Rochdale police column: Driving and vehicle-related issues
Date published: 12 August 2019
"When people drive using phones, it damages our sense of being in a community who follow the rules and care about each other."
Inspector Robert MacGregor, of the Rochdale East Neighbourhood Policing Team, on what the police are doing to tackle local issues across the borough.
This week he discusses driving and other vehicle-related issues.
The issue that I receive the most letters and emails about is, undoubtedly, vehicle-related issues.
If I am honest, roads policing has never been a major interest of mine and as a PC, I barely ever issued a ticket for vehicle offences. I felt that people had usually made a mistake and that issuing a fine did not serve much of a purpose as the advice was enough. Where people were on mobile phones, I would sometimes write a ticket but tell the driver that if they bought a Bluetooth earpiece and sent me a photo of the receipt, I would not process it.
As a sergeant previously, and now as an Inspector, I am conscious that the messages I give to staff about which matters influence how they choose their local beat priorities – and conversely what issues do not matter as much. I would love to be able to deal with every issue as a priority, but the reality is that my officers have a finite number of hours to utilise and their activity is planned like a tight financial budget.
Six months ago, we began running regular Operation Considerate events in the district. These events are multi-agency operations where we use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and plain-clothed spotters and pull over vehicles for various issues. If a vehicle has no insurance, MOT, is stolen, or has criminal intelligence linked to it, it will set off an audible alert so the operator can then use their radio to tell an officer further down the road to stop that vehicle.
Where these operations lead to us pulling over criminals in vehicles I think it is time well spent. When a career burglar from South Yorkshire is driving in Littleborough, I want to know why and for them to know they are on our radar. Having seen too many tragedies related to mobile phone use when driving, I also accept that I was wrong to underestimate its seriousness. Now I consider it as something that needs to be punished and that simple words of advice are usually not appropriate.
However, whilst on these operations I have seen other issues being enforced which have made me feel uneasy. For example, a lady who had a child with her and whose MOT had expired having to leave her car and take her toddler out of their car seat and arrange to be collected; another lady in her 50s who was issued a significant fine as her insurance policy had lapsed a couple of months earlier. Yes, both are illegal, but it did not make me feel happy and I was convinced that this is not what the community are asking us to do.
In the end, it isn’t my right to decide what the punishment is for these offences, but I thought about those two incidents quite a lot afterwards and have never felt that we did a good thing. It led to me returning to the letters I had received about vehicle issues to reconsider what the issue I was meant to be addressing was, and I think I have misjudged the problem you have told me about.
The recurring problems upsetting people are not people driving without insurance or MOTs (although we will still deal with these when we come across them), but rather that inconsiderate and anti-social driving is a significant problem because it is a persistent visual sign of disorder. When people drive using phones, drive at speed, drive dangerously, it damages our sense of being in a community who follow the rules and care about each other.
Reflecting on that, I now believe that we need to change how we are trying to solve these problems and to focus more narrowly on addressing this selfish behaviour. The best way for us to do that is to appeal to the community to give us the evidence to increase the number of prosecutions for inconsiderate and dangerous driving.
I am the first to acknowledge that in some ways GMP can have cumbersome and outdated processes, but when it comes to inconsiderate and dangerous driving, I am relieved to be able to say that we have a brilliant process which I would like the community to make more use of to tackle this behaviour.
GMP encourages online reporting of inconsiderate or dangerous driving, or other traffic offences.
You can do this at www.gmp.police.uk/ro/report/rti/report-a-road-traffic-incident/ - the report needs to be as soon as possible as the law sets a 14 day time limit for police to serve the driver with a notice of intended prosecution.
Although you can report offences without dashcam footage, the truth is that without footage it is extremely difficult to prosecute so I would encourage anyone who wants to make a difference in relation to vehicle offences to buy one.
When I try to encourage community involvement in policing, I am sometimes accused of ‘getting the public to do the police’s jobs for them’, but I am sure you will understand that when I drive round in a marked police vehicle, that people tend to be on their best driving behaviour.
Left solely to us – we will not see the offences that you witness. We need your help.
When it comes to the issue of criminals driving in our community, I think we need to invest in technology. It concerns me when I run checks on the cameras in the area that I see vehicles with criminal markers that have not been stopped. Currently, we only have access to ANPR data on computers in the police station, which is not good enough.
Fitting one of the neighbourhood vehicles with ANPR equipment would allow officers to have the system checking number plates as they patrol or are parked up. This equipment is not cheap and I understand that the local authority have their own pressures financially, but I think this equipment is a game changer and I am grateful for the support that I have been offered by the local authority and local councillors in making that application.
If there are any other issues you would like to highlight, or subjects you would like me to write about then please email me – Robert.MacGregor@gmp.pnn.police.uk – and let me know of any experiences (good or bad) using the online reporting for traffic offences.
Thank you as ever for your support.
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