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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

Avatar
HoarseMann | 7 months ago
11 likes

The only thing criminal there is the narrow painted cycle lane. Especially as that street's wide enough for some proper segregated infrastructure.

https://maps.app.goo.gl/Anu7hpJAMkE4EmnDA

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Dogless | 7 months ago
12 likes

'Have I broken the law?'
'No.'
Cool, see ya then.

Just gotta start walking away from these dickheads, just like we would teach our kids to walk away from the school bully. Don't give them the satisfaction.

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hawkinspeter replied to Dogless | 7 months ago
11 likes

Dogless wrote:

'Have I broken the law?' 'No.' Cool, see ya then. Just gotta start walking away from these dickheads, just like we would teach our kids to walk away from the school bully. Don't give them the satisfaction.

Also "am I free to go?" is a good one.

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Rendel Harris replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
9 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

Also "am I free to go?" is a good one.

"I'm sure you're very busy catching criminals, officer, so I won't take up any more of your valuable time; good day to you sir."

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Patrick9-32 replied to hawkinspeter | 7 months ago
4 likes

"Am I being detained?" 

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hawkinspeter replied to Patrick9-32 | 7 months ago
1 like

Patrick9-32 wrote:

"Am I being detained?" 

The issue with that question is that they could truthfully answer "yes" to that as they are "detaining" you in the sense of delaying you going about your business, but not necessarily "detained" as in keeping you in custody. The word "detained" is ambiguous.

If they answer "yes" to "am I free to go", then they have no comeback when you walk/cycle off into the distance. If they answer "no", then you can start questioning their grounds for not letting you go.

However, I suspect that most police wouldn't try to twist people's words to such an extent, though there's been cases in the U.S. that are spectacularly bad:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2017/11/02/the-suspect-told-police-give-me-a-lawyer-dog-the-court-says-he-wasnt-asking-for-a-lawyer/

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ubercurmudgeon | 7 months ago
10 likes

Sounds like someone in that cop car was feeling badly in need of a nice little power trip, but didn't fancy having to do the paperwork that hauling in a local bogan would entail, so when they spotted an old man and a young girl cycling without helmets, they figured that'd do.

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chrisonabike replied to ubercurmudgeon | 7 months ago
1 like

Charitably - they may have an extremely salient personal connection to the issue (bit like ShutTheFrontDawes formerly of this parish) and be unable to let the advice in rule 59 go without reinforcement.

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Rendel Harris replied to ubercurmudgeon | 7 months ago
3 likes

ubercurmudgeon wrote:

 when they spotted an old man and a young girl

Assumption! A chap could easily have an eight-year-old granddaughter and be under fifty, considerably under in some circumstances, which is very definitely (I say as one over fifty) not "an old man".

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Stevearafprice | 7 months ago
14 likes

I got mgif'd at Bell Bridge Walsall by a WMP car the other day, they then stopped in the bike box.... cartard cops... these two are also morons.  helmets are not for cars hitting cyclists as well they should know.  Maybe stop some speeding no numberplate/brains drivers that make Midlands life bloody miserable.

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Sriracha replied to Stevearafprice | 7 months ago
4 likes

The no-numberplate thing is shocking. I used to pass the time by keeping a rough tally of the obscured (heavily darkened) plates, seeing two or three every journey to work. Now I've given up, they're everywhere, I can't count that big! Instead I count the sans-plates - two or three most journeys. How soon before they too are commonplace? How can the police not notice?

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NOtotheEU | 7 months ago
10 likes

Just when West Midlands Police were once again starting to look like a shining example of how to deal with cyclists safety for other forces to copy after a few years of backsliding these two idiots come along and spoil it. 

The cyclist killed on 29 May this year was called Laurentiu. Not only did his murder devastate his family in Romania, his best friend here was so depressed he started self medicating and lost his job.

As long as we scare 8 year olds into wearing a helmet or giving up cycling all together everything will be alright though.

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Hirsute | 7 months ago
18 likes

"if a car careers in to you, not wearing a helmet, you're going to know about it".

Where can I get one of these magic helmets from?
Those police officers need some very basic training if that think that being hit by 2T at 50 kph will be mitigated by a helmet
What do they tell peds walking on a footway ?

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Clem Fandango replied to Hirsute | 7 months ago
11 likes
Hirsute wrote:

"if a car careers in to you, not wearing a helmet, you're going to know about it".

So.....if the car was wearing a helmet, they'd be OK. Excellent.

Now, I do wear a helmet whilst riding, yet last time I was taken out by a car I ended up bouncing off the bonnet (a witness said I was about 8ft in the air) before hitting the deck & sliding across the road and coming to a rest amidst a pile of broken bones and bike parts. Head never touched the ground.

Obviously I sued the helmet manufacturer. Abject failure to do its job d'ye see.

