have neither the mandate nor the authority to continue badgering people who are completely within the law once they have been told to leave them alone.

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stonojnr replied to Bungle_52 | 6 months ago
10 likes

You've missed in Joe's tweet that he says the experience has meant his granddaughter no longer wants to ride her bike.

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qwerty360 replied to Bungle_52 | 6 months ago
7 likes

I can't stick up for the officers.

 

But a huge chunk of the reasoning isn't that they stopped the riders to give advice.

It is what the photo shows. Last I checked, police were generally instructed that if possible you stop BEHIND any vehicle being pulled over; This is a safety factor - it puts the police vehicle, with flashing lights drawing attention etc between the source of traffic and the stopped vehicle, because it is more likely to be seen (and so not crashed into) and also protects the incident (have to go through the police car to hit anything else. This is particularly relevent for a cyclist who is far more likely to be killed in a collision. So why on earth is there a stopped police car in view of a front camera. Especially given I would argue that with 2 cyclists, one a child, they should be stopping off the road, pretty much exactly where the police car is now parked with open doors (so stopped)... Yes, the layby goes back beyond this, but given the leave covered, rough surface, giving the cyclists as much room as possible to elect to safely stop out of the flow. (n.b. given leaves + potential surface issues they don't have to stop there)

Traffic delays be damned; If the police have enough reason to stop someone then they should have enough reason to block the road while they do...

 

Of course most videos I see of police stopping cyclists seem to involve hard stops (use police vehicle to force the rider to emergency stop or crash) without ever requesting the cyclist pull over safely...

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cyclisto | 6 months ago
15 likes

I practically never ride without helmet, but putting police sirens for an 8year old girl could be a traumatic experience. Very wrong approach.

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grOg replied to cyclisto | 6 months ago
0 likes

oh the humanity.. cry me a river.

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mark1a | 6 months ago
11 likes

It must have passed me by (as I only see them on videos, they're an endangered species in the wild here in Dorset), but the police all seem to look like paramilitaries now, they save the bobby outfits for funerals & coronations, etc. 

You'd never want to ask those clowns for directions or the time. Or indeed advice on road safety. 

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ktache replied to mark1a | 6 months ago
3 likes

I occasionally see the odd BTP officer at the station wearing a traditional helmet, which is nice. Still paramilitary for the rest mind...

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chrisonabike replied to mark1a | 6 months ago
3 likes

Is it forms follows function or the other way round...?

UK has nothing on the US, mind ...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarization_of_police

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