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Pub bike | 7 months ago
7 likes

It seems like WMP like all other forces in the UK have given up policing motorists* (if they ever did) because it is too difficult/can't be bothered/too many loopholes in the law./insert excuse here etc. and now solely focus on warning victims about the possible impact of criminal behaviour.

This is the same as putting up those ridiculous signs on residential streets saying "Thieves operate in his area", which really should say "Police don't operate around these parts".  Or saying always lock your car etc.  Where I live people think this advice is rubbish because if they lock their cars the thieves break the windows so do more damage, and so they leave their cars unlocked which perplexes the braindead coppers who think that handing out leaflets to potential victims counts as policing when they should actually be handing out prosecutions to perpetrators.

The job of police should be to police the many actual perpetrators and not the potential victims.

*this word is superfluous

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Sriracha | 7 months ago
10 likes

Are they simple? Helmets do not protect against vehicle impact!

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morgoth985 | 7 months ago
13 likes

This is dreadful.  I hope it doesn't end here.

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eburtthebike | 7 months ago
15 likes

I don't know what their policy states, but I would be extremely surprised if it didn't say something like "Only use siren and flashing lights in an emergency or to pull over a law-breaking driver." so those police have probably broken their own policy.  It could well be illegal to use them to pull over someone not breaking the law, but even if it isn't, it is absolute overkill for someone behaving completely legally.

Never mind the crap from their HQ, bung in a complaint now.  At the very least it's an abuse of power and their bosses should be issuing a grovelling apology, not excusing such idiotic behaviour.

EDIT Rules about use of lights and sirens are notable by their absence, but I did find this in parliamentary written answers:

"Baroness Vere of Norbiton
Conservative
Life peer
Lords

Answered on

16 July 2021

The conditions under which sirens may be used are governed by Regulation 99 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 (C & U). Emergency service vehicles are permitted to use a siren to indicate to other road users the urgency of the purposes for which the vehicle is being used, or to warn other road users of the presence of the vehicle on the road.

Subject to the regulations and any form of guidance, drivers are expected to use their professional judgement to decide when and where the use of sirens is appropriate.

The use of sirens and other attributes fitted to road vehicles used by the emergency services is a matter for the chief officers of those services in conjunction with the chief officer of police for that area. There are no current plans to intervene."

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Sriracha replied to eburtthebike | 7 months ago
13 likes

Indeed, are the police empowered to pull people over simply to impart their advice and display their bias? I thought they needed some relevant cause in order to stop a person in the street, no?

Edit - a little research seems to say that plod can pull over drivers on a whim. But for others they need "reasonable suspicion". They've gone out of their way here to make it clear they had no reasonable suspicion whatsoever, and also that they do this as a matter of course to cyclists. Seems they are routinely operating outside their remit.

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rmv replied to Sriracha | 7 months ago
4 likes

Leaving aside whether it was appropriate for the police to stop the cyclists, they were legally entitled to; Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act empowers a uniformed officer to stop anyone driving a motor vehicle or riding a bicycle on the road with no reasonable suspicion required.

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dubwise | 7 months ago
13 likes

Uniformed bully. No wonder people do not trust them.

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HoldingOn | 7 months ago
22 likes

I really hope Joe can encourage his granddaughter back onto her bike. A 12.5 mile cycle is a fantastic effort at 8 years old!

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Brauchsel | 7 months ago
21 likes

Christ. I'm very strongly pro-helmet, and even I think this is terrible policing. Overly-officious and a prolonged insult to a law-abiding (and not "otherwise law-abiding") rider in front of a small child he was taking responsibility for.

If a car careers into you, you're going to know or not know about it regardless of a helmet. The police should be spending more time offering words of advice to drivers whose driving makes it likely that their cars will career into cycling children. There's no shortage of them in the West Midlands. 

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cdamian | 7 months ago
24 likes

I notice that the police officers are also not wearing helmets.

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Sriracha replied to cdamian | 7 months ago
6 likes

Officer, I notice you're wearing HiViz - is that supposed to make you look important?

No, of course not. It's for safety, due to the danger from traffic.

Oh, so you're at risk of being hit by motorists just like us cyclists are? Why don't you wear a helmet then?

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Capt Sisko | 7 months ago
23 likes

And the police wonder why the public have so little faith in them.

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Clem Fandango | 7 months ago
6 likes

There's some sort of manifesto promise / slogan in here somewhere....

"The Filth. 

Tough on cyclist safety.  Tough on the causes of cyclist KSIs - not so much." 

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OldRidgeback | 7 months ago
12 likes

I saw this on Twitter. I think it's a terrible approach by the police. They'd be better focussing on bad driving.

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hawkinspeter replied to OldRidgeback | 7 months ago
16 likes

OldRidgeback wrote:

I saw this on Twitter. I think it's a terrible approach by the police. They'd be better focussing on bad driving.

Well, if it saves one driver from having to pay attention...

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